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Interior Secretary Won't Stop Oil And Gas Development Because Of Climate Change Concerns

Photo of  Interior Secretary David Bernhardt being questioned by U.S. House Democrats about his agency’s responsibility to combat climate change Wednesday during an appropriations subcommittee hearing.
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt was questioned by U.S. House Democrats about his agency’s responsibility to combat climate change Wednesday during an appropriations subcommittee hearing. ";

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt told the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee Wednesday it wasn’t his job to combat climate change.

His comments came days after the United Nations released a damning report on the effects of global warming and mass extinction on humanity.

Bernhardt, a former oil and gas lobbyist, acknowledged that climate change is real and humans contribute to it but said he wouldn’t curtail oil and gas production on federal lands across the country.

“Are we going to stop oil and gas development because of this [U.N.] report?” he asked. “The answer to that is ‘No.’”

The interior secretary also argued that his job description consists of hundreds of legal mandates to take action on, but climate change isn’t one of them.

“There is not a ‘shall’ for ‘I shall manage the land to stop climate change,’” he said. “I mean, you guys come up with the ‘shalls.’”

Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, countered that climate change was part of the agency’s mission. If there was a specific legal obstacle preventing Bernhardt from addressing the issue, she said, he should tell Congress.

“It’d be really interesting to know where you think the legal challenges are that you can’t move ahead,” Pingree said. “Because if there’s something legally stopping you – we are Congress. We make the laws. Let us know. We’ll work on that for you.”

The Interior Department manages one-fifth of all land in the United States and the oil, gas and minerals beneath it. The Trump administration has taken an aggressive approach to reducing regulations and barriers for oil and gas drilling, resulting in a record amount of revenues gathered from projects on public lands. In 2018, the federal government netted $1.1 billion in leases and helped produce 214 million barrels of domestic oil.

But all that production has come at a heavy price, according to environmental protection groups. They point to recent climate change assessments from both international and regional scientists that say increased greenhouse gas emissions from oil, gas and coal over the past century have contributed to more severe and deadly wildfires, heat waves and drought in the Mountain West.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Nate Hegyi is the Utah reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau, based at KUER. He covers federal land management agencies, indigenous issues, and the environment. Before arriving in Salt Lake City, Nate worked at Yellowstone Public Radio, Montana Public Radio, and was an intern with NPR's Morning Edition. He received a master's in journalism from the University of Montana.
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