(Reuters) – A key Senate committee approved U.S. President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Interior on Thursday, putting former energy lobbyist David Bernhardt closer to becoming the permanent head of the agency that oversees public lands.
The Republican-controlled energy and natural resources committee voted 14 to 6 in favor of advancing Bernhardt’s nomination. A full Senate vote must now be scheduled to complete his confirmation. He is currently serving as DOI’s acting secretary.
Bernhardt cleared the committee vote, as expected, despite concerns raised by some Democratic lawmakers and environmental groups about his conflicts of interest as a former lobbyist representing companies affected by Interior department regulations.
The Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General is reviewing allegations that Bernhardt violated ethics rules by getting involved in issues that affect his former clients.
Democratic Senator Ron Wyden urged colleagues not to vote for Bernhardt until the watchdog agency has reviewed the allegations but Senate energy panel chair Lisa Murkowski said the acting secretary was being attacked by political opponents.
“I think its very clear you have well-funded groups that are working hard, working energetically against his nomination,” she said ahead of the vote.
Three Democratic senators – Joe Manchin, Angus King and Martin Heinrich – voted with Democrats to back Bernhardt.
Reporting by Valreie Volcovici and Nichola Groom; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Susan Thomas