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Ethical Questions Raised About Interior Secretary’s Role In Jordan Cove Project

J. Scott Applewhite/AP via NPR
David Bernhardt, a former oil and gas lobbyist, speaks before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee at his confirmation hearing to head the Interior Department, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 28, 2019.

The proposed Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas project in southwest Oregon may have gotten help from the nation’s top land manager in ways that violate ethics rules. 

The UK-based Guardian newspaper reports it obtained emails that suggest Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt told local officials in Colorado last March he was “totally behind” the Jordan Cove project. Much of the natural gas piped to the project would come from Colorado.

Until Bernhardt joined the Trump Administration two years ago, he worked for a Washington DC-based lobbying firm which has since been hired by Jordan Cove. Ethics rules require that Bernhardt recuse himself for two years from dealings connected to his former employer.

Jordan Cove opponents jumped on the revelation. Allie Rosenbluth, with Rogue Climate, says the Canadian firm Pembina, Jordan Cove’s parent company, isn’t playing fair.

"Pembina is using a long list of underhanded tactics to push through the Jordan Cove LNG project through southern Oregon, which includes buying influence in DC’s revolving door," she said.

In an emailed statement, the company responded, “Jordan Cove is committed to maintaining the highest ethical standards regarding our interactions and communications with legislators, regulatory agencies and federal and state officials.” 

Nick Goodwin with the Department of Interior said in an emailed statement, “Secretary Bernhardt is and always has been committed to upholding his ethical responsibilities.”

Goodwin says the meeting with the officials in Colorado was approved by the Departmental Ethics Office.

Liam Moriarty has been covering news in the Pacific Northwest for three decades. He served two stints as JPR News Director and retired full-time from JPR at the end of 2021. Liam now edits and curates the news on JPR's website and digital platforms.