WASHINGTON -- Interior Secretary David Bernhardt told a House committee Wednesday that he hasn't "lost any sleep" over record global levels of climate-changing carbon emissions.
His comment came during what was supposed to be a hearing about the department's fiscal 2020 budget request. But some of the questions from Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee focused on his handling of climate issues. Bernhardt, a former oil and gas lobbyist, was pressed to explain how climate could factor into future land management decisions.
At one point Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., in a moment likely to be shared by environmental groups and Democratic political operatives, asked Bernhardt if he was concerned about rising global greenhouse gas emissions. Data obtained Friday by the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii showed those levels reached 415 parts per million, the highest carbon dioxide levels ever found in the atmosphere in recorded human history.
Asked how he'd rate his personal concern about those reports on a scale of 1 to 10, he stated plainly: "I haven't lost any sleep over it."
Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., later in the hearing told Bernhardt what he said could have significant news value. He gave him an opportunity to clarify the statement.
"It's one of those clips of testimony that will reverberate. People will look back to what you said," Huffman noted.
Bernhardt said he appreciated the opportunity to add to the previous statement but didn't turn away from it. He instead began to explain how, in his view, the U.S. is cutting its greenhouse gas emissions and the department is now factoring climate into its environmental reviews.
"I absolutely care about the climate changing and that we need to factor that into our thinking. I absolutely believe that and I've said that over and over and over," he said.
Sitting directly behind Bernhardt at the hearing were climate activists in swamp monster costumes, and Democrats seized on the theme.
"It's the epitome of the swamp to have a handful of polluters dictate the environmental policies of this administration. You might wonder why there are people in swamp creature outfits behind you," said Rep. Mike Levin, D-Calif., at one point during the hearing. "The public has real concerns about your work, sir."