Mr. Bernhardt's alleged rise to acting secretary reflects the events of the Environmental Protection Agency earlier this year. In July, Scott Pruitt, the then head of E.P.A., was forced to resign in the midst of a series of ethical scandals. His deputy, Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist with a low professional profile but in-depth knowledge of the agency he managed and the industry regulations he wanted to reverse, took on the role of the actor.
"I see a parallel to the EPA," said Ms. Sgamma of the Western Energy Alliance. "The environmentalists wanted scalp. They got Pruitt's scalp, but the guideline did not change. I would expect the same thing to happen with Interior. "
Mr. Bernhardt, a lawyer and former Secretary of the George W. Bush government, lacks the robust image embraced by Mr. Zinke, a former Navy SEAL, praised by Mr. Trump for his off-center casting style.
"Prong is something of a cowboy who often shoots from the hip and maybe speaks without knowing all the facts, and he needed a real expert who knows how the department works," said Whit Fosburgh, president of Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership a n interest group for hunters, fishermen and others. "It was David's job to put into effect what Zinke instilled in politics in 19459018."
Environmental and government monitoring groups say that when Mr. Bernhard put this policy into effect, he monitored proposals that could bring him profits for former clients. Representative Raúl M. Grijalva, the Democrat of Arizona, who is expected to chair the House's Natural Resources Committee when the Democrats return to the House in January as the majority party, has announced that he will investigate Mr. Bernhardt's activities at the Agency.  "Mr. Bernhardt's serious conflicts of interest are well known to us, and we'll be scrutinizing his role in internal decision-making, no matter what position he holds, "Grijalva said in an e-mail.
The energy industry has benefited from politics Mr Bernhardt has become a shepherd. The agency opened the East Coast for offshore oil and gas wells for the first time, easing the Endangered Species Act standards, weakening safety regulations for offshore drilling equipment and reducing the boundaries of national monuments for mining and drilling the country