Department of Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. Photo: Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The Department of Interior's Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt will take over as acting Secretary in Ryan Zinke's absence after his departure at the end of the year.

Why it matters: There won't be much change in policy for the department during Bernhardt's tenure, but the department will begin its recovery from a tumultuous run by Zinke marred with scandal and controversy. However, Bernhardt has seen his share of controversy in Washington as well.

Details: Bernhardt is an oil and gas lobbyist and a member of former President George W. Bush's administration. Environmentalists are not pleased with the decision.

The backdrop: He replaced independent government analysis in congressional testimony with reports from oil companies, according to climate communications and advocacy group, Climate Nexus.

  • Bernhardt also served as counselor to the secretary when J. Steven Giles was involved in a corruption scandal.

There are also questions about various conflicts of interest he has, including ties between oil and gas companies he has as a former lobbyist.

  • In October 2017, the Bureau of Land Management announced a change in opinion, allowing a controversial water project from a former Bernhardt client, Cadiz Inc., to move forward.
  • The Interior Department also refused to make a decision allowing the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot Native American tribes to open a new casino project in Connecticut, benefitting MGM Resorts International.

Go deeper: Smoother, but same track expected at Interior following Zinke's departure

Go deeper

The apocalypse scenario

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Democratic lawyers are preparing to challenge any effort by President Trump to swap electors chosen by voters with electors selected by Republican-controlled legislatures. One state of particular concern: Pennsylvania, where the GOP controls the state house.

Why it matters: Trump's refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, together with a widely circulated article in The Atlantic about how bad the worst-case scenarios could get, is drawing new attention to the brutal fights that could jeopardize a final outcome.

Federal judge rules Trump administration can't end census early

Census workers outside Lincoln Center in New York. Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images

A federal judge ruled late Thursday that the Trump administration could not end the 2020 census a month early.

Why it matters: The decision states that an early end — on Sept. 30, instead of Oct. 31 — would likely produce inaccuracies and thus impact political representation and government funding around the country.

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
2 hours ago - Health

Where bringing students back to school is most risky

Data: Coders Against COVID; Note: Rhode Island and Puerto Rico did not meet minimum testing thresholds for analysis. Values may not add to 100% due to rounding; Cartogram: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Schools in Southern and Midwestern states are most at risk of coronavirus transmission, according to an analysis by Coders Against COVID that uses risk indicators developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The big picture: Thankfully, schools have not yet become coronavirus hotspots, the Washington Post reported this week, and rates of infection are lower than in the surrounding communities. But that doesn't mean schools are in the clear, especially heading into winter.

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