US Interior Secretary Bernhardt and head of NASA to speak at August conference in Steamboat

Both to speak at Steamboat Institute's Freedom Conference.

U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt
Courtesy the Steamboat Institute

Editor’s note: This story was corrected at 3 p.m. The keynote address is on Friday, Aug. 23.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The heads of the U.S. Department of the Interior and NASA are coming to Steamboat.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, the highest-ranking official within NASA, are slated to speak at the Steamboat Institute’s Freedom Conference later this month.

Bernhardt was appointed to his post by President Donald Trump in March after serving for about three months as acting secretary former. Bernhardt took on the role after Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke departed amid allegations of violating conflict of interest laws. Zinke, at the time still Interior Secretary, spoke about public land management at last year’s Freedom Conference, drawing protesters both in the event and at a rally in downtown Steamboat.

“There’s always interest in this part of the country in what the Secretary of the Interior has to say about what the Interior Department’s policies are and what their plans are,” said Jennifer Schubert-Akin, Chairperson and CEO of the Steamboat Institute.“But what really pushed us to extend the invitation was the (Bureau of Land Management) being relocated to the Western Slope, because that’s just huge for Colorado.”

Similar allegations of ethics violations have followed the Rifle native and former oil and gas lobbyist when he took office in April.

“I’m more interested in what his policies are and what he is planning to do as secretary,” Schubert-Akin said, adding that it seems allegations of ethics violations appear after anyone is nominated to a position in any administration.

Schubert-Akin said she didn’t know whether Bernhardt’s presentation would garner the same protests Zinke’s did last year.

“I honestly have no idea,” she said. “We’ve put together what we believe is a really outstanding two and a half-day program, including the film festival.”

She pointed to Bridenstine’s appearance, which she said would be a conversation with the NASA administrator.

If you go

What: The Steamboat Institute’s Freedom Conference and Film Festival
When: Aug. 22-24
Where: various locations in Steamboat Springs
Cost: Full conference tickets are $475, and tickets to the keynote dinner are $250. Tickets to the film festival are $12 per film or $50 for admission to all six films.

Schubert-Akin emphasized that admission to each film also includes the opportunity to hear from people involved in making the film.

“Bridenstine is a very outgoing person who likes to visit with people, so he wants to do this in a conversational style,” she said. “He will take lots of questions from the audience.”

Other highlights of the conference include a debate between leading voices in both the socialist and capitalist movements, a debate on the national popular vote and electoral college and a panel discussion about current events in China, featuring two immigrants from the country, including one whose family members are currently being held in detention in China, Schubert-Akin said. Alan Dershowitz, a professor emeritus at Harvard Law School and author of the book “The Case against the Democratic House Impeaching Trump,” will present as the keynote speaker at dinner on Friday evening.  

“We’re having a couple of really outstanding debates. We encourage people to attend whether they are conservative or liberal or somewhere in between. We welcome everybody. Our emphasis is on civilized discourse and having quality discussions where people try to persuade each other. We just want everyone to feel welcome to attend, as long as people are willing to be reasonable and respectful in the way they ask questions and in their conduct,” she said.

To reach Eleanor Hasenbeck, call 970-871-4210, email or follow her on Twitter @elHasenbeck.

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