The environmental group Greenpeace was among the groups spearheading the protest; in a statement, it called Bernhardt “a former oil and gas lobbyist who previously worked to help corporate polluters get their hands on public lands.”
Activists from the Clean Water Fund, Environment America and Public Citizen also took part in the demonstration, which they said was intended to draw attention to Bernhardt’s “long list of conflicts of interest with the oil & gas industry, and highlighting his historic anti-environmental past.”
At his “Make America Great Again” rallies — including at one he held Thursday night in Grand Rapids, Mich. — Trump has frequently promised to “drain the swamp” of corruption in Washington.
As the hearing got underway, some protesters donned masks resembling the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Others were clad in swamp-inspired green couture and wore masks of Bernhardt’s face.
According to video of the hearing, the protesters were apparently not escorted out of the room until nearly two hours into the hearing.
Capitol Police spokeswoman Eva Malecki confirmed that protesters were removed from the hearing but declined to comment further on the incident.
Bernhardt was nominated by President Trump in February to lead the department. He has helmed Interior as acting secretary since Jan. 2, when Ryan Zinke resigned amid multiple ethics probes.
He has drawn criticism for his background as a veteran lobbyist who has helped orchestrate the push at the Interior Department to expand oil and gas drilling. Twenty-nine environmental groups sent a letter to the panel’s members Wednesday opposing Bernhardt’s nomination.
Juliet Eilperin contributed to this report.