News report: Interior nominee blocked report on pesticide damage

Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt
Photo courtesy of the Department of the Interior

David Bernhardt, President Trump’s nominee to lead the Interior Department, intervened to block a Fish and Wildlife Service report on the effects of pesticides on plants and wildlife, according to a story in the daily online news service Rockies Today.

A New York Times story said, “After years of effort, scientists at the Fish and Wildlife Service had a moment of celebration as they wrapped up a comprehensive analysis of the threat that three widely used pesticides present to hundreds of endangered species, like the kit fox and the seaside sparrow.”

Their analysis found that two of the pesticides, malathion and chlorpyrifos, were so toxic that they “jeopardize the continued existence” of more than 1,200 endangered birds, fish and other animals and plants, a conclusion that could lead to tighter restrictions on use of the chemicals.

But just before the team planned to make its findings public in November 2017, it appears that top political appointees of the Interior Department, which oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service, blocked the release and set in motion a new process intended to apply a much narrower standard to determine the risks from the pesticides.

“Leading that intervention was David Bernhardt, then the deputy secretary of the interior and a former lobbyist and oil-industry lawyer. In October 2017, he abruptly summoned staff members to the first of a rapid series of meetings in which the Fish and Wildlife Service was directed to take the new approach, one that pesticide makers and users had lobbied intensively to promote,” wrote the New York Times.

This sequence of events is detailed in more than 84,000 pages of Interior Department and Environmental Protection Agency documents obtained via Freedom of Information requests by The New York Times and, separately, by the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group that sued the federal government to force it to complete the pesticide studies.

“The documents provide a case study of how the Trump administration has been using its power to second-guess or push aside conclusions reached by career professionals, particularly in the area of public health and the environment,” the Times wrote.