Quantcast

Trump's Pick to Head Interior Blocked Report Warning of Pesticide Risk to 1,000+ Endangered Species

Politics
Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt shakes hands with Trump. The U.S. Interior Department via Twitter

Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who faces a Senate confirmation hearing Thursday after President Donald Trump nominated him to head Interior permanently, acted to block a report that found that two pesticides "jeopardize the continued existence" of more than 1,200 endangered species, according to documents obtained by The New York Times and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD).


In 2017, Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) scientists completed a report on the threat posed by three pesticides to endangered species. But before they could make it public that November, they were stopped by top political appointees including then-Deputy Secretary Bernhardt, who instead initiated a new process using a narrower standard for assessing risk, The New York Times reported. The Times' investigative report is based on more than 84,000 pages of Interior Department and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) documents obtained via a Freedom of Information Act requests by the Times and CBD.

One of the pesticides covered in the FWS study was the controversial chlorpyrifos, which Trump's EPA has separately fought attempts to ban after its own scientists warned of its dangers to children.

"It's outrageous that Trump, Bernhardt and the industry hacks inhabiting this administration are speeding the extinction of nearly 1,400 endangered species by refusing to take any action on chlorpyrifos," CBD environmental health director Lori Ann Burd said in a statement. "If political appointees weren't stopping the government's own scientists from doing their jobs, this brain-damaging, wildlife-killing horror of a pesticide would already be banned."

The original study was part of a re-registration of the three pesticides, a process that takes place every 15 years. It found that chlorpyrifos put 1,399 species at risk while the pesticide malathion put 1,284 at risk and diazinon put 175 at risk. One species put at risk by pesticides was the San Joaquin kit fox, a five pound animal that had once been widely present in the California valley until pesticides like diazinon poisoned the grasses and birds it fed on. The FWS also found that the Cape Sable seaside sparrow in Florida was put in danger by the spraying of chlorpyrifos.

"For many vulnerable species, a single exposure could be catastrophic," the original report said.

The new standard being used to assess risk was "one that pesticide makers and users had lobbied intensively to promote," The New York Times reported. The New York Times reported that chlorpyrifos-maker Dow Agrosciences, which was recently renamed Corteva, had donated $1 million to Trump's inauguration committee. The company said the donation was not related to the policy change, but Corteva spokesperson Gregg M. Schmidt said the new policy would lead to "a better understanding of where and how pesticides are being used."

FWS staff wrote their original report assuming that the pesticides were being sprayed the maximum amount legally allowed on their labels, while the industry argued that they should base their findings on actual use. FWS staffers argued that historic usage data would not reflect how pesticides might be used in the future. Label limits are also legally enforceable.


Former EPA official Wendy Cleland-Hamnett, who left the agency in late 2017, said that the shift in policy at Interior was consistent with what she had experienced at the EPA during the Trump administration. "It is certainly similar to the pattern we saw in toxic chemicals as well, where the regulated industry had a more sympathetic ear in the new administration," Cleland-Hamnett told The New York Times. "And that resulted in a shift in approach as to how these issues would be handled."

FWS spokesperson Laury Marshall Parramore told CNN that the agency has "continuously refined (their) methodology."

"This has necessitated delaying the release of the draft biological opinions but will ultimately ensure that they are legally sound and based on the best available scientific information," she said.


EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Natural Resources Defense Council

By Emily Deanne

Shower shoes? Check. Extra-long sheets? Yep. Energy efficiency checklist? No worries — we've got you covered there. If you're one of the nation's 12.1 million full-time undergraduate college students, you no doubt have a lot to keep in mind as you head off to school. If you're reading this, climate change is probably one of them, and with one-third of students choosing to live on campus, dorm life can have a big impact on the health of our planet. In fact, the annual energy use of one typical dormitory room can generate as much greenhouse gas pollution as the tailpipe emissions of a car driven more than 156,000 miles.

Read More Show Less
Kokia drynarioides, commonly known as Hawaiian tree cotton, is a critically endangered species of flowering plant that is endemic to the Big Island of Hawaii. David Eickhoff / Wikipedia

By Lorraine Chow

Kokia drynarioides is a small but significant flowering tree endemic to Hawaii's dry forests. Native Hawaiians used its large, scarlet flowers to make lei. Its sap was used as dye for ropes and nets. Its bark was used medicinally to treat thrush.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Frederick Bass / Getty Images

States that invest heavily in renewable energy will generate billions of dollars in health benefits in the next decade instead of spending billions to take care of people getting sick from air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels, according to a new study from MIT and reported on by The Verge.

Read More Show Less
Aerial view of lava flows from the eruption of volcano Kilauea on Hawaii, May 2018. Frizi / iStock / Getty Images

Hawaii's Kilauea volcano could be gearing up for an eruption after a pond of water was discovered inside its summit crater for the first time in recorded history, according to the AP.

Read More Show Less
A couple works in their organic garden. kupicoo / E+ / Getty Images

By Kristin Ohlson

From where I stand inside the South Dakota cornfield I was visiting with entomologist and former USDA scientist Jonathan Lundgren, all the human-inflicted traumas to Earth seem far away. It isn't just that the corn is as high as an elephant's eye — are people singing that song again? — but that the field burgeons and buzzes and chirps with all sorts of other life, too.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
A competitor in action during the Drambuie World Ice Golf Championships in Uummannaq, Greenland on April 9, 2001. Michael Steele / Allsport / Getty Images

Greenland is open for business, but it's not for sale, Greenland's foreign minister Ane Lone Bagger told Reuters after hearing that President Donald Trump asked his advisers about the feasibility of buying the world's largest island.

Read More Show Less
AFP / Getty Images / S. Platt

Humanity faced its hottest month in at least 140 years in July, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said on Thursday. The finding confirms similar analysis provided by its EU counterparts.

Read More Show Less
Newly established oil palm plantation in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay

By Hans Nicholas Jong

Indonesia's president has made permanent a temporary moratorium on forest-clearing permits for plantations and logging.

It's a policy the government says has proven effective in curtailing deforestation, but whose apparent gains have been criticized by environmental activists as mere "propaganda."

Read More Show Less