Reports Showed Pesticide Harmed Nearly 1,400 Protected Species
WASHINGTON— The inspector general for the Department of the Interior yesterday announced it will open an investigation of Secretary David Bernhardt’s role in blocking the release of a scientific assessment showing the pesticide chlorpyrifos threatens the existence of nearly 1,400 protected species.
The inspector general’s decision comes in response to two requests for an investigation: one from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and a second from Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and seven other senators.
Bernhardt’s suppression of scientific assessments by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was revealed in a document obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity through the Freedom of Information Act. Those findings were highlighted in a New York Times investigation published last month. Bernhardt’s actions followed a request by the pesticide industry to the Trump administration in April 2017 to scrap the four-year effort of career scientist to quantify the impacts of chlorpyrifos.
“This investigation will shed important light on one of the most shameful episodes of the Trump administration’s assault on the environment,” said Brett Hartl, director of government affairs at the Center. “Animals are being pushed closer to extinction across this country because Bernhardt unilaterally decided that the pesticide industry knew best about how to protect our nation’s endangered species.”
After Bernhardt learned about the pesticide assessments, no action was taken to implement any on-the-ground conservation measures to protect endangered species. Instead, Bernhardt instructed the Interior department and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to undercut the career scientists’ work and delay all further efforts to reduce the impacts of pesticides on endangered species.
In response to the New York Times investigation, Wyden asked Bernhardt several questions regarding his role in stopping the pesticide assessments at Bernhardt’s confirmation hearing to become Secretary of the Interior. Finding his responses not credible, Wyden requested that the inspector general investigate whether Bernhardt’s actions were lawful.
Several days later, Hirono sent a similar request to the inspector general raising concerns about Bernhardt undermining scientific integrity at the department. That request was joined by seven other senators.
“We’re grateful that Senator Hirono and Senator Wyden called for this investigation into actions Bernhardt took on behalf of special interests,” Hartl said. “There’s no excuse for sweeping scientific investigations under the rug, especially when it involves pesticides that put endangered species in harm’s way.”