Bernhardt Buries Science on Pesticide Harms to Wildlife

San Joaquin Kit Fox

It’s shocking, but maybe not a surprise. Today, the New York Times revealed that President Trump’s pick to head the Department of Interior, David Bernhardt, suppressed agency findings that three pesticides—chlorpyrifos, malathion, diazinon—jeopardize the existence of more than 1,000 federally protected species during his tenure as deputy secretary. The analyses, required by the Endangered Species Act, marked years of detailed work by scientists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (an agency within Interior), Bernhardt blocked the findings just weeks before they were scheduled to be released to the public.

The results have been revealed and they are astounding. The concealed chlorpyrifos report, for example, concluded that the pesticide jeopardized a whopping 1,399 of the 1,633 threatened and endangered species listed in the U.S. The harms cited included chlorpyrifos spray drifts that kill Cape Sable seaside sparrows and diazinon sprays that contaminate and diminish food sources for the San Joaquin kit fox. And these are just two small examples of many. 

Why did Bernhardt pull the reports? He appears to have been motivated by chemical-industry lobbying and a new administration strategy for downplaying pesticide impacts on vulnerable species. In April 2017, Dow Agrosciences—which contributed $1M to Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee—along with other chemical companies sent a letter to Interior asking it to “set aside” any work on the reports and adopt a new approach to assessing pesticide harms. As revealed, Bernhardt—a former oil and gas industry lobbyist and attorney—apparently was happy to oblige, both blocking the pesticide assessments and also leading the charge on regulatory changes seeking to gut Endangered Species Act protections.

Of course, the three pesticides featured in today’s news are not the only ones that harm federally protected species. Over the past several decades, our nation’s wildlife has been under assault from skyrocketing use of toxic pesticides like glyphosate and neonicotinoids or “neonics”—the latter of which has been linked to plummeting populations of bees, butterflies, birds, and other species. And while Europe and Canada have moved to ban outdoor uses of several neonics, the Trump EPA has done nothing. That’s, in part, why we sued the Trump EPA for continuing to approve these notorious pesticides without performing the legally required endangered species evaluation.

This recent reporting reminds us how the Trump administration continues to ignore the real and potentially catastrophic impact of pesticide overuse. But as long as they keep fighting science and evading their legal responsibility to our nation’s most vulnerable species, we’ll keep fighting back.

About the Authors

Rebecca Riley

Legal Director, Nature program

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