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Daily News Blog

28
Mar

Documents Reveal that Interior Nominee Censored Endangered Species Assessment of Organophosphates

(Beyond Pesticides, March 28, 2019) A set of documents obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity reveals that the Trump administration has known for over a year – and actively concealed – that the organophosphate insecticide chlorpyrifos jeopardizes the existence of 1,399 endangered species. Top officials at the U.S. Department of the Interior, including Acting Secretary David Bernhardt, were privy to and prevented the release of a “biological opinion,” completed by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in 2017, which contains a full analysis of the extensive environmental impacts wrought by three organophosphate insecticides.

While chlorpyrifos is the worst of the three, the censored biological opinion includes similarly concerning findings for two other organophosphate pesticides, malathion and diazinon, which are currently jeopardizing 1,284 and 175 species, respectively. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that that all organophosphates have a common mechanisms of effect and therefore the multiple exposures to these pesticides lead to a cumulative risk.

“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,” said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). “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.”

Mr. Bernhardt, whose nomination for Secretary of the Interior may be confirmed today, led the Department of the Interior’s effort to block the release of these critical findings. According to documents obtained by CBD through a Freedom of Information Act request, Mr. Bernhardt had six meetings with Fish and Wildlife in October of 2017, and was shown a recovered PowerPoint containing the findings of the three organophosphates’ widespread harms to endangered plants and animals. Following these meetings, Mr. Bernhardt helped to draft a letter stating that the assessment was not ready for release.

The FWS opinion, a compilation of nearly four years of rigorous scientific review, was not just a routine assessment; rather, it was the outcome of a legal settlement with CBD, which required EPA and FWS to make such assessments public by the end of 2017. In April of 2017, Dow AgroSciences directly requested that the agencies abandon the assessment. Seven months later, under the direction of the Department of the Interior, FWS indefinitely delayed efforts to release the already completed assessment, thus failing to fulfill the terms of the settlement and their mandate under the Endangered Species Act.

This latest revelation adds to a trend of Trump administration officials interfering with a legally mandated environmental assessment and regulation. In fact, Mr. Bernhardt would have had less opportunity for the present interference, had it not been for former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s push, in collaboration with Dow Chemical, to keep chlorpyrifos on the market in 2017.

Under the Obama administration, EPA announced its intent to cancel agricultural uses of chlorpyrifos due to strong evidence of harm to the brain and proper development of children. This move itself was the result of a petition and hard fought legal case by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Pesticide Action Network.

With the election of Trump, however, EPA appointee Scott Pruitt made quick work of reversing the proposed ban and delaying any further action until 2021. In response to the about-face by the Pruitt EPA, Earthjustice and a coalition of other groups sued EPA for its delay. That lawsuit was successful, resulting in an order from the appeals court requiring EPA to ban chlorpyrifos within 60 days. However, under the leadership of  the current EPA Administrator, Andrew Wheeler, the agency appealed the decision. Though the evidence for damage is by now overwhelming, the case is still not closed. On Tuesday this week, the appeal was heard in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco.

“Even as more and more studies point to pesticides as the leading cause of disturbing drops in insect populations, the Trump administration is only concerned about protecting pesticide company profits,” said Ms. Burd, who sits on EPA’s pesticide program dialogue committee, a federal advisory committee. “This administration’s shameful political meddling in scientific assessments demands an independent investigation by the Department of the Interior’s inspector general and makes it clearer than ever that David Bernhardt’s not fit to lead the agency.”

In light of CBD’s findings, Beyond Pesticides signed on to a letter opposing David Bernhardt’s nomination for Secretary of the Interior. Beyond Pesticides holds the position that Mr. Bernhardt’s role in this unlawful censorship disqualifies him from holding power over critical regulatory agencies. The Department of Interior is tasked with conserving the nation’s natural resources and providing scientific information about natural hazards to address societal challenges.

According to Beyond Pesticides, it is insupportable that a man who has demonstrated his readiness to censor findings so critical to the health of our nation’s endangered wildlife should be charged with a role so vital to their protection. Join Beyond Pesticides in telling your Senators and representatives in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to oppose David Bernhardt’s nomination. Stay abreast of new legal and regulatory developments by following the Daily News Blog.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: CBD press release, March 26th, 2019

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