In Wake of New York Times David Bernhardt Revelations, Leading House Democrats Push For “Immediate” Release of Suppressed Pesticide Impact Reports

Washington, D.C. – In response to a New York Times report this morning that Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt prevented the release of reports by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) that assess pesticide impacts on threatened and endangered species, Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Chairwoman Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) of the House Committee on Small Business, and Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) sent a letter to Bernhardt today calling for the reports’ immediate release.

 Huffman chairs the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife. The letter is available at http://bit.ly/2Yt8zXt

As the Times reported today, FWS analysis found that pesticides called malathion and chlorpyrifos “jeopardize the continued existence” of endangered birds, fish and other animals and plants, which – if publicized – could lead to tighter restrictions on the chemicals. Bernhardt prevented FWS from releasing the findings, which the agency planned to do in November 2017.

“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,” the paper reported. “Agency records suggest Mr. Bernhardt, after having had only limited involvement in the issue, had nine meetings or calls on his schedule with Fish and Wildlife staff in October and November 2017, and helped write the letter saying the Interior Department was no longer prepared to release the draft.”

As the lawmakers write in part:

Today documents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) obtained by the media conclusively show that 1,400 threatened and endangered species are being put on a path towards extinction by the pesticide chlorpyrifos, an insecticide that has been shown to impair neurological development in children. Many more threatened and endangered species will be put on a similar path because of diazinon and malathion, two insecticides with similar toxicological mechanisms. These documents show that efforts to address the impacts of this pesticide were indefinitely delayed shortly after you were personally briefed on the scientific conclusions of the experts at the Fish and Wildlife Service.

They request the most complete versions of the FWS biological opinions for chlorpyrifos, malathion, and/or diazinon (rather than early drafts) and “Documents [or a detailed written explanation by the Fish and Wildlife Service] sufficient to show estimated completion dates for the three biological opinions.”

 The news of Bernhardt’s direct role in protecting major polluters from harmful scientific disclosures is the latest in a long line of Interior Department policy decisions favorable to industry during his tenure. Bernhardt faces a hearing this Thursday on his nomination for Secretary of the Interior, which he currently holds only in an acting capacity.

 “The public health dangers of chlorpyrifos are well documented, which is why I previously authored legislation to take this toxin off the market,” Velázquez said today. “Now, it’s particularly alarming that the Trump administration may be concealing or delaying the release of scientific evidence documenting the adverse effects chlorpyrifos, malathion, and diazinon have on endangered species. We need a full accounting from the Interior Department, immediately.”

“The news that David Bernhardt prevented the release of these reports is the latest example of the acting Secretary favoring industry interests over public health and the environment,” Huffman said today. “Bernhardt is a walking conflict of interest and his intervention undermined the work of agency experts tasked with assessing the impacts of chemicals that could put countless species in jeopardy. The public should be able to trust agencies like the Department of the Interior to use science in their decision-making, but this administration is showing that they’re only interested in creating loopholes for industry special interests to avoid full responsibility for their impacts on wildlife and the environment.”

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