Energy & Environment

Top Interior official key to delaying protection for an endangered species


A top Interior Department employee with ties to the energy industry took credit for delaying the endangered species designation for a species of mussel, internal emails between the official and an industry trade group show.

Two weeks after Vincent DeVito and Secretary Ryan Zinke met with officials with the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), an industry trade group, Devito began corresponding with an IPAA staffer about delaying the listing of the species, according to internal emails released in a public records request and first reported on by The Guardian.

An email from IPAA’s government relations director Samantha McDonald to Devito following the June 2017 meeting read: “We really hope that you can intervene before this species gets listed next month.”

In his reply, DeVito, a former Boston energy lawyer who also co-chaired Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in Massachusetts, told McDonald to keep him updated on “what you may be hearing as this unfolds.”


In August, less than a month following their correspondence, Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) chose to delay the listing of the Texas hornshell mussel.

Soon thereafter McDonald wrote DeVito and FWS acting Director Greg Sheehan with the subject line “THANK YOU!”

“On behalf of my members, I wanted to thank you for the 6-month delay on the Texas Hornshell,” she wrote.

She said it was a “good call.”

The hornshell was ultimately listed as endangered in February 2018.

Endangered species designations, especially those located in waterways, are often burdensome for industries that must meet strict pollution standards. The Obama administration had proposed listing the species as endangered in 2016 after scientists witnessed its decline among its natural habitat along Texas’s Rio Grande River. Some of the habitat also overlaps with rich deposits of oil and gas.

Devito had earlier made no secret of his desire to foster a better environment for energy.

At a speech last summer at Americans for Prosperity, which is backed by GOP mega-donors Charles and David Koch, DeVito described his role at Interior as “the office of energy dominance.”

“The war on American energy is over,” DeVito said, according to a speech obtained by The Guardian. “And, matter-of-fact, if there is a war, we’re going to win it and we’re going full bore.”

Devito isn’t the only Interior official with a history of opposing endangered species protections — and particularly freshwater mussels such as the Texas hornshell.

Interior’s new acting assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks, Susan Combs, has in the past compared the endangered species listings to “incoming Scud missiles.”

In her previous post as Texas comptroller, Combs played a key role in wresting control of the endangered species program from the state’s Parks and Wildlife Department, the Texas Observer reported.

Among those species listed at the time were a number of freshwater mussels species, whose status as endangered species could cause major headaches for a number of petrochemical companies on the Gulf Coast, including Dow Chemical.

Tags Donald Trump Endangered species Interior mussel protections Ryan Zinke Texas Water

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