Energy & Environment

Dems want probe of Interior nominee’s role in suppressed endangered species report

Greg Nash

Senate Democrats are requesting the Interior Department’s watchdog investigate what role President Trump’s pick to lead the agency played in preventing the release of a government report on toxic pesticides and endangered species.

Eight senators signed a letter to the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General asking Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall to investigate the suppression of a Fish and Wildlife Service report that was initially scheduled for release in December 2017.

{mosads}“Under the current administration [the Interior Department] has repeatedly shown a willingness to completely disregard the work of career scientists and allow political appointees who are not subject matter experts to influence the decision-making process,” the senators wrote in their letter Wednesday.

“In our previous letter, we said we had no reason to believe that the attacks on science and pressure by political appointees to alter science in order to advance the administration’s narrative would cease, and this report reinforces that conclusion.”

Interior’s inspector general on Thursday confirmed receipt of the letter and said the request is being reviewed.

The letter is the second sent by Senate Democrats asking the Interior inspector general to investigate nominee David Bernhardt over his role in the report.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) sent a similar request last week to the inspector general. The office confirmed to The Hill that the letter was received and Wyden’s request is under consideration.

“Mr. Bernhardt, in his role as Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior, directly intervened with Fish and Wildlife Services officials to block the release of a report on toxic pesticides,” Wyden wrote in his letter.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee advanced Bernhardt’s nomination Thursday in a 14-6 vote. He now awaits a confirmation vote in the full Senate.

The New York Times first reported that Bernhardt was a deciding voice in determining to keep the results of the report from being made public. The government report found that two pesticides often used by farmers could cause significant harm to a number of endangered species.

Bernhardt’s intervention was outlined as part of more than 84,000 pages of documentation recently released through a Freedom of Information Act request to the Times.

During his Senate confirmation hearing last week, Bernhardt told senators he had made the decision to intervene after speaking with internal counsel at the agency.

Interior’s inspector general confirmed Wednesday that it has opened an investigation into Bernhardt over other reports that he may have violated his ethics pledge when he helped craft an internal Interior policy that appears to benefit his old employer.

Two outside groups and two Democratic senators asked the watchdog to look into Bernhardt’s influence on a decision to weaken protections for an endangered fish species found in California’s Central Valley. Bernhardt once lobbied on behalf of an agricultural water district that stood to benefit from easier access to the water populated by the species.

Tags Donald Trump Ron Wyden
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