Probe clears Interior secretary after accusations of interfering with pesticide assessments

Probe clears Interior secretary after accusations of interfering with pesticide assessments
© Aaron Schwartz

An internal watchdog investigation on Tuesday found no wrongdoing on the part of Interior Secretary David Bernhardt after he was accused of interfering in an assessment of the effects of pesticides on endangered species.

The probe by the Interior Department's inspector general found that Bernhardt told a Fish and Wildlife Services (FWS) team looking at possible effects of pesticides to change its methods and that he reviewed a draft opinion, according to a synopsis. Bernhardt had been the department's deputy secretary at the time.

"This change has delayed the completion of the opinion, but we found no evidence that Bernhardt exceeded or abused his authority or that his actions influenced or altered the findings of career FWS scientists," the report said. "We also found no evidence that Bernhardt’s involvement in this matter violated his ethics pledge or Federal ethics regulations."

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The investigation followed a New York Times report alleging that Bernhardt had "set in motion a new process intended to apply a much narrower standard to determine the risks from the pesticides" after an analysis found that they “jeopardize the continued existence” of more than 1,200 endangered species. 

A group of Senate Democrats requested the probe after the Times's report in March.