For Immediate Release, December 21, 2020


Brett Hartl, (202) 817-8121,

Inspector General Urged to Reopen Investigation Into Secretary Bernhardt’s Role in Delaying Protections for Endangered Species From Pesticides

Newly Uncovered Documents Suggest Improper White House Intervention to Slow Efforts to Shield 1,400 Protected Species From Harmful Poisons

WASHINGTON— Citing newly obtained documents revealing that the White House worked with Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to stall protections for 1,400 endangered species from pesticides, the Center for Biological Diversity today requested that the Inspector General reopen a 2019 investigation into whether the delays were appropriate.

The documents, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, divulged a key meeting at the White House. It involved political operatives from the Executive Office of the President, the Vice President, Council on Environmental Quality and the departments of Agriculture and Commerce — none of which had a legal role in the assessment of pesticides on endangered species.

There is no evidence that Bernhardt revealed this information to the Inspector General when that office interviewed him about the matter. The deliberate omission of a material fact is a federal crime.

“Secretary Bernhardt likely misled the Inspector General regarding the role the White House and others played in delaying key protections for endangered species from some of the most toxic pesticides,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center. “The Endangered Species Act only works when decisions are based on the best science, so it’s really troubling that 15 high-level political operatives met in the shadows to influence this process and that Bernhardt omitted this key fact.”

In 2017 career scientists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that 1,400 endangered species were likely to be jeopardized by chlorpyrifos, an organophosphate pesticide that causes neurological damage in children. By his own admission, Bernhardt intervened in these assessments — called “biological opinions” — slowing the completion of this work by five years and preventing any on-the-ground measures to protect the species from the pesticides during the entirety of the Trump administration.

In 2019 the Inspector General’s office completed a review of Bernhardt’s role in the pesticide biological opinions and concluded that his intervention was “unusual but not unprecedented.” However, the Inspector General’s report does not address the role of the White House and other political appointees in the biological opinions, nor is there evidence in the report that Bernhardt even disclosed this information to the investigators.

“Hundreds of endangered species will continue to slip toward extinction because of pesticides unless we base protections for them on science,” said Hartl. “We hope the Biden administration will clean up this horrible mess, but we won’t know the full damage unless the Inspector General takes another look.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.