Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 26, 2019

Contact:  Lori Ann Burd, (971) 717-6405,

Document Shows Trump Administration Has Known Since 2017 That Chlorpyrifos Jeopardizes Existence of 1,399 Endangered Species

WASHINGTON— Top officials at the Department of the Interior, including Acting Secretary David Bernhardt, have known since October 2017 that the insecticide chlorpyrifos jeopardizes the existence of 1,399 protected species. The Trump administration’s efforts to undermine those findings — highlighted today in a New York Times investigation — were revealed in a document obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity through the Freedom of Information Act.

The determination, by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scientists, that the insecticide jeopardizes 1,399 plants and animals on the endangered species list has prompted no action by the Trump administration to curb its use. Instead, at the request of pesticide companies, the administration has worked to undercut the findings of government scientists and delay all further efforts to assess and reduce the impacts of pesticides on endangered species.

“It's outrageous that Trump, Bernhardt and the industry hacks inhabiting this administration are speeding the extinction of nearly 1,400 endangered species by refusing to take any action on chlorpyrifos,” said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center. “If political appointees weren't stopping the government's own scientists from doing their jobs, this brain-damaging, wildlife-killing horror of a pesticide would already be banned.”

Shortly after Trump was elected, former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt reversed the work of career scientists who were implementing a planned ban on chlorpyrifos, which scientific research has shown harms brain development in children.

But the document obtained by the Center reveals for the first time the full extent of chlorpyrifos' harm to the nation's most endangered species.

The scientists' draft “biological opinion,” which contains a full analysis of the pesticide's harm, is summarized in the document. That draft opinion — the culmination of four years of analysis — was completed by the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2017. But it was never released to the public, and its release has since been indefinitely delayed by Trump administration officials.

The summary document shows that in the biological opinion, expert wildlife scientists found that the existence of 1,399 protected plants and animals is being jeopardized by chlorpyrifos. The opinion also found that another organophosphate pesticide, malathion, is jeopardizing 1,284 species, and a third, diazinon, is jeopardizing 175 species

The jeopardy determinations raise serious alarms about the loss of pollinators and the consequences to endangered plants resulting from the use of the three insecticides. Plants make up more than 50 percent of all endangered species, and the overwhelming majority of endangered plants are dependent on insect pollinators to reproduce. Because the EPA allows the use of these three insecticides virtually anywhere, the harm to plants is widespread.

“Even as more and more studies point to pesticides as the leading cause of disturbing drops in insect populations, the Trump administration is only concerned about protecting pesticide company profits,” said Burd, who sits on the EPA's pesticide program federal advisory committee. “This administration's shameful political meddling in scientific assessments demands an independent investigation by the Department of the Interior's inspector general and makes it clearer than ever that David Bernhardt's not fit to lead the agency.”

Calendars obtained by the Center indicate that on Oct. 25, 2017, Bernhardt was scheduled to be briefed by career staff at the Fish and Wildlife Service and shown a PowerPoint containing the findings of the pesticides' widespread harms to endangered plants and animals.

Bernhardt had two additional meetings with Fish and Wildlife on Oct. 26; another on Oct. 27; and then two more meetings with the agency the following week, according to calendars of Gary Frazer, the Service's assistant director for endangered species, obtained by the Center.

“It was highly unusual for Bernhardt to have six meetings with Fish and Wildlife in a week, but he was on a mission to kill these scientific assessments once he saw the facts about how chlorpyrifos use is a death sentence for endangered species,” said Burd. "This is how Bernhardt operates. In the shadows, with little regard for what the law or science requires.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service biological opinion was required as part of a legal settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity. In that settlement the agency agreed to assess by Dec. 31, 2017 the harms the three widely used pesticides pose to endangered plants and animals, as required by the Endangered Species Act.

The assessments were on track to be completed and released to the public in 2017.

But shortly after contributing $1 million to President Trump's inauguration, Dow Chemical, the maker of chlorpyrifos, directly requested that the assessments be scuttled.

In May 2017 the Service announced that the draft biological opinion assessing the three pesticides’ harms was nearly complete and would be ready for public comment within months.

As Fish and Wildlife Service career staffers were preparing to make the biological opinion available for public comment, on Oct. 25, 2017 they briefed Trump's political appointees, including Bernhardt and Fish and Wildlife’s acting director Greg Sheehan, on the result of the agency's nearly four years of rigorous scientific review.

After that meeting the consultation process halted, just as Dow had requested. The draft biological opinion was not released for public comment as promised. Despite missing the deadline in the Center's settlement, the completion of the biological opinion has been postponed until at least 2021.

Other public documents previously obtained by the Center through the Freedom of Information Act showed that the draft biological opinion outlining the harm of the three pesticides was completed in 2017. This new document summarizes the sweeping extent of the harm that the three pesticides pose to hundreds of endangered species.

In addition, the National Marine Fisheries Service found in December 2017 that chlorpyrifos jeopardizes the continued existence of southern resident killer whales and 37 species of salmon, sturgeon and steelhead. But the EPA has refused to take any protective action.

Pesticides and critical habitat

Key findings of draft final biological opinions on chlorpyrifos, malathion and diazinon, shown in PowerPoint presentation for Interior secretary nominee David Bernhardt. This image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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