Interior Nominee Intervened to Block Report on Endangered Species

Among the other participants in these meetings, the records show, was Rebeckah Adcock, who until April 2017 had been a director of government affairs and registered lobbyist for CropLife and who now works as a senior adviser at the Agriculture Department.

Ms. Adcock joined the discussions even though the ethics agreement she signed said she would not participate “personally and substantially in any particular matter” involving CropLife for one year. An Agriculture Department spokesman said this did not violate that ban because she had not specifically lobbied on endangered species matters for CropLife.

Even as these meetings were taking place, staff members inside the Fish and Wildlife Service were wrapping up the enormous task of assessing the threat presented by these pesticides, email records show.

The team had concluded that chlorpyrifos put 1,399 species — a mixture of animals and plants — in jeopardy, while malathion put 1,284 of them in jeopardy and diazinon, a third pesticide that was evaluated, placed 175 species in jeopardy. There are 1,663 species listed as endangered or threatened in the United States, meaning that two of the pesticides may be putting most of them in jeopardy. (This information, agency officials said, was accidentally released in a Freedom of Information response obtained by The Times. They intended to keep this tally a secret, because the assessment was not final.)

The agency staff was not recommending that the pesticides be banned. Instead, they were proposing changes in how the pesticides could be used, including possible restrictions on their use in areas where endangered species are found, or at certain times of year, the documents say.

Lawyers who work for the interior secretary’s office wanted a very different approach. They advocated abandoning the presumption that use of a pesticide by a farmer or a golf course might directly cause the death of or harm to an endangered species, officials said.

Their argument was that because farmers, for example, do not manufacture the pesticide, their use of it means that any harm caused is an indirect effect, as defined under federal law. There is a much higher standard of proof needed to demonstrate that an indirect effect has harmed an endangered species. The law requires that this harm be shown to be “reasonably certain to occur.” The revised approach is almost certainly going to result in fewer plants and animals being judged to be in jeopardy of extinction as a result of continued pesticide use.