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Emails Suggest Interior Dept. Prioritizing Fossil Fuel Interests Over Wildlife Well-Being

Pacific Standard – Records reveal that, following requests by fossil fuel industry groups, a top official at the Department of the Interior appeared to take credit for helping to delay new federal protections for a once-endangered species.

“The Texas hornshell is a sleek green-gray mussel that once thrived in the Rio Grande watershed, its habitat stretching from southern New Mexico down into the arid Texas borderlands. Some of its habitat happens to overlap with rich deposits of oil and gas. Amid a long-term decline in its range, the Obama administration in 2016 proposed to declare the mussel an endangered species. Upon taking office, however, the Trump administration changed tack. A top official at the Department of the Interior (DOI), Vincent DeVito, appears to take credit for helping to delay federal protections for the species at the behest of fossil fuel industry groups, one of several examples of his willingness to prioritize the needs of extractive industries with business before the government, according to public records obtained by the Guardian and Pacific Standard as well as Documented and the Western Values Project, both watchdog groups. DeVito, a Boston energy lawyer and the former co-chair of Donald Trump‘s presidential campaign in Massachusetts, is a little-known figure in the United States government. He is one of a host of political appointees hired by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, whose department oversees well over 400 million acres of public land and can determine the fate of the species that inhabit them…Although the mussel was eventually granted protections in February of 2018, former DOI officials with knowledge of the department’s rules and procedures say DeVito’s apparent involvement in the listing process raises both ethical and legal questions. “Listing decisions under the Endangered Species Act are meant to be entirely science-based decisions that result from—in some cases—years of review by experts in the field, not political appointees,” says Elizabeth Klein, a former associate deputy secretary at the DOI during the Obama years and now the deputy director of New York University’s state energy and environmental impact center. “A delay in and of itself might not be the end of the world—but then again it very well could be for an imperiled species.”

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