U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Scientists Punished for Objecting to
Downplaying of Pipeline Impact to Endangered Species
WASHINGTON— Yet another scandal surrounding the Keystone XL pipeline surfaced today: Media are reporting that an investigation by the Interior Department’s inspector general has found that agency scientists were improperly retaliated against after blowing the whistle on flaws with a map of American burying beetle habitat along the pipeline’s southern route.
“Here we go again: Keystone is at the center of another controversy, this time over an apparent attempt to downplay how this pipeline is going to hurt endangered species,” said Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Good policy decisions require good science and an honest review of the facts. That’s especially true for Keystone, whether you’re talking about harm to wildlife or the impacts on climate change.”
Last month, the Interior Department’s inspector general asked Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to take “immediate action” to address an “unreasonable and inappropriate response” by agency officials in response to three U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists who questioned the use of a new map that reduced the range of the American burying beetle in Oklahoma along the route of Keystone’s Gulf Coast segment.
The new map would have replaced an existing map that delineated the beetle’s range based on spatial models rather than county lines, reducing the beetle’s Oklahoma range from 17 million acres to 12.6 million acres and making it more palatable to TransCanada, the proponent of Keystone XL.
After the three biologists filed a 29-count complaint about the new beetle range map and other issues related to the Interior Department’s scientific integrity process, the map was withdrawn. However, in retaliation, two Fish and Wildlife Service supervisors docked the biologists’ pay and transferred their duties. After the biologists complained about the reprisals, the inspector general investigated and found wrongdoing, but the officials have yet to be disciplined.
“The biologists should be applauded for standing up for good science, not punished by their own supervisors,” Greenwald said.
The map that was withdrawn could have lessened the need for mitigation or avoidance measures in connection with the Gulf Coast Segment of the Keystone XL pipeline. The segment has been constructed pursuant to a separate path than the northern segment, which is currently being reviewed by the State Department for a permit to cross the U.S.-Canada border.
In 2011, the Center and allies brought legal action and successfully halted the preemptive relocation of endangered American burying beetles in the Nebraska Sand Hills. That lawsuit resulted in a change of Fish and Wildlife Service policy regarding the use of “recovery permits” for endangered species, making clear that scientists may not use such permits on behalf of industry.