U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Official Pressured to Reverse Environmental Permit Decision

Silencing Science Tracker

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Official Pressured to Reverse Environmental Permit Decision

On July 8, 2019 CNN published an article revealing that in the summer of 2017, Steve Spangle, then a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) official in Arizona, was pressured to reverse a decision that was preventing a massive housing development project from moving forward. As Arizona’s top FWS official in charge of reviewing the environmental impacts of proposed projects, Spangle evaluated a proposal by developer Mike Ingram to build the Villages at Vigneto, a 28,000 home resort community. In October 2016, Spangle issued his decision indicating “direct and indirect effects to threatened and endangered species… are reasonably certain to occur,” and ordering Ingram to conduct an in-depth biological assessment before proceeding.

In August 2017, Spangle was contacted by Peg Romanik, a solicitor at the U.S. Department of the Interior. On behalf of a “high-level political appointee within the Department of the Interior,” Romanik strongly urged Spangle to rescind his previous decision and allow the project to proceed.

It is now reported that during the summer of 2017, Ingram had a secret meeting with David Bernhardt, then the deputy Interior Secretary, and that Romanik met with Bernhardt just hours before contacting Spangle. Among other connections to the Trump Administration, Ingram has notably contributed $59,000 towards the President’s campaign and interacted with top officials at the DOI and EPA at least 11 times since Trump was inaugurated. In October 2017, Spangle issued a reversal of his previous decision. He told the Arizona Daily Star that in his 34 years working for the federal government, this was the only time he ever felt pressured to change a decision. “I made a decision, which was my authority to make in Arizona, and that was overruled by higher-ups in the administration,” he told CNN.

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