WASHINGTON, D.C. — Aurelia Skipwith, Trump’s nominee to be the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and a former employee of agrochemical corporation Monsanto, faced a lot of questions from the Senate Committee on Energy and Public Works on Tuesday, September 11.
“At today’s hearing, many important questions were raised surrounding Skipwith’s resume, which astonishingly lacks fish and wildlife experience, outside of the Trump orbit yet includes past work at agrochemical giant Monsanto,” said Jayson O’Neill, Deputy Director of the Western Values Project. “Skipwith’s history of working with special interests, her close ties with the oil and gas industry and the fact that she donated to Trump’s reelection campaign just days after her nomination should cause any Senator to reconsider their support for her if they value America’s wildlife.”
On July 17, President Donald Trump announced the nomination of Skipwith to be the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, a former Westlands Water District and oil industry lobbyist that is pushing a water plan that will devastate Central Valley salmon and Delta fish populations, applauded the nomination.
“Aurelia is a leader within the department who has helped us execute our initiatives as outlined by President Trump," said Secretary Bernhardt. "I look forward to her prompt confirmation, so she can continue her service to the American people.”
The Department of Interior’s press release didn’t mention Skipworth’s former employment by Monsanto: “Skipwith currently serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks at the Department of the Interior, where her team is responsible for ensuring the protection and stewardship of lands and waters within the national park and wildlife refuge systems. Previously, she served as Assistant Corporate Counsel at Alltech, Inc. Skipwith earned her B.S. in biology from Howard University, M.S. in molecular biology from Purdue University, and J.D. from the University of Kentucky College of Law. Skipwith is the first African American to ever be nominated to the position.”
Aurelia Skipwith began her career working for multinational corporation Monsanto, where she'worked her way up from a lab technician to “sustainable agriculture partnership manager.”
“When Skipwith left Monsanto, she briefly worked as a research and legal intern at the United States Department of Agriculture, and next worked as an intellectual property consultant for USAID,” according to a statement from the Western Values Project. “From August 2015 to August 2016, Skipwith worked for Alltech, a ‘global animal nutrition provider’ that also runs one of the largest algae production systems in the world. In April 2016, Skipwith co-founded “agricultural consulting firm AVC Global,” where she worked as General Counsel."
“Skipwith has a history of working with big-time special interests like Monsanto,” said Jayson O’Neill, Deputy Director of the Western Values Project. “Outside of her days at the agrochemical corporation, her resume is surprisingly scant for someone that would be charged with managing America’s fish and wildlife. But like so many other Trump political appointees, Skipwith has already rubbed elbows with oil and gas interests and is poised to continue to curry favors for special interests at the expense of our public lands, fish and wildlife if she is confirmed.”
While Skipwith was working for Monsanto, the corporation lobbied Interior, Congress, and other federal agencies on the Endangered Species Act. “In 2012, Skipwith even won an award from the agrochemical corporation for her work,” said O’Neill.
“After Skipwith joined FWS as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Fish, Wildlife and Park, FWS decided to rescind a ban on farms within national wildlife refuges using bee-killing pesticides - a decision highly favorable to Monsanto,” noted O’Neill. “This wasn’t the only departmental action that would ostensibly benefit agrochemical corporations. Secretary Bernhardt is under investigation by Interior’s Inspector General for his role in suppressing a scientific assessment on the impacts of pesticides on endangered and threatened species.”
Skipwith has been deeply involved in the Trump administration's rollback of habitat protections for the imperiled sage grouse and spoke at the oil and gas association Independent Petroleum Association of America’s (IPAA) regulators’ forum, according to her publically released calendars.
“The IPAA is a former client of Secretary Bernhardt’s whose political director was caught on tape laughing about the connections and access they have within the Trump administration,” stated O’Neill.
“In July 2017, Skipwith sent memos to the National Park Service and FWS requesting they review rules that prevented hunters from killing bears and wolves using extreme techniques, like baiting the animals with greasy doughnuts, ambushing mothers with pups in dens and shooting animals from boats while the bears are swimming,’” said O’Neill.
“Skipwith’s qualifications for the nomination have been called into question, given that her resume offers no previous experience working within FWS, aside from her work as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks over the last two years within the Trump administration. She was originally nominated under the tenure of former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke - who ran in the same circles as Skipwith’s then-fiance.”
On September 10, twenty-seven former Fish and Wildlife Service employees united in opposition to the nomination of Aurelia Skipwith as the agency's next director, critiquing her background and experience.
O’Neill noted that her nomination was celebrated by both scandal-ridden Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who resigned in disgrace in late-2018, as well as current conflict-ridden Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. Her original nomination died at the end of the previous Congress, but she was renominated for the same position on July 17, 2019.