EPA Alone Will Decide Pesticide Harm to Endangered Species

WASHINGTON, DC, July 30, 2004 (ENS) - New regulations finalized Thursday allow the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to determine whether the use of any new pesticide product is likely to harm endangered species, without first consulting with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries. Conservationists said the new policy threatens the survival and recovery of numerous endangered species.

Under the Endangered Species Act, the EPA must consult with the two wildlife agencies to ensure that registration of pesticide products under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of federally listed threatened or endangered species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat.

The Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries said that for the past year they have conducted "an extensive review" of EPA's approach to ecological risk assessment and offered recommendations that the EPA has incorporated.

The EPA could determine that the use of a pest-control product is "not likely to adversely affect" a listed species or its critical habitat "without either concurrence of the Services or informal consultation," the agencies said in a statement.


In tests to control caterpillars on vegetable crops, ecologist Stephen Wraight examines nozzles used to spray spores of a fungus. (Photo by Keith Weller courtesy USDA)
The wildlife agencies said they would perform periodic reviews of the methods that the EPA employs to arrive at these determinations to ensure EPA is making determinations that are consistent with the requirements of the Endangered Species Act.

When formal consultation is required, the EPA may utilize an optional procedure to develop a determination of the effects of the pest-control product on listed species for the Services' review.

The procedure also allows EPA to request direct involvement of representatives of the Services in the effects analysis.

As required by law, the wildlife services would make the final determination whether threatened or endangered species are likely to be jeopardized by a FIFRA action.

Because of the complexity of consultations among the agencies to examine the effects of pest-control products, there have been almost no consultations completed in the past decade.

All three agencies called the new approach more "workable" and efficient and Bill Hogarth, assistant administrator, NOAA Fisheries said it would "help expedite the pesticide review process."


Pesticide sprayer in an orchard (Photo by Rob Flynn courtesy USDA)
Manufacturers register a wide variety of products, ranging from agricultural pesticides to commonly used household products, which are regulated under FIFRA. As a result of EPA's ongoing reevaluation of previously registered pest-control products, as well as recent litigation, the three agencies anticipate a significant increase in the number of future consultations.

But the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) does not trust the EPA to regulate pesticides in a way that is not harmful to endangered species and has filed numerous lawsuits seeking the consultations required by law.

Sixty-six members of the House of Representatives, all Democrats, sent a letter opposing the new regulations to Interior Secretary Gale Norton, who has oversight over the Fish and Wildlife Service, Commerce Secretary Donald Evans, who oversees NOAA Fisheries, and EPA Administrator Michael Leavitt.

"The proposed changes would unnecessarily risk both wildlife and public health by exposing animals and humans to highly toxic pesticides when they are most potent and would eliminate necessary interagency checks and balances," the lawmakers warn in their letter.

This week the Center issued a report, "Silent Spring Revisited - Pesticide Use and Endangered Species," that identifies 375 species listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act adversely affected by pesticides.


Deformed frogs like this one are increasingly common. (Photo courtesy USGS)
Pesticides have been linked to declines of amphibians in California and several species of Pacific salmon, they threaten sea turtles in Chesapeake Bay, and continue to kill bald eagles nationwide, the Center says.

The report discusses case studies of the EPA’s failure to consult with wildlife regulatory agencies about the impacts of pesticides on many endangered species and "the agency’s illegal registration of pesticides known to be harmful to imperiled fish and wildlife."

“The Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory oversight of the pesticide industry has been abysmal, resulting in significant and unnecessary threats to endangered wildlife and human health,” said Jeff Miller, spokesperson for the Center for Biological Diversity.

“As a result of the EPA’s subservience to the pesticide industry there is currently very little oversight of widely used chemicals that hit the market,” said Miller.


America's national bird, the bald eagle, is sensitive to pesticides. Federally listed as endangered until 2000, the eagle is now listed as threatened. (Photo courtesy USFWS)
“Industry already effectively controls both the registration process and scientific research," he said. The Bush administration’s outrageous proposal to allow the EPA to further circumvent the consultation process is the equivalent of handing control of the Department of Health to the tobacco industry."

The CBD's Conservation Director Peter Galvin said, "The Bush administration’s latest environmental rollback will mean even more dangerous pesticides entering our rivers, lakes and wetlands.”

But Susan Hazen, the EPA's principal deputy assistant administrator for prevention, pesticides, and toxic substances, disagrees.

"Today's final regulations, if implemented appropriately, will greatly improve the science based decisionmaking process for protecting endangered species," she said. "This successful collaboration between the services and EPA will lead to stronger protections for endangered species faster."

"The EPA simply needs to follow the law, consult on environmental impacts, and eliminate harmful pesticides that cause jeopardy to endangered species,” said Miller.

Bruce Knight, the U.S. Agriculture Department's chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, called agricultural producers "the first-line conservationists."

"We applaud the proposed efficiencies in this rule as a way to protect the health of our families and neighbors while we continue to provide food for our communities," said Knight.

Over two billion pounds of pesticides are sold in the United States each year for agricultural, commercial, and home uses and the EPA has registered for use over 18,000 pesticides.