Easing of pesticide rules draws congressional protest

WASHINGTON, DC, June 18, 2004 (ENS): A letter signed by 66 members of the House of Representatives urges the Bush administration to withdraw proposed regulations that the lawmakers warn would undermine the Endangered Species Act and negatively impact endangered wildlife, farmworker safety, and human health.

Spearheaded by Congressman Raúl Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat, the letter asks Interior Secretary Gale Norton and Michael Leavitt, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to halt a proposal limiting public and scientific participation in the approval of pesticide use.

The proposed rule change would allow the EPA to approve pesticide use without consulting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about potential harms to imperiled species, and give the chemical industry special participation rights not shared by the public or the workers who are exposed to these chemicals. Such consultations are required under the Endangered Species Act for the benefit of plants and animals, but Grijalva says they also benefit workers.

“The proposal is particularly troubling to me because it seeks to remove one of the most effective mechanisms for imposing constraints on the use of harmful pesticides,” said Grijalva. “The easing of these restrictions on pesticides would be particularly harmful to the public health of farm workers and their families.”

The EPA estimates that pesticides poison 10,000 to 20,000 agricultural workers each year. Buffer zones around spray areas designed to protect nearby species provide critically needed protections to farm workers and their children who live near and play in treated farms and orchards.

“It is our responsibility as members of Congress to speak out against the Bush administration’s agenda to dismantle the laws and regulations that protect our environment and our public health,”said Grijalva. “These proposed regulations are a step backward for both wildlife and farm worker protections."

California conservation groups support the Congressional letter, released Monday. California groups are concerned that the proposed regulations would threaten Endangered Species Act protections being sought throughout the state for the California red-legged frog in a matter currently pending in Federal District Court in San Francisco.

"The Bush administration prefers to pad the chemical industry's pocketbook at the expense of the California red-legged frog, worker safety, and human health," said Brent Plater, staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, who brought the case to protect the California red-legged frog from illegal pesticide use.

Plater says consultations among agency experts are "essential" before approving pesticide use "because scientists from around the country have recently discovered that the impacts of pesticides on imperiled species are compounded by the presence of predators and other environmental stressors, factors that can only be adequately assessed in conjunction with biologists from federal wildlife agencies."

In similar proceedings, the Federal District Court in Seattle ruled in 2002 and 2004 to protect endangered salmon from illegal pesticide use, responding to evidence that pesticides pollute salmon streams and that the Bush administration had failed to protect the species.


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