WASHINGTON, DC, September 27, 2004 (ENS):
Environmentalists have gone to court in a bid to block
a Bush administration regulation that allows the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to determine whether
new pesticides will jeopardize endangered species without
consulting with the federal government's two key wildlife
The suit alleges that the rule change violates the
Endangered Species Act and is "arbitrary, capricious,
and contrary to the best available scientific information."
"The last thing America's most imperiled species
need is a rule change that could make their prospects
for survival worse," said John Kostyack, senior
counsel for the National Wildlife Federation, one of
the plaintiffs in the suit.
The coalition of eight environmental and fishing groups
filed the suit Thursday in federal court in Seattle.
The groups say the new rule, which was finalized in
late July, makes it easier for agribusiness and other
industries to use highly toxic pesticides without regard
for endangered species.
"This policy is more about undermining the Endangered
Species Act than it is about government streamlining,"
said Jamie Rappaport Clark, executive vice president
at Defenders of Wildlife, who served as director of
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service during the Clinton
administration. "This decision lets EPA off the
hook instead of requiring it to do its job."
Under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act, the EPA
is required to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service
and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to
ensure that pesticides approved by the agency are not
likely to adversely affect listed species - or their
But almost no consultations have been completed in
the past decade and administration officials say the
rule change revamped a broken regulatory process while
maintaining protection for wildlife.
The new rule authorizes the EPA to make determinations
that pesticides are not likely to "adversely affect"
a threatened or endangered species without concurrence
or informal consultation.
If the agency determines a formal consultation is required,
the EPA can directly or indirectly involve the wildlife
agencies, which under the law would make the final determination.
The federal wildlife agencies, the EPA and the pesticide
industry say the new approach is more workable and will
result in increased consultations, but critics are far
The EPA has a very poor track record of consulting
with biologists at the wildlife agencies and has only
fulfilled the mandate when forced to do so by the courts,
according to David Wright, a former Fish and Wildlife
"Up to now, EPA's track record in addressing the
effects of pesticides on endangered species has been
abysmal," Wright said. "After all its previous
neglect and flawed decisions, handing endangered species
protection over to EPA stinks of conflict of interest."
Critics of the policy note that the administration
proposed its rule change in late January - less than
a week after a federal judge ruled against the EPA and
restricted the use of 38 pesticides near salmon streams
in the Pacific Northwest.
The judge ordered the EPA to consult with the National
Marine Fisheries Service and establish permanent restrictions
needed to protect salmon from pesticides.
"When the court found that the EPA was not playing
by the rules, the EPA simply changed the rules,"
said Patti Goldman, an attorney with Earthjustice, which
is representing the coalition.
The government agencies changed the rule in response
to a successful lawsuit brought by conservationists
and fishermen against the EPA for failing to consult
with NMFS scientists on the impact of pesticides on
Pacific Northwest salmon.
There is ample data that pesticides can pose a serious
threat to wildlife.
Pesticides have been linked to declines of amphibians
in California and several species of Pacific salmon,
they threaten sea turtles in Chesapeake Bay, and were
integral in the dramatic decline of the bald eagle last
In July the Center for Biological Diversity issued
a report, "Silent Spring Revisited - Pesticide
Use and Endangered Species," that identified 375
species listed as endangered or threatened under the
Endangered Species Act that were adversely affected
More 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 more
than 18,000 pesticides.
Hundreds of pesticides are up for registration review
by the EPA this year, and environmentalists say many
of these chemicals could adversely impact the more than
1,200 species protected by the Endangered Species Act.
The groups filing the suit are: Center for Biological
Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Helping our Peninsula's
Environment, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources
Defense Council, Northwest Coalition for Alternatives
to Pesticides, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's
Associations/Institute for Fisheries Resources, and
Washington Toxics Coalition.
The EPA site on pesticides and endanagered species
is found at: http://www.epa.gov/oppfead1/endanger/
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2004. All