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EPA Sued For Illegally Taking Direction from Chemical Industry Group (1/20/04)
(Beyond Pesticides, January 20, 2004)
Conservation and pesticide-watchdog groups filed a lawsuit on January 15 to stop the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from giving illegal special access to a group of chemical corporations. Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and other sources reveal that the corporate insider group has met regularly with EPA officials in secret and has urged EPA to weaken endangered species protections from pesticides. The case was filed in federal district court in Seattle Washington.

The chemical companies are pushing EPA to weaken pesticide safeguards by cutting expert biologists in the US Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries out of consultations determining the effects of pesticides on wildlife. At the companies’ urging, EPA has started a rulemaking to reserve authority over such evaluations to itself.

“EPA is letting the pesticide industry have inside influence over the fate of endangered species poisoned by toxic pesticides,” said Patti Goldman of Earthjustice, which brought the lawsuit on behalf of the conservation and watchdog groups.

Federal law prohibits the government from using and meeting in secret with such insider groups. Congress has established good government standards that prevent secret and one-sided advisory bodies of wealthy special interests. The Federal Advisory Committee Act prohibits the federal government from obtaining advice from committees comprised of only the regulated industry. That act also requires that the meetings of advisory groups be open to the public.

“EPA has an open door policy to the biggest chemical companies in America while excluding the rest of us,” said Mike Senatore of Defenders of Wildlife. “That’s not right. In America all voices are supposed to be heard, not just wealthy interests that make campaign contributions.”

In 2000, EPA established this chemical industry group, known as the FIFRA Endangered Species Task Force, to develop data disclosing the locations of endangered species. The task force is comprised of 14 agro-chemical companies. It meets regularly with EPA officials in closed meetings and has no public-interest representatives. Over the past year, the chemical industry task force has shifted its efforts away from generating data to advocating that EPA circumvent the Endangered Species Act for pesticide uses that harm federally protected species. It has become the chief proponent of new pesticide regulations that would eliminate expert oversight over species protections. In early 2003, EPA announced its plan to issue such regulations, and it plans to propose new rules soon.

“For years, EPA has flouted its obligation to protect endangered species from pesticides,” said Aaron Colangelo of Natural Resources Defense Council. “Now that the courts are directing EPA to comply with its duties, the pesticide industry and the Bush administration have come up with a new trick for delaying species protections.”

The lawsuit asks the court to order EPA to commit to bring its actions into compliance with the Federal Advisory Committee Act. Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Washington Toxics Coalition, and Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, represented by Earthjustice, filed the lawsuit.

For more information on EPA’s actions regarding endangered species and pesticides, Beyond Pesticides’ Daily News stories Chemical Industry Pushes Bush to Relax Endangered Species Law, September 22, 2003 and EPA Publishes Proposed Changes to the Endangered Species Act, January 27, 2003.