Judge Rules EPA Cannot Skip Pesticide Review -Endangered Species Act
(Beyond Pesticides, August 29, 2006) A federal judge has ruled that the Bush administration violated the Endangered Species Act by creating a regulation to bypass wildlife agencies in its review and licensing of pesticides. On August 24, U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour of Seattle overturned the regulation, which attempted to streamline approval of pesticides by ignoring the protection of the nation's 1,200-plus endangered species. As a result, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will once again be required to consult federal wildlife biologists before licensing pesticides, a major victory for the nine environmental groups that filed the suit against the U.S. Interior Department two years ago.
In 2001, environmental groups sued over EPA’s failure to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before allowing certain pesticides to be sold. Judge Coughenour ordered EPA to conduct such consultations in determining whether 55 of the pesticides were likely to harm salmon, reported the Seattle Post Intelligencer.
Instead, in 2004, the administration created a new rule allowing it to ignore the "consultation" requirement of the Endangered Species Act - a part of the law it had been ignoring for at least a decade. With hundreds of pesticides and endangered species across the country, requiring multiple agencies to agree on their potential effect could be a logistical nightmare; officials reasoned EPA should decide on its own whether pesticides were likely to harm protected species.
In a second ruling, U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour said the Bush Administration’s change reflected a "total lack" of scientific justification and that there were "disturbing indications" that the administration deliberately muted dissent from government scientists. In a footnote, Judge Coughenour added: "The court feels compelled to note that there are disturbing indications in the record that the very structure of the service-EPA cooperation was engineered (by EPA) to conceal or minimize the positional differences between the services and EPA."
The Center for Biological Diversity, one of the plaintiffs, reported government data show that pesticides already jeopardize more than 375 endangered or threatened species across the country, according to Silent Spring Revisited, a report released in July of 2005. Species of owls, salmon, frogs and sea turtles are jeopardized by pesticides that are applied to or drift into their habitat or that flow into waterways from farms and yards. Amphibians, including California's tiger salamander, red-legged frog and mountain yellow-legged frog, are among the most vulnerable to pesticides. Also, some of California's rarest fish - salmon, steelhead and delta smelt - are exposed to the chemicals from agricultural and urban runoff.
Sentinel species have alerted humans to chemical hazards for decades and provide important signals necessary to protect public health. “The fact that data about pesticide effects on endangered species were ignored in risk assessments, which are required in the pesticide registration process, further undermines the validity of EPA’s risk calculation,” said Eileen Gunn, project director of Beyond Pesticides.
For more information on EPA's failure to protect endangered species see The Center for Biological Diversity's report.