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Daily News Blog

03
Apr

With Wildlife Extinction on the Rise, Trump Administration Reduces Protections for Endangered Species, Allows Greater Harm from Pesticides

(Beyond Pesticides, April 3, 2020) In mid-March, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rolled out new rules for “biological evaluations” — assessments of pesticide risks to endangered plant and animal species that are supposed to be protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The agency’s press release announcing the change is misleadingly titled: “Trump Administration Takes Major Step to Improve Implementation of the Endangered Species Act.” But as the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) reports, the “revised methods for assessing pesticide risks . . . will allow widespread harm to most of the nation’s most endangered plants and animals.” Beyond Pesticides reviewed the status of pesticide threats to endangered species in November 2019 and provides ongoing coverage of the issue.

ESA requires EPA to conduct biological evaluations (BEs) of pesticides to assess their impacts on listed (endangered and threatened) species and their critical habitats. EPA’s new “Revised Method” ignores many of the ways that protected species are commonly hurt or killed by pesticides, and allows the continued marketing and use of pesticides without sensible constraints that would protect those species. CBD cites two examples of ignored impacts: downstream impacts of pesticide runoff into waterways from treated farmland, and the loss of pollinating insects on which some endangered plant species depend.

According to EHS Daily Advisor, “The Agency has now issued a nonregulatory method for conducting BEs.” This new Revised Method will emphasize actual (rather than potential) pesticide uses and impacts on listed species and their critical habitat, but is expected to quicken the delivery of pesticides to the market and to agricultural users — one goal of the Trump administration’s industry-friendly EPA. As CBD writes, “EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs has a long history of failing to protect people and the environment from pesticides.”

Such failures lie at the doorsteps of not only EPA, but also, other federal agencies. A recent example of this, in regard to endangered and threatened species, was covered by Beyond Pesticides in March 2019: “The Trump administration has known for over a year — and actively concealed — that the organophosphate insecticide chlorpyrifos jeopardizes the existence of 1,399 endangered species. Top officials at the U.S. Department of the Interior, including Acting Secretary David Bernhardt, were privy to and prevented the release of a ‘biological opinion,’ completed by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in 2017, which contains a full analysis of the extensive environmental impacts wrought by three organophosphate insecticides” [emphasis, Beyond Pesticides].

In May 2019, EPA issued a preliminary proposal on methods for assessment of risk for endangered species. Beyond Pesticides wrote at that time: “The proposals ignore the real-world, science-based assessments of pesticides’ harms, instead relying on arbitrary industry-created models. . . . The proposals follow intensive efforts by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to halt federal work on protecting wildlife from pesticides. They were released over a year after a draft biological opinion that was scuttled by the Trump administration found that the loss of pollinators from the insecticide chlorpyrifos would put hundreds of endangered species on a path to extinction. The so-called ‘refinements’ will make it easier for the EPA to claim that pesticides have no effects on endangered species.”

CBD notes that EPA, in this recent Revised Method document, has jettisoned some of the worst provisions that were in the 2019 preliminary proposal. That iteration was challenged by the Attorneys General of 10 states and Washington, DC in a suit; the plaintiffs said the proposal “is antithetical to the plain language and purpose of the ESA. By curtailing data inputs, arbitrarily narrowing the scope of findings, and discounting results that are purportedly uncertain, the Draft Method would allow EPA, through its risk assessment, to arbitrarily determine that a proposed pesticide registration or reregistration is not likely to adversely affect listed plants and animals, or is not likely to adversely modify critical habitat, prior to and without consultation with the Services.” Such consultation is required by the ESA.

CBD’s environmental health director Lori Ann Burd said, “The EPA recognized that the draft revised methods [in the preliminary proposal] were so blatantly pro-pesticide that they had to dial them back. Even so, they still fail to meet the Endangered Species Act’s requirements for determining harm to protected plants and animals. We’re in the midst of a heartbreaking wildlife extinction crisis, and the EPA’s new rules only make the situation worse.”

The Center for Biological Diversity and Pesticide Action Network North America litigated EPA over its failure to protect endangered species from pesticide impacts. EPA failed in its June 2018 attempt to have the suit dismissed, and in October 2019, a federal district court judge in San Francisco issued an order mandating that EPA assess the risks posed, by eight of the most harmful pesticides in use in the U.S., to protected plants and animals. Those eight compounds — atrazine, carbaryl, methomyl and simazine, and the rodenticides brodifacoum, bromadiolone, warfarin, and zinc phosphide — represent more than 75 million pounds of toxic chemicals applied annually.

As a result of that successful suit, EPA used its new method to reassess the likely harms, to more than 1,500 endangered species, of two carbamate class, neurotoxic pesticides: carbaryl, an extremely toxic pesticide similar to chlorpyrifos, and methomyl. (Both these pesticides are very toxic to bird, fish and other aquatic organisms, and bees.) The preliminary results include: carbaryl is likely to harm 86% (1,542) of all endangered plants and animals, and methomyl is likely to harm 62% (1,114). The figures for adverse impacts to critical habitat are: carbaryl is likely to harm 90% of critical habitats, and methomyl is likely to harm 42% of critical habitat.

According to information secured through FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests, these changes were requested by the pesticide industry, and “driven by political-level appointees at the EPA, Department of the Interior, Department of Commerce, and the White House.” CBD’s Lori Ann Burd commented, “This disgraceful new rule prioritizes the pesticide industry’s profits over the protection of America’s most endangered animals and plants. It’s painfully clear that pesticides have a devastating effect on some of our most vulnerable species, and the Trump administration is intent on thwarting urgently needed protections.”

EHS Daily Advisor reports that the Revised Method is being “well received” in the pesticide and agricultural community. Crop Life America, a trade group that represents manufacturers and distributors of pesticides, comment, unironically, “We appreciate the Agency’s commitment to a process that is efficient, protective of species, and based on the best available science.”

In its press release, EPA also announced the opening of a 60-day public comment period on the Revised Method, commencing with publication of the proposed rule in the Federal Register. (See the pre-publication notice for the draft BEs for carbaryl and methomyl, and the Revised Method document.) The release went on to say, “After carefully considering public comments, EPA will finalize the BEs. If the agency determines a pesticide may affect a listed species or its critical habitat, the agency will consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service (the Services). The Services will then issue a biological opinion to determine if the population of a species would be adversely impacted and, if so, propose ways to reduce risks.” This statement strains credulity, given CBD’s assertion that “To date the EPA has never once implemented a nationwide Endangered Species Act consultation on pesticides, as required under the Act.”

Stay current on EPA’s (and other federal and state agencies’) actions on pesticides through Beyond Pesticides Daily News Blog and journal, Pesticides and You. Beyond Pesticides will often alert readers to opportunities to make public comments on pending regulations. See EPA’s overview website page on making public comments here.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Sources: https://biologicaldiversity.org/w/news/press-releases/rump-epas-new-rules-for-assessing-pesticide-risks-ignore-many-harms-to-endangered-species-2020-03-12/ and https://ehsdailyadvisor.blr.com/2020/03/epa-revises-pesticide-be-method-under-endangered-species-act/

 

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