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Daily News Blog

09
Aug

Feds To Evaluate Endangered Species Impacts under Clean Water Act’s General Pesticide Permits

(Beyond Pesticides, August 9, 2023) The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have agreed to assess the harms of applying pesticides in waterways to threatened and endangered wildlife under a legal agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). Under the Clean Water Act, a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Systems (NPDES) permit is needed when pollutants are discharged from a point source (an identifiable source) into the “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS), but federal authorities, in their general permitting process, have long failed to assess effects to threatened and endangered species.

According to the terms of the settlement agreement, FWS must complete consultations required under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to prevent harm to protected species such as bull trout, pallid sturgeon, Oregon spotted frogs, and other threatened aquatic organisms. 

The agreement is a step in implementing the 1973 ESA, a law that is saving numerous species from extinction, facilitating the recovery of hundreds more, and enabling the preservation of habitats. The humpback whale, bald eagle, and snail darter are among the species that have been saved thanks to the ESA. For years, Beyond Pesticides has reported on decades of neglecting to fully implement and fund the ESA. 

In 2021, CBD filed a lawsuit in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on the 2021 Pesticide General Permit (PGP) for Discharges from the Application of Pesticides. The lawsuit challenged EPA’s failure to complete a required endangered species consultation with FWS prior to issuing a 2021 pesticide general PGP permit. PGP is a permit process within the NPDES permit process. The NPDES program is designed to control and manage the discharge of pollutants, such as pesticides, into U.S. waters and protect water quality and aquatic life. The lawsuit also challenged the permit process for failing to comply with monitoring and recordkeeping obligations under the Clean Water Act.

PGP targets biological and chemical pesticides that leave a residue in water bodies for the following uses: (1) flying insect pest control, including mosquito control; (2) aquatic weed and algae control; (3) aquatic nuisance animal control; and (4) forest canopy pest control. Biological pesticides are derived from living organisms and are used for pest control. Examples include certain bacteria, fungi, and viruses that target specific pests. Chemical pesticides, on the other hand, are synthetic substances designed to kill or control pests.

PGP sets out regulations and requirements for entities, such as industries or agricultural operations, that apply directly to water for the aforementioned uses. Overall, the NPDES general permit for pesticides plays a crucial role in safeguarding water resources and protecting aquatic species from the potential adverse effects of pesticide discharges. However, the program falls short of protecting 56 percent of streams that are sampled by the U.S. Geological Survey, and contain one or more pesticides that exceed water quality standards. 

The PGP permit is issued by EPA every five years. It establishes the requirements for pesticide applications directly to water for purposes such as aquatic weed control, mosquito spraying, and forest canopy pest control. In the 2021 lawsuit, CBD alleges that FWS failed to complete endangered species consultations, even when requested by the EPA. Under the new agreement, FWS will complete consultations prior to the finalization of the next permit (no later than 2025).

The agreement also requires that EPA take additional actions to improve pollution monitoring and other permit compliance requirements under the Clean Water Act to protect freshwater species against harm from these pesticide applications between now and 2025.

In finalizing the permit, EPA did complete consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service. As a result, the permit already includes protections for oceangoing species like Pacific salmon and steelhead. Consultation with FWS under this legal agreement will expand these protections to dozens of freshwater species.

“This agreement is important progress for improving the health of our rivers and streams and the incredible critters that rely on them,” said Hannah Connor, an attorney at CBD. “My hope is that it will be a wake-up call for the Fish and Wildlife Service to fully embrace its critical role in preventing harm from pesticides to protected species.”

In a related issue, President Joe Biden vetoed a bill passed by Congress that would have narrowed the definition of waterways under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act and the NPDES process. The U.S. House of Representatives’ Republican majority voted on March 9 and the Senate voted on March 29 to overturn a Biden administration rule that expands the definition of and protections for the “waters of the United States.” The rule, Revised Definition of Waters of the United States, clarifies that thousands of wetlands, smaller streams, and other kinds of waterways are included under the Clean Water Act’s protection provisions. The attempted Congressional rollback in March would have put at greater risk the nation’s waterways from all sorts of pollution, including the more than 90% of the nation’s rivers and streams that are contaminated with five or more pesticides, according to Beyond Pesticides 2020 coverage. See Daily News on legislation.

Two ways that you can combat the negative impacts of pesticides on wildlife are to (1) implement organic practices for your own lawn and garden, and (2) support organic agriculture, rather than conventional agriculture, which relies on pesticide use. Beyond Pesticides supports organic agriculture as effecting good land stewardship and reducing wildlife’s hazardous chemical exposures. The pesticide reform movement, citing pesticide problems associated with chemical agriculture — from groundwater contamination and runoff to drift — views organic as the solution to these serious environmental threats. You can transition your communities’ public spaces to organic land management by becoming a parks advocate. Sign up today to learn how to protect children, pets, and pollinators in your local parks, playing fields, and other public spaces. 

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

Source: Legal Agreement Will Help Protect Endangered Wildlife From Pesticides Applied to Waterways

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