EPA action on the pesticides came after a federal district court ordered a review of the pesticides because of their potential danger to federally protected salmon. EPA's cursory review was lambasted by NOAA Fisheries, the federal agency that holds primary responsibility for enforcing salmon protections. NOAA Fisheries found, "After review of the submitted information, NOAA Fisheries does not concur with EPA's effects determinations."
"Pesticides are deadly by design and they'll kill baby salmon after the poisons wash off fields, orchards, and lawns into salmon streams. EPA's job is to regulate their use so they don't violate the Endangered Species Act, but their own sister agency in the federal government has found them failing miserably at this obligation," said Patti Goldman of Earthjustice.
The groups, which include the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, and the Washington Toxics Coalition, are challenging EPA's determinations of the effects of certain pesticides on salmon. These determinations suggest what actions the EPA must take to safeguard water quality and protect salmon.
The main weaknesses in EPA's reports on the pesticides include:
1. Despite the fact that 90 percent of our nation's urban streams are contaminated with pesticides, EPA failed to assess the risks of urban pesticide use on salmon.
2. EPA continually ignores the concerns raised by the wildlife biologists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries), the two federal agencies with the greatest understanding of salmon biology.
3. EPA lacks necessary expertise on salmon life stages and habitat requirements.
These charges echo the concerns voiced by scientists at both FWS and NOAA Fisheries.
In its draft letter, NOAA Fisheries disputed EPA findings, and insisted that EPA conduct a much more extensive analysis of the effects of pesticides on salmon.
"EPA is trying to get away with decades-old science instead of doing right by the salmon," said Erika Schreder of Washington Toxics Coalition. "We're holding EPA accountable for truly complying with the Endangered Species Act because giving it lip service doesn't help salmon."
"We will not sit back and let EPA make a mockery of the ESA," said Aimee Code of the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides." EPA's reports on the risks pesticides pose to salmon are an embarrassment to the scientific community. Now we're putting EPA on notice: either take steps to truly protect salmon or face another lawsuit."
The action comes as the Bush administration and the EPA prepare to change the way pesticide impacts on wildlife are evaluated in ways that favor pesticide makers and users at the expense of imperiled wildlife. The EPA proposed regulations in January 2004 that would exclude the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries, the two expert wildlife agencies in the federal government, when determining whether pesticides threaten endangered species. The EPA proposes to assume near-complete responsibility for assessment of pesticide impacts known as "self consultation", despite its dismal track record and complete lack of knowledge of the biologic aspects of species needing protection.
The proposal would also allow the agrochemical industry to control the research on the environmental impacts of its products, with special rights in the process not shared by the public. There has been widespread opposition to the EPA's proposed changes, including a letter of "serious concern" sent in June 2004 by 66 members of Congress. Conservation and pesticide reform organizations challenged the scientific basis and legality of these rules and close to 20,000 people submitted comments in opposition to these changes.