The Bush administration has adopted a new approach to approving pesticides that greatly weakens protections for threatened and endangered species. The new rules allow the EPA to exclude scientific expertise from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries when approving pesticides that threaten harm to endangered species. The Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries are home to scientists who know the most about the endangered species and whose input is needed to guard against harm to wildlife from pesticides. Scientists, conservationists, and members of Congress have all voiced opposition to the rule change because of the danger pesticides pose to endangered species. The Bush administration claims it is “streamlining” the pesticide approval process. What they have failed tell the public is the fact that 14 of the world’s biggest pesticide companies, both American and foreign, worked closely with the White House to develop the new rule.
“This is a drastic weakening of protections for all endangered species across the country,” said Earthjustice attorney Grant Cope. “If you take the experts out of the room because you don’t like what they’re saying, that’s one way to streamline the registration of dangerous pesticides.”
“These rules have nothing to do with science and everything to do with politics,” said Aimee Code, water quality coordinator for the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides. “With this administration, science takes the back seat to pleasing the pesticide industry.”
The new Bush administration rule was crafted in response to a successful lawsuit filed by Earthjustice challenging EPA’s failure to consult with the wildlife agencies on the impacts of pesticides to salmon. Instead of working to comply with the law to protect wildlife, high level officials at EPA, working with allies in the pesticide manufacturing business, chose to craft a way to circumvent the law. This became clear in January when Earthjustice challenged the legality of an advisory group made up of 14 American and foreign pesticide makers who urged Bush administration political appointees to create this regulatory loophole.
NOAA Fisheries has already documented the failure of the new fast-track pesticide permitting process to protect northwest salmon. In a letter from NOAA Fisheries to EPA Earthjustice obtained under the Washington Public Records Act, NOAA Fisheries concluded that EPA would, left to its own devices, approve pesticides using flawed science even though they may adversely affect federally protected salmon species.
The new fast track rule comes on the heels of an exhaustive study released July 27 by the Center for Biological Diversity that found, based on government data, that pesticides are already jeopardizing hundreds of endangered species throughout the country.
Although the US Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries gave nominal support to the new rule, they both have long voiced concern that EPA focuses too exclusively on pesticide-caused mortality to fish and wildlife and does not adequately consider more subtle impacts such as on behavior and immune systems.
“For years wildlife agencies have been concerned that our nation’s most imperiled species are regularly exposed to harmful pesticides; all of a sudden with the introduction of these new rules they changed their tune,” said Aimee Code.
The rules significantly weaken the requirement that EPA obtain input from the federal wildlife agencies when making decisions regarding pesticides and endangered species. In addition to the flaws cited above, the new rule allows the EPA to use outdated science to determine how endangered species should be protected from pesticides.
Letter from congressional members opposing proposed new pesticide regulations (pdf file)
Fact sheet on proposed pesticide regulations
Case studies on pesticide threats to endangered species (pdf file)
Fact sheet explaining FWS & NMFS shifting scientific positions on pesticide protection