Rule Change Undermines Environmental Safeguards in the Name of 'Streamlining'
WASHINGTON (September 23, 2004) - The government's recent decision to allow the Environmental Protection Agency to determine whether a pesticide harms endangered species without consulting with federal wildlife agencies weakens protection for those species and endangers the health of farm workers and the public, according to a lawsuit filed today by a coalition of conservation and fishing groups. The lawsuit was filed today in federal district court in Seattle.
The new rule, issued in late July, allows EPA to evade its legal obligation to first consult with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) scientists before registering new pesticides or allowing continued use of pesticides that may harm plants and animals protected by the Endangered Species Act. By eliminating the checks and balances built into the Endangered Species Act through formal agency consultation, the new rule makes it easier for agribusiness and other industries to use highly toxic pesticides.
Scientists, conservationists, and members of Congress oppose the rule change, which the administration formulated with the help of the pesticide industry. The government agencies changed the rule in response to a successful lawsuit brought by conservationists and fishermen against the EPA for failing to consult with NMFS scientists on the impact of pesticides on Pacific Northwest salmon.
"When the court found that the EPA was not playing by the rules, the EPA simply changed the rules," said Patti Goldman, an attorney with Earthjustice, which is representing the coalition. "The EPA is failing to protect endangered species from poisons."
The EPA has flouted its obligation to consult with federal wildlife experts for years. The result, according to David Wright, a conservation biologist formerly with the FWS, has been faulty science and unsound analysis. "Up to now, EPA's track record in addressing the effects of pesticides on endangered species has been abysmal. After all its previous neglect and flawed decisions, handing endangered species protection over to EPA stinks of conflict of interest."
The government maintains that the rule change will allow it to "streamline" the pesticide assessment process. Conservationists say that "streamlining" is a code word for gutting protections for vulnerable plants and animals. "This policy is more about undermining the Endangered Species Act than it is about government streamlining," said Jamie Rappaport Clark, executive vice president at Defenders of Wildlife and former FWS director. "This decision lets EPA off the hook instead of requiring it to do its job. Now more potentially dangerous chemicals can be pumped into the environment without proper review."
Pesticides pose a serious threat to wildlife. 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 by the Center for Biological Diversity. "The last thing America's most imperiled species need is a rule change that could make their prospects for survival worse," said John Kostyack, senior counsel for the National Wildlife Federation.
Contact information for plaintiffs:
Center for Biological Diversity, Jeff Miller, 510-499-9185
Defenders of Wildlife, Mike Senatore, 202-682-9400 ex 123
Helping our Peninsula's Environment, David Dilworth, 831-624-6500
National Wildlife Federation, John Kostyack, 202-797-6879
Natural Resources Defense Council, Aaron Colangelo, 202-689-6868
Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, Aimee Code, 541-344-5044 ex 27
Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations/Institute for Fisheries Resources, Glen Spain, 541-689-2000
Washington Toxics Coalition, Gregg Small, 206-632-1545 ex 13
Counterpart Regulations - Fact Sheet
Pesticide Industry Influence
Letter from NOAA Fisheries to the EPA
Center for Biological Diversity's study on pesticide use and endangered species
Letter from congressional members opposing proposed new pesticide regulations
Case studies on pesticide threats to endangered species
Fact sheet explaining FWS & NMFS shifting scientific positions on pesticide protection