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By Lisa R. Burchi, Timothy D. Backstrom, and James V. Aidala

On June 30, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued its opinion in Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), et al. v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Case No. 14-1036, resolving jurisdictional and substantive issues following complaints alleging that EPA violated Section 7(a)(2) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by failing to make an effects determination or to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) or the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) before registering cyantraniliprole (CTP) under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).

Regarding the jurisdictional issue and the appropriate court in which to bring such a challenge, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on May 14, 2015, had dismissed the ESA complaint of CBD, the Center for Food Safety, and the Defenders of Wildlife (Conservation Groups), finding that the Conservation Groups’ “Complaint gives rise to an ‘actual controversy as to the validity’ of the FIFRA Registration Order and is therefore governed by that Act’s jurisdictional grant.”  The D.C. Circuit affirmed the U.S. District Court’s ruling to dismiss the ESA petition on jurisdictional grounds, concluding that FIFRA “grants the court of appeals exclusive jurisdiction to review an ESA claim that is ‘inextricably intertwined’ with a challenge to a pesticide registration order.”

The D.C. Circuit also, however, granted the Conservation Groups’ FIFRA petition, finding that EPA registered CTP without having made an effects determination or consulting with the FWS and/or the NMFS as required under ESA Section 7(a)(2).  The court remanded the case to EPA for further proceedings, but allowed the CTP registration order to remain in effect until it is replaced by an order consistent with the court’s opinion.

Considering the growing number of complaints that allege a failure to consult with the FWS and/or the NMFS under the ESA, this decision could have broad reaching implications for how these complaints are filed and reviewed.

Background

On February 29, 2012, EPA announced that it had received applications to register pesticide products containing CTP under FIFRA.  On June 6, 2013, EPA announced its proposal to register CTP as a pesticide under FIFRA.  As part of its review, EPA prepared an “Environmental Fate and Ecological Risk Assessment for the Registration of the New Chemical Cyantraniliprole” in which EPA states that CTP is “highly toxic or very highly toxic” to multiple taxonomic groups, including terrestrial invertebrates such as butterflies and beetles.

On January 24, 2014, EPA registered CTP as a pesticide under FIFRA and approved fourteen end-use products containing CTP.  At issue in this case was EPA’s decision to register CTP without having made an effects determination or consulting with the FWS and/or the NMFS as required by ESA Section 7(a)(2) and implementing regulations (50 C.F.R. § 402.13-14).

Under the ESA citizen-suit provision, “any person” may “commence a civil suit on his own behalf … to enjoin any person, including the United States and any other governmental instrumentality or agency … who is alleged to be in violation of any provision of this chapter or regulation issued under the authority thereof.” 16 U.S.C. § 1540(g)(1).  “The district courts … have jurisdiction” of ESA citizen suits, id., but no action may be commenced “prior to sixty days after written notice of the violation has been given to the Secretary, and to any alleged violator.” Id. § 1540(g)(2)(A)(i).

FIFRA’s citizen-suit provision at 7 U.S.C. § 136n(b) provides the federal circuit court with exclusive jurisdiction to affirm or set aside an EPA pesticide registration order following a public hearing, provided a challenge is filed within 60 days of the registration decision.

With potentially conflicting statutory provisions regarding the court in which to file a complaint and the timing to do so, the Conservation Groups initiated two actions:  a complaint against EPA in D.C. District Court under the ESA’s citizen-suit provision; and a petition for review in D.C. Circuit Court pursuant to FIFRA’s citizen-suit provision.

Jurisdictional Issues

The D.C. Circuit first addressed the jurisdiction issue, which involved a determination of standing and a resolution of the “dueling jurisdictional provisions of the ESA and of FIFRA.”

On the issue of standing, the D.C. Circuit found that petitioners did in fact have standing, as not only did EPA make procedural omissions through “its failure to make an effects determination and to consult,” but the plaintiffs show that EPA’s failure affected the plaintiffs’ members’ “concrete aesthetic and recreational interests.” 

With regard to the appropriate court in which to bring this claim, the D.C. Circuit found that “FIFRA vests the courts of appeals with exclusive jurisdiction over controversies arising from an EPA pesticide registration, so long as, inter alia, registration follows a public hearing.”  The court thus also found:

  • Because FIFRA’s grant of exclusive jurisdiction to the court of appeals to review registration orders is more specific than the ESA’s citizen-suit provision, we believe the Conservation Groups must bring their ESA section 7(a)(2) challenge to us if 7 U.S.C. § 136n(b) is satisfied.  And the Conservation Groups do satisfy the requirements of 7 U.S.C. § 136n(b): they are adversely affected by the registration of CTP; they challenge the validity of the CTP registration order based on the EPA’s failure to make an effects determination and to consult; and their challenge comes after a “public hearing” by way of three notice and comment periods.  We therefore have “exclusive jurisdiction” to review their claim under FIFRA and the district court correctly dismissed their ESA citizen suit. (citations omitted).

Merits

While the ESA citizen suit was dismissed, the FIFRA citizen suit remained under the D.C. Circuit’s exclusive jurisdiction and review.  The court found that EPA violated ESA Section 7(a)(2) by registering CTP before making an effects determination or consulting with the FWS or the NMFS.

Significantly, the court decided to remand the case to EPA for further proceedings without vacating the CTP registration.  The court stated that remand without vacatur is appropriate in this case because “[n]otwithstanding the EPA’s failure to make an effects determination and to engage in any required consultation, it did not register CTP in total disregard of the pesticide’s potential deleterious effects; indeed, the Conservation Groups themselves rely heavily on the EPA’s ‘Ecological Risk Assessment for the Registration of the New Chemical Cyantraniliprole.’”  The court further stated that “allowing the EPA’s CTP registration order to remain in effect until it is replaced by an order consistent with our opinion will maintain ‘enhanced protection of the environmental values covered by the CTP registration order.’”

Commentary

This case is significant in at least two respects and should have implications in other cases being brought under ESA and FIFRA citizen suit petitions.  First, the court provides the same answer concerning the “dueling jurisdictional provisions of the ESA and of FIFRA” as prior decisions in the Ninth Circuit, finding that FIFRA’s jurisdictional grounds take precedence and that the Courts of Appeal have exclusive jurisdiction to review cases claiming ESA violations in the context of an approved FIFRA pesticide registration.  The court found the Conservation Groups’ arguments to the contrary “unavailing,” including but not limited to their argument that the public notice and comment periods that were provided did not constitute a “public hearing” under FIFRA Section 16(b) as well as their argument that the ESA challenge was not “inextricably intertwined” with FIFRA, even though the Conservation Groups were challenging the CTP registration order itself.  It also is significant that the court, while remanding the registration order to EPA for further actions under the ESA, did not immediately vacate the existing CTP registration order.

Some observers of the extensive ESA-FIFRA litigation over recent years wondered whether the CTP registrations would be vacated once challenged for conformity to ESA requirements.  EPA effectively admitted that it did not follow the full consultation process with FWS and NMFS, in this case substituting a relative risk argument that CTP was an improvement that would provide more species protection compared to the compounds it is expected to replace in the marketplace.  The remand without vacatur does not resolve what some have called the “train wreck” scenario, where the need to complete ESA consultation, combined with time and resource constraints at the respective agencies, will result in a virtual freeze on new pesticide product registrations.  The court makes it clear that, if EPA makes an affirmative ESA effects determination for CTP, consultation with the FWS and/or the NMFS must follow.


 

By Lisa M. Campbell and Margaret R. Graham

On June 14, 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a Federal Register notice announcing the availability of a final test guideline, Laboratory Product Performance Testing Methods for Bed Bug Pesticide Products; OCSPP Test Guideline 810.3900, part of a series of test guidelines established by the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP) for use in testing pesticides and chemical substances.  82 Fed. Reg. 27254.  EPA states that this test guideline provides “guidance for conducting a study to determine pesticide product performance against bed bugs, and is used by EPA, the public, and companies that submit data to EPA,” and “recommendations for the design and execution of laboratory studies to evaluate the performance of pesticide products intended to repel, attract, and/or kill the  common bed bug (Cimex lectularius) in connection with registration of pesticide products under the [Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)].”  EPA states that this guidance applies to products “in any formulation such as a liquid, aerosol, fog, or impregnated fabric, if intended to be applied to have a pesticidal purpose such as to attract, repel, or kill bed bugs.”  This guideline provides appropriate laboratory study designs and methods for evaluating the product performance of pesticides against bed bugs and includes statistical analysis and reporting.

EPA issued the draft guideline on February 14, 2012.  This original document was the subject of FIFRA Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) review conducted on March 6-7, 2012.  EPA indicates that the final version of the guideline reflects revisions to the original draft based on comments from the SAP and the public.  EPA states that the revisions include the following:

  • Decreasing the number of individuals and replicates tested;
  • Rescinding the recommendation to test each field strain for its resistance ratio; and including a resistance management statement;
  • Clarifying the agency's Good Laboratory Practices (GLP) requirements;
  • Reducing the recommended length of time individuals are exposed to insecticides;
  • Recommending individuals to be observed up to 96 hours after treatment; and
  • Revising the statistical analyses recommendations.

EPA has also placed two other relevant documents in the docket:


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton

On May 30, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit responded to two petitions for review of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) conditional registration of a nanosilver pesticide product and vacated the conditional registration.  NRDC v. EPA, No. 15-72308.  The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) as well as the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and the International Center for Technology Assessment (ICTA) filed petitions in 2015 asking the court to set aside EPA’s final order granting a conditional registration for a nanosilver-containing antimicrobial pesticide product named NSPW-L30SS (NSPW).  The court vacated the conditional registration because, according to the court, “EPA failed to support its finding that NSPW is in the public interest.” 

When EPA granted the conditional registration, EPA did so on the basis that NSPW had a lower application rate and a lower mobility rate when compared to conventional-silver pesticides, and thus had the potential to reduce environmental loading and risk caused by silver release.  Petitioners disputed these facts.  While the court found that substantial evidence supports EPA’s findings that NSPW has lower application and mobility rates, the court agreed that the third premise, that current users of conventional-silver pesticides will switch to NSPW and/or that NSPW will not be incorporated into new products, “impermissibly relies on unsubstantiated assumptions.”  According to the court, EPA cites no evidence in the record to support its assumption that current users of conventional-silver pesticides will switch to NSPW (“the substitution assumption”), but contends that it will occur as a “logical matter.”  The court states that the lack of evidence supporting the substitution assumption is problematic in light of EPA’s other unsupported assumption, that there will be no new products.  The court notes that EPA assumes current users of conventional-silver pesticides will switch to NSPW because of its benefits, but that these same benefits will not prompt manufacturers to incorporate NSPW into new products.  EPA could have proved these assumptions, but without evidence in the record to support the assumptions, the court states that it “cannot find that the EPA’s public-interest finding is supported by substantial evidence as required by [the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)].”  According to the court, the public interest finding is an “essential prerequisite to conditional registration,” and EPA failed to support that finding for NSPW with substantial evidence.  The court vacated the conditional registration in whole, and did not consider the remaining issues raised by petitioners. 

More information will be available in Bergeson & Campbell, P.C.’s memorandum Appellate Court Vacates Conditional Nanosilver Registration.


 

By Lisa M. Campbell and James V. Aidala

On March 29, 2017, U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Pruitt signed an order denying the September 2007 petition of the Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) requesting that EPA revoke all tolerances and cancel all registrations for the pesticide chlorpyrifos.  This is the latest EPA action in a long and contentious battle concerning chlorpyrifos tolerances and registrations, and is likely not the end of this story.

EPA’s decision denying the petition addresses each of the petition’s ten claims and the history of EPA’s review and responses to those claims.  Much attention will be paid to the order’s discussion of three of the claims, which the order states all relate to the same issue:  “whether the potential exists for chlorpyrifos to cause neurodevelopmental effects in children at exposure levels below EPA’s existing regulatory standard (10% cholinesterase inhibition).”  The order states that because “Congress has provided that EPA must complete registration review by October 1, 2022,” and because EPA has “concluded that it will not complete the human health portion of the registration review or any associated tolerance revocation of chlorpyrifos without first attempting to come to a clearer scientific resolution” on the issues concerning potential neurodevelopmental effects in children, EPA is denying the claims, given the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ August 12, 2016, order that “made clear” that further extensions to the March 31, 2017, deadline for responding to the petition would not be granted.  EPA states that the “science addressing neurodevelopmental effects remains unresolved,” and “further evaluation of the science during the remaining time for completion of registration review is warranted to achieve greater certainty as to whether the potential exists for adverse neurodevelopmental effects to occur from current human exposures to chlorpyrifos.”

The order will become effective as soon as it is published in the Federal Register.  More information on the prior proceedings concerning this matter is available on our blog under key phrase chlorpyrifos.

Commentary

This decision by EPA under the Trump Administration to deny the petition is not surprising, given the rhetoric of reducing regulatory burdens and the need to stop regulatory “overreach” by agencies like EPA which has been accused of making politically driven decisions.  EPA's press release captures this, quoting Administrator Pruitt stating (in part):  "By reversing the previous Administration’s steps to ban one of the most widely used pesticides in the world, we are returning to using sound science in decision-making -- rather than predetermined results.”

EPA has, however, “kicked the can down the road” to some extent on the key science issue -- whether EPA appropriately evaluated epidemiology studies which reported that exposures to the pesticide had adverse neurological impacts on infants and children -- an issue that affects not only chlorpyrifos, but the other organophosphates (OP) that EPA has concluded are subject to a Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) 10X factor based on these studies.  (See EPA’s September 15, 2015, Literature Review on Neurodevelopment Effects & FQPA Safety Factor Determination for the Organophosphate Pesticides.)    

The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) members who reviewed EPA’s approach, based on these studies with regard to chlorpyrifos, generally had concerns with its proposed approach.  When EPA nonetheless issued its renewed call for revocation of the tolerances in November 2016, eight days after the Presidential election, it was seen by some as partly (if not fully) driven by a “political” calculus which ignored the lack of support of the FIFRA SAP. 

The November 2016 proposal was based on more than the epidemiology studies which have proven controversial.  At the same time, EPA’s arguments in the November notice relied on some of the earlier findings about  the studies and FIFRA SAP’s review to fashion a “hybrid” approach which, not surprisingly, supported EPA’s previous conclusions.

This has led to charges of “politics over science” on all fronts, but in responding to the court deadline for a final decision by March 31, 2017, EPA has now declared it does indeed need more time to resolve the science issues, and argues that the general registration review process, with the chlorpyrifos review scheduled for 2022, gives EPA more time than what the court imposed.  EPA has concluded that if a decision is needed now, the required burdens have not been met to change the current status of the pesticide.  The order states:

  • Following a review of comments on both the November 2015 proposal and the November 2016 notice of data availability, EPA has concluded that, despite several years of study, the science addressing neurodevelopmental effects remains unresolved and that further evaluation of the science during the remaining time for completion of registration review is warranted to achieve greater certainty as to whether the potential exists for adverse neurodevelopmental effects to occur from current human exposures to chlorpyrifos.  EPA has therefore concluded that it will not complete the human health portion of the registration review or any associated tolerance revocation of chlorpyrifos without first attempting to come to a clearer scientific resolution on those issues.

EPA has determined it needs more time, however frustrating that may be, to sort out the science.  As such, it is allowing chlorpyrifos use to continue, but objections to EPA’s decision are expected by the petitioners who originally pushed for the tolerance revocations.  The effect on other OPs with regard to the application of the FQPA uncertainty factor is unclear, at best.  The science debate will rage on, with no clear timeline or process for how the ultimate resolution of these questions will be “final.”  This political and legal back-and-forth may become the new normal for the Trump Administration as it seeks to balance a more “business friendly” regulatory approach with the stringent requirements of the statutory duties of underlying authorizing legislation across all of EPA’s programs. 


 

By Lisa M. Campbell and Lisa R. Burchi

The following documents have been filed in the Anderson v. McCarthy proceedings in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California:  (1) U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Notice of Motion and Motion for Summary Judgment; (2) Defendant-Intervenors CropLife America, et al.’s Notice of Motion and Motion for Summary Judgment; and (3) Plaintiffs’ Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment.

EPA’s documents are of particular interest to those who have been following this case and are concerned about the assertions in the case regarding the treated article exemption.  In its motion, EPA argues that the Ninth Circuit lacks jurisdiction to hear Plaintiffs’ claims, as the “EPA guidance document they challenge is not a judicially reviewable agency action -- much less a final action -- regarding the regulatory status of treated seed,” and Plaintiffs “have not identified any discrete, mandatory duty or action that EPA has failed to perform under [the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)].” 

EPA’s main arguments in support of its motion include:

  1. Plaintiffs have not identified any final agency actions.  The Inspection Guidance is not an agency action, and even if the Inspection Guidance were an agency action, it is not final.
  2. Count II (Plaintiffs’ allegation of EPA’s failure to regulate and enforce FIFRA with respect to pesticide-treated seeds) must be dismissed because there is no nondiscretionary duty identified by Plaintiffs that is unreasonably delayed or unlawfully withheld.
  3. Enforcement of FIFRA is a discretionary action not subject to review.

In its motion, Defendant-Intervenors argue:  “Each of Plaintiffs’ claims constitutes an impermissible programmatic attack on EPA’s existing pesticide regulatory program --specifically, the interplay between EPA’s regulation of pesticides registered to be applied as seed treatments and what Plaintiffs characterize as its categorical application of the treated article exemption to the treated seed.  As a result, each of these claims is non-justiciable as a matter of law, entitling Defendants to summary judgment in their favor.”  Defendant-Intervenors note that pesticides used for seed treatments are subject to “rigorous, scientifically robust review and approval under FIFRA,” making Plaintiffs’ attempt to impose a regulatory process “entirely duplicative of EPA’s existing exercise of its authority under FIFRA, while having no impact on human health or environmental safety.”

Plaintiffs’ memorandum sets forth its arguments for why the court should “find in favor of Plaintiffs on their four claims for relief:  that EPA failed to enforce FIFRA against an entire class of pesticides; that EPA improperly amended the treated article exemption without following proper [Administrative Procedure Act (APA)] rulemaking procedures; that EPA’s exemption of neonicotinoid-coated seeds was ultra vires and/or arbitrary and capricious under the APA; and that EPA’s labeling requirements for unregistered pesticide-coated seed bags was arbitrary and capricious under the APA and FIFRA.”  Specifically, Plaintiffs address why they believe EPA has failed to enforce FIFRA against neonicotinoid-coated seeds, why this asserted failure amounts to what they believe is “an unlawful abdication of [EPA’s] statutory responsibilities” and why they believe “EPA’s failure to enforce FIFRA against neonicotinoid-coated seeds and pesticidal dust-off is a ‘consciously and expressly adopted general policy,’ which ‘amounts to an abdication of its statutory responsibilities’ that this Court has the power to remedy.”

A hearing on EPA’s motion was set for October 27, 2016, but due to scheduling conflicts has been rescheduled for November 3, 2016.  It will be important to monitor the court’s consideration of these important issues closely.   More information on these proceedings can be found in our pesticide blog items District Court Declines to Rule on Jurisdictional Issues in Neonicotinoid Case until Summary Judgment and EPA Requests Dismissal of Complaint For Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction.


 

by James V. Aidala

The threat of the Zika Virus grows every day, and the need for clear information is especially pressing if you are pregnant.  How do you prevent getting infected with the Zika Virus, and what insect repellents are best?  The first question is easy to answer:  public health experts agree that women who are pregnant or who might be pregnant should use insect repellents.  The answer to the second question is not so simple.

I am a former senior official at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and familiar with how the U.S. evaluates and approves pesticides, which include insect repellents.  It is not easy for the average consumer to know what works and what does not work.  Unfortunately, EPA policies have made this question much more complicated, having made important distinctions between some “natural”-type repellents and other products available in the marketplace.

Years ago, EPA de-regulated a number of natural, non-toxic materials from being subject to the registration requirements of the federal pesticide law (the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act).  This made sense at the time since garlic, pepper, rotten eggs, vinegar, and other common chemicals are sometimes used as pesticides.  Before de-regulation, these products were also subject to the same requirements as synthetic chemical pesticides with long unpronounceable names (e.g., diethyltoluamide, better known as DEET) which EPA requires to have volumes of efficacy and safety test data.  Being natural does not mean a substance is non-toxic; some natural ingredients are fully evaluated and widely used.  But in the interest of efficient use of resources EPA issued a list of products that could be sold as pesticides, but would not be subject to EPA data requirements and review (EPA calls them “minimum risk pesticides”).

This list of pesticides which are not subject to EPA evaluation, and which are not required to have data which proves they are effective, includes a number of botanical ingredients, such as oil of citronella, geranium, rosemary, peppermint, and many others.  Many of these products can be used as pesticides -- some may work better than others -- and many work for the intended use (example:  rotten eggs, or as EPA refers to them -- “putrescent whole egg solids” -- are used as a deer repellent).

Many of these ingredients have been marketed as “natural” insect repellents, and labeled as “safe” or “non-toxic” using words that will not appear on products where EPA reviews and approves the instructions on the product label.

Here is the bureaucratic distinction which matters greatly to EPA, but will not be understood by consumers:

  • If the repellant label includes “public health claims” -- that it repels mosquitoes that may cause a disease (like Zika Virus or West Nile Virus) -- then the product has to have data showing that it works;
  • If the product just says “repels mosquitoes,” it is not required to have data that shows it is effective, and may very well be ineffective.

Few, if any, humans outside of EPA label experts realize this important distinction:  if there is no health claim on the label, then it is, in effect, a situation of “buyer beware.” 

What remains:  EPA’s deregulation of these products means it is legal to sell products which do not work, as long as the ingredients appear on the EPA minimum risk pesticides list.

Consumer Reports (CR) recently reported in May of this year on studies conducted on repellents.  Their results:

  • Using a “natural” mosquito repellent, with active ingredients such as citronella or clove, lemongrass, or rosemary oils, might seem like a good idea, especially if you’re pregnant or planning to be.
  • But five of the six plant-based repellents we tested…lasted one hour or less against Aedes mosquitoes, the kind that can spread Zika.

Not all repellents with the same ingredient are equally effective, and they found that some formulations of the chemical repellents also do not work for very long in their tests.  Some botanical pesticides are effective and have the public health claims on the label (example:  lemon eucalyptus, a botanical ingredient not on the exempt product list, and CR testing did find it to be effective).

To reduce confusion about what works, EPA for years has struggled to correct the situation by trying to impose changes to the requirements for insect repellents.

Unfortunately, to end the confusion about the difference between “repels mosquitoes” and “repels mosquitoes that can cause the Zika Virus,” EPA has to conduct a rulemaking which requires a long and bureaucratic process to complete.  The good news is that EPA is working on such a solution.  The bad news is that they have been working on it for almost ten years and they still have more work to do.  There are details and petitions and proposals and reasons why it has taken so long, but it is the kind of story that gives bureaucracy a bad name.

With the onset and fears about the Zika Virus, however, EPA should make the needed changes immediately to ensure that consumers are not misled into using products which are not proven effective in repelling mosquitoes. 

From a consumer’s point of view, it really is that simple.  Legally, it is more complicated.  In the meantime, EPA should be loud and clear in its communication about the distinction, even if they cannot take immediate action to reduce the confusion.


 

By Lisa M. Campbell, Timothy D. Backstrom, and Lisa R. Burchi

On August 12, 2016, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order denying the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) request for an additional six months to decide whether to ban agricultural uses of chlorpyrifos.  The court opted instead to afford EPA a three month extension, stating that “this is the final extension, and the court will not grant any further extensions." 

EPA sought the six month extension on June 29, 2016, to allow time for EPA to complete two scientific analyses that may bear on EPA’s conclusions in the final rule, and to request further public comment before taking final action on a prior proposal to revoke all chlorpyrifos tolerances.  The two analyses that EPA wanted to complete are:  (1) a refined drinking water assessment that may allow EPA “to develop more tailored risk mitigation for some regions of the country,” and (2) an evaluation of the epidemiological data for chlorpyrifos to determine whether EPA should retain the point of departure based on acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibition in the proposed rule.

The court concluded that EPA’s request for a six month extension “is not justified in light of EPA’s history in this matter as well as the court’s previous extensions.”  The court stated that EPA’s request was "another variation on a theme 'of partial reports, missed deadlines, and vague promises of future action' that has been repeated for the past nine years,” and that “nothing has changed that would justify EPA’s continued failure to respond to the pressing health concerns presented by chlorpyrifos."

The court ordered EPA to take final action on its proposal to revoke tolerances for chlorpyrifos by March 31, 2017.  A further status report by EPA will be due in November 2016.

EPA’s updated analysis of the epidemiological data for chlorpyrifos will be a matter of considerable interest.  After EPA issued a proposed rule utilizing a point of departure for chlorpyrifos based on AChE inhibition, EPA issued a blanket determination based on the epidemiological data for chlorpyrifos in which EPA decided to retain the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) safety factor for all organophosphate (OP) pesticides.  This FQPA determination could cause EPA to conclude that the tolerances for chlorpyrifos must be revoked regardless of the outcome of the refined drinking water assessment. 

EPA later proposed to use an alternative point of departure for chlorpyrifos based on biomonitoring data from one of the chlorpyrifos epidemiology studies, but the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) met on April 19-21, 2016, and recommended against this new approach.  In its request for an extension, EPA stated that the FIFRA SAP might recommend a “hybrid approach” to adjusting the point of departure for AChE inhibition.  The FIFRA SAP meeting minutes do not appear to include such a hybrid recommendation.

In a related development, EPA has reached an agreement with the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH) regarding the release of raw data from one of the chlorpyrifos epidemiology studies.  During the FIFRA SAP meeting, concerns were raised regarding use of the CCCEH study without access to the underlying raw data.  In an April 19, 2016, letter to Dr. Linda P. Fried, Dean of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, EPA requested that CCCEH provide access to the underlying data.  In her response dated May 18, 2016, Dr. Fried offered to work with EPA “to determine if we can develop one or more data sets that can be properly de-identified, consistent with our obligation to protect the privacy of our research subjects, and that will also enable EPA to conduct its own analyses in order to address its transparency goals” or, in the alternative, offered to allow EPA staff to review the original data “in a secure data enclave onsite at Columbia.”  In its June 27, 2016, response, EPA stated that the offer to allow EPA staff to review the underlying data at a secure site did not resolve issues concerning the transparency of EPA’s analysis.  This correspondence is available in EPA Docket ID EPA-HQ-OPP-2008-0850. While EPA maintained it is “unnecessary” for CCCEH and EPA to develop redacted data sets, EPA accepted CCCEH’s offer to develop such data sets.

Commentary

EPA’s request for a six month extension was filed on June 29, 2016, two days after it accepted the offer by CCCEH to develop redacted data sets for the CCCEH epidemiology study.  Moreover, the FIFRA SAP meeting minutes issued on July 20, 2016, do not appear to provide the guidance that EPA had expected concerning a potential “hybrid” approach to adjusting EPA’s proposed point of departure for AChE inhibition.

Given the lesser extension granted by the court, it is questionable whether EPA will have sufficient time to review adequately the redacted underlying data sets offered by CCCEH, or even to determine whether those redacted data sets are adequate for this review, and to make any determination based on such data before EPA issues a supplementary proposal based on the refined drinking water assessment and the updated epidemiology assessment.  The court has stated that it will entertain no further extension requests, so EPA must complete its work expeditiously to allow time for comment before final action is due on March 31, 2017.


 

By Lisa M. Campbell and Timothy D. Backstrom

On July 20, 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a memorandum attaching minutes from the April 19-21, 2016, FIFRA Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) meeting, Transmittal of Meeting Minutes of the April 19-21, 2016 Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP or Panel) Meeting Held to Consider and Review Scientific Issues Associated with “Chlorpyrifos: Analysis of Biomonitoring Data.”  This SAP was convened to advise EPA regarding the evaluation of biomonitoring chlorpyrifos data from epidemiology studies conducted by the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH).

The minutes indicate that the SAP has significant concerns with EPA’s proposal to use the biomonitoring chlorpyrifos data from the CCCEH epidemiology studies to establish a point of departure (PoD) for chlorpyrifos risk assessment.  The minutes state:  “Because many uncertainties cannot be clarified, the majority of the Panel does not have confidence that the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH) cord blood data on chlorpyrifos concentrations can accurately be used in quantitative risk assessment to determine a Point of Departure (PoD).”  A major source of uncertainty cited by the FIFRA SAP is “the lack of verification and replication of the analytical chemistry results that reported very low levels of chlorpyrifos (pg/g),” because EPA had to impute a finite quantitative value to “a large fraction of cord blood samples included in the analyses presented with levels below [level of detection (LOD)].”  Moreover, some SAP members “thought the quality of the CCCEH data is hard to assess when raw analytical data have not been made available, and the study has not been reproduced.”

The SAP also, however, stated that “both epidemiology and toxicology studies suggest there is evidence for adverse health outcomes associated with chlorpyrifos exposures below levels that result in 10% red blood cell (RBC) acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibition (i.e., toxicity at lower doses).”  Nevertheless, it agreed with EPA that “applying additional safety factors to the AChE PoDs to account for a possible noncholinergic mode of action (MOA) would be problematic because of challenges in justifying any particular value for such an adjustment.”

Of note, the SAP concluded that it would be appropriate to use a “10X intra-species extrapolation factor” in any analysis based on the cord blood data.  It also identified other sources of uncertainty that should be considered in such an analysis, including “the inability of single measures of chlorpyrifos concentration in blood to provide information regarding source, frequency, duration and magnitude of exposure, and how these exposures are linked to specific outcomes measured in the CCCEH study participants.”  Although EPA suggested in a Status Report filed in the chlorpyrifos litigation pending in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on June 29, 2016, that the FIFRA SAP might recommend a “hybrid approach” that EPA could use in lieu of a PoD based on AChE inhibition, thereby altering the prior EPA analysis for chlorpyrifos, the SAP minutes do not include a recommendation for such a hybrid methodology.

Commentary

Given the concerns expressed by the SAP regarding EPA’s proposal to derive a PoD from cord blood biomonitoring data collected in the CCCEH epidemiology studies, it may be unlikely that EPA will further pursue this specific approach.  It is less clear whether EPA will be inclined to propose any further adjustments to its existing risk assessment for chlorpyrifos, which utilizes a PoD based on animal AChE data, along with intra-species and inter-species uncertainty factors and an additional Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) 10X factor.  EPA’s decision to retain the special FQPA factor in its risk assessment for chlorpyrifos will remain controversial, because it is based on an assessment of the value and significance of several epidemiology studies for chlorpyrifos that many in the pesticide industry strongly dispute.  The discussion in the minutes of the uncertainties resulting from the refusal of the CCCEH investigators to provide underlying raw data may provide further support for arguments by industry that EPA should not predicate risk assessments on the epidemiology studies for chlorpyrifos before obtaining and reviewing these data.

More information on the FIFRA SAP and its surrounding legal issues is available in our blog item EPA Requests Six Month Extension of Deadline for Decision on Chlorpyrifos Tolerance Revocation, and more generally on our blog with keyword chlorpyrifos.


 

By Lisa M. Campbell and Timothy D. Backstrom

In two recent orders issued in the neonicotinoid seed treatment case Anderson v. McCarthy, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California declined to take immediate action in response to a motion by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requesting that the Court dismiss the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.  This case involves allegations by a coalition of beekeepers, farmers, and non-governmental organizations (Petitioners) that EPA has incorrectly applied the treated article exemption to seeds coated with neonicotinoid pesticides.

The Court issued an order denying the EPA motion to dismiss on May 13, 2016.  In that order, the Court concluded that factual issues to be resolved in deciding whether a 2013 EPA guidance document constitutes a final reviewable action are so “intertwined” with the substantive issues in the case that it would be inappropriate to try to resolve the jurisdictional issues until after the filing of summary judgment motions.  The Court stated:

  • If the 2013 Guidance did consummate a new rule, and thus a final agency action, then defendants clearly violated federal law by failing to comply with rulemaking requirements.  If the 2013 Guidance did not constitute final agency action, then subject-matter jurisdiction is lacking, and the case must be dismissed.

In the May 13, 2016, order, the Court also stated that the decision to defer action on the jurisdictional issues was a “close call,” because “defendants put forth a strong argument in support of dismissal of the lawsuit at the Rule 12 stage.”

On May 23, 2016, EPA filed another motion requesting that the Court clarify the May 13, 2016, order.  In its clarification motion, EPA pointed out that the May 13, 2016, order addressed only three of the counts in the complaint challenging the 2013 Guidance, but did not address Count II, which alleged a general “failure to act” because EPA has not regulated neonicotinoid coated seeds as pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).  According to EPA, resolution of this count involves a “pure issue of law,” because the Petitioners “failed to identify any discrete, legally-required action that EPA has failed to perform.”

The EPA motion for clarification was scheduled to be heard on July 21, 2016, but the Court issued an order on July 14, 2016, vacating that hearing.  The new order stated that “defendants raised a fair point,” because “the Court’s order on the motion to dismiss failed to expressly come to grips with that part of the motion directed at the ‘failure to act’ claim for relief.”  Nevertheless, the Court concluded that “no harm will be done in postponing resolution of that issue until summary judgment.”

Commentary

Although the Court has declined to rule on any jurisdictional question concerning the Petitioners’ complaint posed by EPA until after the parties have filed their respective motions for summary judgment, this case may still be dismissed once the Court engages in the requisite fact-finding.  When the Court stated that EPA made a “strong argument” in support of immediate dismissal, it appeared to be a clear signal that this case may yet be resolved on jurisdictional issues.  The Court may decide based on the record whether the 2013 Guidance was intended to change or to modify the existing policy on applicability of the treated article exemption to coated seeds.  The Court may also consider whether or not EPA intended the policy set forth in the 2013 Guidance to be binding in deciding whether or not to bring subsequent enforcement actions.  In addition, the Court will need to consider whether it can review a general “failure to act” in the absence of any allegation that EPA was required to take some specific action.


 

By Lisa M. CampbellTimothy D. Backstrom, and Lisa R. Burchi

On July 1, 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued in the Federal Register an interim final rule adjusting penalty amounts for Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) violations by more than three times the current level, in some cases.  The rule also adjusts the level of statutory civil monetary penalty amounts for the other statutes that EPA administers.  EPA issued this interim final rule pursuant to 2015 amendments to the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 1990, as amended by the Debt Collection Improvement Act of 1996 (DCIA) (collectively the 2015 Act).  The 2015 Act sets forth new requirements for agencies to:  (1) adjust the level of statutory civil penalties with an initial “catch-up” adjustment through an interim final rulemaking; and (2) beginning January 15, 2017, make subsequent annual adjustments for inflation.

EPA states that the purpose of the 2015 Act is to “provide a mechanism to address these issues by translating originally enacted statutory civil penalty amounts to today’s dollars and rounding statutory civil penalties to the nearest dollar,” and “[o]nce Federal agencies issue the 2016 one-time catchup rule, each statutory civil penalty amount will be adjusted every year to reflect the inflation that has thereafter accrued.” 

EPA sets forth a five step procedure to determine the cost-of-living or inflation adjustment to statutory civil penalties.  Through this interim final rule, EPA amends 40 C.F.R. Part 19 of EPA’s regulations, Adjustment of Civil Monetary Penalties for Inflation, to include:

  1. The operative statutory civil penalty levels, as adjusted for inflation, for violations occurring on or before November 2, 2015, and for violations occurring after November 2, 2015, where penalties are assessed before August 1, 2016; and
  2. The operative statutory civil penalty levels, as adjusted for inflation, where penalties are assessed on or after August 1, 2016, for violations that occurred after November 2, 2015.

Table 2 to 40 C.F.R. Section 19.4 sets forth the specific statutory civil penalty provisions of statutes administered by EPA, with the original statutory civil penalty levels, as enacted, with the last column of which displaying the operative statutory civil penalty levels where penalties are assessed on or after August 1, 2016, for violations that occurred after November 2, 2015.  Specific changes to FIFRA penalties in Table 2 are as follows:

  • U.S. Code citation:  7 U.S.C. 136(a)(1); Environmental Statute:  FIFRA; ​Statutory civil penalties, as enacted:  $5,000; Statutory civil penalties for violations that occurred after November 2, 2015, and assessed on or after August 1, 2016:  $18,750; and
  • U.S. Code citation:  7 U.S.C. 136(a)(2)*; Environmental Statute:  FIFRA; ​Statutory civil penalties, as enacted:  $1,000/500/1,000; Statutory civil penalties for violations that occurred after November 2, 2015, and assessed on or after August 1, 2016:  $2,750/$1,772/$2,750.

* Note that 7 U.S.C. 136(a)(2) contains three separate maximum civil penalty provisions.  The first mention of $1,000 and the $500 statutory maximum civil penalty amount were originally enacted in 1978 (Pub. L. No. 95-396) and the second mention of $1,000 was enacted in 1972 (Pub. L. No. 92-516).

Commentary

Despite the large increase in some of the civil penalty amounts, EPA has determined, pursuant to Administrative Procedure Act (APA) Section 553(b)(3)(B), that it “would be impracticable and unnecessary to delay publication of this rule pending opportunity for notice and comment.” According to EPA, notice and comment are not necessary “because the 2015 Act does not allow agencies to alter the rule based on public comment.”  This rationale presumes that EPA has correctly determined the size of the initial “catch-up” penalty adjustment mandated by the 2015 Act.  Despite EPA’s APA finding, EPA would likely be obligated to consider any comment arguing that EPA did not determine the size of this initial adjustment correctly.  Future annual adjustments should be much smaller and, thus, presumably not as likely to be as controversial.


 
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