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By Timothy D. Backstrom and Lisa M. Campbell 

On September 25, 2018, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (Ninth Circuit), respondents U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler (collectively EPA) petitioned for an en banc and panel rehearing concerning the Ninth Circuit’s August 9, 2018, decision that granted judicial review of EPA’s initial order denying an administrative petition by the Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to revoke all tolerances and cancel all registrations for chlorpyrifos, and that specifically directed EPA to revoke all tolerances and cancel all registrations for chlorpyrifos within 60 days.  More information regarding the August 9 decision is available in our blog item “Ninth Circuit Directs EPA to Revoke all Tolerances and Cancel All Registrations for Chlorpyrifos.”

EPA’s petition for rehearing sets forth three discrete procedural arguments as to why rehearing should be granted.  The first argument is that the panel erred because “an initial decision denying an administrative petition under 21 U.S.C. § 346a(d)(4)(A)(iii) is simply not within the jurisdiction of this Court to review ….”  EPA contends that the decision to grant judicial review of the initial EPA order, without waiting for EPA to respond to objections or to issue a final order, conflicts with the applicable precedent in both the Ninth Circuit and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (Second Circuit).

EPA’s second argument is that, even if the initial EPA order is deemed to be reviewable, the panel’s decision directing EPA to take specific actions on remand “exceeded the remedial authority granted the courts by Congress” and conflicts with applicable Supreme Court precedent.  EPA identifies some other actions that EPA could hypothetically have decided to take on remand, including denying the administrative petition based on a finding that the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) safety standard is met, reducing the affected tolerances, or revoking only certain tolerances.  EPA argues that the court was not empowered to direct EPA to take specific actions, but should have instead remanded the matter to EPA “for further consideration in light of the panel’s holding that EPA may not ‘decline to revoke chlorpyrifos tolerances [without] mak[ing] a finding of reasonable certainty that the tolerances were safe.’”

EPA’s third argument is that, in the event a broader rehearing is not granted, a rehearing by the panel should nonetheless be convened to modify the relief ordered under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).  EPA argues that revocation of the chlorpyrifos tolerances would not lead automatically to cancellation of all chlorpyrifos registrations, because there are also some non-food uses for chlorpyrifos.  EPA states that “FIFRA incorporates the safety standard of the FFDCA only with respect to food-use pesticides …” (emphasis in original).  EPA also notes that EPA lacks authority to comply with the court’s order to cancel all chlorpyrifos registrations within 60 days, because EPA must follow the statutory procedure for cancellation under FIFRA Section 6(b), which requires EPA to forward a proposed cancellation first to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the FIFRA Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP), and to afford the affected registrants and other adversely affected persons an opportunity to request an adjudicatory hearing to contest the proposed cancellation.  EPA states that the panel should provide at least a limited rehearing, because it granted relief without the benefit of any prior briefing on remedy in which these significant problems would have been identified.

Commentary

Although parties to appellate litigation often seek rehearing or rehearing en banc, federal agencies represented by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) are considerably more selective about the circumstances in which they will file a petition for rehearing.  There are some compelling arguments supported by precedent that judicial review is not available under the FFDCA for the type of initial order concerning which the petitioners in this case sought review.  Moreover, EPA has identified some practical factors which make it literally impossible for EPA both to adhere to mandatory statutory procedures under FIFRA and to comply with the terms of the court’s order.  For this reason, even if a broader rehearing is not granted concerning the jurisdictional question or the authority of the court to order EPA to take specific actions, a narrower rehearing before the appellate panel may be ordered, which would allow the parties an opportunity for further briefing on remedy and permit the court to modify its order.

More information on chlorpyrifos issues, including further proceedings in this case, is available on our blog under key word chlorpyrifos.