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By Lisa M. Campbell and Timothy D. Backstrom

On October 13, 2017, Petitioners League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), et al. filed a motion to expedite briefing and hearing in League of United Latin American Citizens v. Pruitt, Case No. 17-71636 (9th Cir. June 5, 2017).  In their motion, Petitioners request that the court “expedite proceedings because of the harm being caused by [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)] Administrator Pruitt leaving chlorpyrifos tolerances in effect when he did not and cannot determine that chlorpyrifos is safe under the Food Quality Protection Act.” 

Petitioners state there is good cause for expedition “because children continue to be exposed to chlorpyrifos in their food, drinking water, and the air around their homes, schools, and playfields, putting them at risk of such brain impairments as lower IQ, attention deficit disorders, and developmental delays,” and “Ninth Circuit Rule 27-12 provides that ‘motions to expedite briefing and hearing may be filed and will be granted upon a showing of good cause,’” including ‘“situations in which … in the absence of expedited treatment, irreparable harm may occur.’”  Pursuant to Ninth Circuit Rule 27-12, Petitioners determined the position of EPA counsel on the motion, who stated that, “EPA opposes the motion to expedite as premature under Circuit Rule 27-11(b).” 

 The Petitioners’ motion to expedite briefing was submitted despite the pendency of an unresolved motion to dismiss submitted by Respondents Administrator Pruitt and EPA on August 21, 2017.  In that motion, EPA argued that the court lacks jurisdiction to review the March 29, 2017, order denying the petition by Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to revoke all Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) tolerances for chlorpyrifos, until after the Petitioners have exhausted their administrative remedies by filing objections to the denial, and EPA has issued a final order ruling on such objections.  In its motion to dismiss, EPA noted that the Ninth Circuit denied a motion by PANNA and NRDC for further mandamus relief in In re PANNA on July 18, 2017, stating that “one valid agency response to a petition challenging a pesticide’s tolerances is to ‘issue an order denying the petition,’” and ‘“now that EPA has issued its denial, substantive objections must first be made through the administrative process mandated by’ the FFDCA.”

 On September 27, 2017, Petitioners filed their opposition to the motion to dismiss.  Petitioners argued that exhaustion of administrative remedies by filing objections under the FFDCA is not an absolute jurisdictional prerequisite to judicial review, and that the court can proceed with review under the “futility doctrine” because EPA’s refusal to revoke the tolerances for chlorpyrifos constitutes a “flagrant violation of a statutory prohibition.”  Petitioners also argued that even if FFDCA exhaustion is required, EPA has also denied the petition by PANNA and NRDC to cancel the registrations of chlorpyrifos, and that additional denial constitutes a final order that is subject to immediate review under FIFRA Section 16(b) because the notice and comment process concerning the petition was a “public hearing” under the applicable precedent.

 Commentary

The new motion by Petitioners LULAC, et al. to expedite briefing on the challenge to EPA’s denial of the PANNA and NRDC petition reflects the view of the Petitioners that this matter is urgent because continued use of chlorpyrifos jeopardizes the health of children, but this motion is unlikely to be resolved before the court rules on EPA’s pending motion to dismiss.  EPA has stated that it will oppose the Petitioners’ motion to expedite briefing as premature. Moreover, EPA has not yet replied to the arguments made by the Petitioners in their opposition to the pending dismissal motion.

To prevail on their argument that exhausting the administrative process prescribed by the FFDCA will be “futile,” the Petitioners likely will have to persuade the Court that these FFDCA procedures are not jurisdictional prerequisites to judicial review, and that there is little likelihood that EPA will change its mind in response to their objections.  With respect to the argument that EPA’s denial of the petition to cancel the registrations for chlorpyrifos is final agency action subject to immediate review under FIFRA Section 16(b), EPA will likely contend that this argument is contravened by 21 U.S.C. § 346a(h)(5), which states: “any issue as to which review is or was obtainable under this subsection shall not be the subject of judicial review under any other provision of law.”  It could be difficult for Petitioners to defeat this jurisdictional prohibition in the FFDCA; they would presumably need to show the court that their substantive contentions concerning the hazards posed by chlorpyrifos would not be directly implicated in EPA’s final determination of whether or not to revoke the tolerances for chlorpyrifos.

 This case will be carefully watched by pesticide industry observers. 

 More information on regulatory issues related to chlorpyrifos is available on our blog.


 

By Lisa M. Campbell, Sheryl L. Dolan, and Margaret R. Graham
 

On May 3, 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final rule that amends current pesticide tolerance crop grouping (Crop Group) regulations.  Crop groupings allow petitioners to request a tolerance for multiple related commodities based on research data for one or more representative crops.  This final rule is the fourth amendment in a series of planned Crop Group updates begun in December 2007 through collaboration by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Interregional Research Project Number 4 (IR-4) and the International Crop Groupings Consulting Committee (ICGCC).

This final rule specifically creates five new Crop Groups, three new and two revised commodity definitions, and revises the regulations on the interaction of Crop Group tolerances with processed food, meat, milk, and egg tolerances.  The changes include:

  • Crop Group 22: Stalk, Stem and Leaf Petiole Group:  EPA is adding this new Crop Group.
  • Crop Group 23: Tropical and Subtropical Fruit, Edible Peel Group.  EPA is adding this new Crop Group.
  • Crop Group 24: Tropical and Subtropical Fruit, Inedible Peel Group.  EPA is adding this new Crop Group.  EPA has revised several of the subgroup titles from the proposed rule.
  • Crop Group 4-16: Leafy Vegetable Group:  EPA is expanding and restructuring this existing Crop Group by both adding and removing commodities.  EPA has revised the Crop Group’s name, which was “Crop Group 4: Leafy Vegetables (Except Brassica Vegetables)” in the proposed rule.
  • Crop Group 5-16: Head and Stem Brassica Vegetable Group:  EPA is revising this existing Crop Group’s name, which was “Crop Group 5: Brassica (Cole) Leafy Vegetables” in the proposed rule and has removed commodities and restructured this Crop Group.

EPA states that these revisions will “promote greater use of crop groupings for tolerance-setting purposes,” and “expand the number of crops that can have tolerances established and thus allow minor use growers a wider choice of pest control tools, including lower-risk pesticides, to be used on minor crops” both domestically and in countries that import food to the United States. 

EPA’s three prior amendments expanded existing Crop Groups, established new Crop Groups and subgroups, and revised representative crops.  These revisions included new oilseeds and edible fungi (mushrooms) Crop Groups and expansions of existing stone fruit and tree nut Crop Groups.

EPA’s website provides more information on crop groupings and minor uses


 

By Lisa M. Campbell, Timothy D. Backstrom, and James V. Aidala

In an opinion issued on August 10, 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit granted a writ of mandamus requested by Pesticide Action Network North America and the Natural Resources Defense Council (Petitioners) to require that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) act in response to a 2007 administrative petition to cancel the registrations of all pesticides containing chlorpyrifos.  A writ of mandamus to compel administrative action is an extraordinary remedy and is generally reserved for instances of egregious delay.  The same court had previously declined to grant mandamus to the same Petitioners in 2013, but has now concluded that mandamus is the only way to end a “cycle of incomplete responses, missed deadlines, and unreasonable delay.”

After the Petitioners commenced the current case, EPA issued a preliminary decision indicating that it intended to deny the petition to cancel chlorpyrifos, and told the court that it would take final action after reviewing public comments by the summer of 2015.  In a status report subsequently filed in response to a June 10, 2015, order by the court, EPA changed course and stated that unresolved concerns about the risk associated with chlorpyrifos levels in some drinking water might warrant a rulemaking to revoke all existing chlorpyrifos tolerances.  EPA stated that it intended to commence such a rulemaking in April, 2016, unless the registrants of chlorpyrifos products agree to make labeling changes to mitigate the risk from residues in drinking water.  The Petitioners were not satisfied with this amorphous response by EPA, and the court has now agreed.

The writ of mandamus directs EPA to issue a proposed or final rule to revoke chlorpyrifos tolerances, or a full and final response to the administrative petition to cancel chlorpyrifos, no later than October 31, 2015.  If EPA elects to issue a proposed revocation rule, EPA must inform the court by October 31, 2015, of the timeline for finalizing the proposed rule.  Meeting this specific directive from the court will be very challenging.  EPA must determine quickly whether the registrants of chlorpyrifos products will agree to label changes that EPA considers sufficient to mitigate drinking water risks.  Such label changes could hypothetically obviate the need for a tolerance revocation rule and provide a basis for a final decision by EPA to deny the petition to ban chlorpyrifos.  Otherwise, EPA will need to substantially accelerate its stated timetable for issuing a proposed rule to revoke chlorpyrifos tolerances.

In brief, this commitment by EPA will accelerate discussions with the registrant and user groups in an attempt to resolve the issues identified in EPA’s assessment.  It appears that this will compress a process which has typically taken many months into a much tighter time frame, to comply with the court’s order.  That obviously was among the goals of the plaintiffs in the case; it remains to be seen how doing so will affect the EPA’s ability to evaluate the risks and benefits of the pesticide as fully as it typically has done in the past.