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Court of Appeals Grants Writ of Mandamus Requiring EPA to Take Final Action on Chlorpyrifos Petition
On June 10, 2015, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted a petition for a writ of mandamus for a petition filed by Pesticide Action Network North America and Natural Resources Defense Council in 2007. That petition requested that EPA cancel all registrations and revoke all tolerances for the insecticide chlorpyrifos. An order granting a writ of mandamus is unusual, and indicates that the Court is impatient about what it perceives to be the slow pace of review by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The petitioners previously sought such a writ in 2012, and the Court denied that request without prejudice in 2013. EPA took action in 2012 that addressed seven out of the ten issues originally raised by the petitioners, and the Court found in 2013 that the time taken by EPA to address the petition was “not unreasonable in light of the complexity of the issue.” On March 26, 2015, EPA wrote to the petitioners stating that it intends to deny their petition to cancel registrations and revoke tolerances for chlorpyrifos. EPA bases this anticipated decision on a new human health risk assessment incorporating a physiologically based pharmacokinetic-pharmacodynamic (PBPK-PD) model that allows EPA to estimate human risk directly rather than extrapolating from animal data. Based on this model, EPA determined that label changes are needed to mitigate certain occupational exposures and localized drinking water exposure, and has requested comment on these findings.
EPA counsel represented during oral argument in the case that EPA could complete its review of the comments and take action on the petition by mid-September 2015. In response, the Court has issued an order directing EPA either to submit a status report by June 30, 2015, stating whether EPA intends to finalize its preliminary denial, or whether EPA has decided instead to grant the petition in whole or in part. If the petition will be denied, EPA must issue the final denial decision by September 15, 2015.
The schedule imposed by the Court order is demanding, but it is likely that EPA will make every effort to meet it. The Court did not require EPA to respond to all of the comments on the risk assessment, or to determine what mitigation measures will ultimately be required, by the September deadline. Although EPA would normally prefer to complete all related tasks and to compile a comprehensive administrative record before issuing the final decision denying the petition to cancel chlorpyrifos, that would be very challenging to do in this instance. The comment period for the current risk assessment closed on April 30, 2015, and EPA must evaluate and respond to detailed comments on a complex assessment, one which has some important issues subject to serious dispute by the affected registrants. For example, Dow Agrosciences LLC submitted a 130 page set of comments on April 29, 2015, in addition to comments received from the general public, users of the pesticide, and other interested parties. If EPA determines it will proceed with its stated intent to deny the petition to cancel, this action may precede the mitigation measures that EPA imposes based on the chlorpyrifos risk assessment and the comments on that assessment. Nevertheless, because the petitioners are likely to challenge the denial decision as well, EPA will need to prepare an adequate explanation of the reasons for the denial and to expedite the related administrative actions to the extent that is practicable.