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EPA Makes Available Supporting Documents for Endangered Species Biological Evaluations
On December 11, 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) made publicly available several documents associated with the Biological Evaluations (BE) for the first three “pilot” chemicals that are being evaluated: chlorpyrifos, diazinon, and malathion. For each chemical, the following supporting documents are now available: problem formulation; fate and effects characterizations; and related appendices. The provisional models are available here.
EPA states on its website that these documents contain the analysis plan and underlying data that will be used to make effects determinations as part of the pesticide consultation process. The entire draft biological evaluations for the three chemicals, including the effects determinations, will be released for public comment in the spring of 2016.
These BEs are a product of the collaboration among the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) (together, the Services), EPA, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in response to the National Academy of Sciences’ April 2013 report, Assessing Risks to Endangered and Threatened Species from Pesticides, which examined topics pertaining to tools and approaches for assessing the effects of proposed Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) actions on endangered and threatened species and their critical habitats, and provided recommendations.
USDA provided expertise on crop production and pesticide uses and assistance with the use of the National Agricultural Statistics Service Cropland Data Layer to help define the footprint of agricultural use patterns. The FWS and the NMFS will use the analyses and data from the biological evaluations and integrate it into their final Biological Opinions for the three chemicals due in December 2017.
This is the opening blow for developing the next round of the EPA-Services’ Endangered Species Act (ESA) assessment process. This bolus of information, in the range of 30,000 pages, is the EPA part of the assessment process -- now to be examined by the Services to become the complete ESA assessment of the pesticide products and their possible impact.
It is less clear what these extensive efforts will achieve; in essence, it is likely to indicate little more than “everything affects everything.” On the other hand, it will provide information useful to indicate where the greatest risks to certain species in specific habitats may lie. Separately, the mere volume of the information and the amount of effort needed to produce it presents a daunting prospect for the ability of the government agencies (EPA and the Services) to further refine the process into anything resembling a timely and efficient process (not to mention the implications for any public review of the information or associated regulatory conclusions).