By Carla N. Hutton
On November 3, 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Department of Commerce, and the U.S. Department of the Interior “reaffirm[ed] their commitment to working together and with stakeholders to protect endangered species, provide effective pest control tools, and regulate pesticide use in a fair, transparent, and predictable manner.” According to EPA’s November 3, 2021, press release, on October 15, 2021, all five agencies met as part of the Interagency Working Group (IWG) created under the 2018 Farm Bill to discuss improvements to the consultation process for pesticide registration and registration review under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). EPA states that the group’s first meeting resulted in specific commitments to improve the pesticide consultation process for endangered species and engaging stakeholders, including by capitalizing on the strong interest among stakeholders for a workable process.
According to the press release, the IWG is optimistic about its ability to collaborate on improvements that the Biden Administration can implement. The IWG’s actions focused on improving processes that will contribute to tangible benefits for species conservation and for stakeholders. EPA states that the IWG “is intent to adopt improvements expeditiously and that endure across administrations.” To guide its future work, the IWG has identified the following initial priorities and approaches:
- Focus on improvements that deliver real world benefits for species conservation, public health, and food production. Examples include:
- Use pilot projects to begin implementing mitigation measures as part of upcoming pesticide consultations and to demonstrate process improvements;
- Adopt measures early in the pesticide consultation process to avoid, minimize, and offset the effects of pesticide use on ESA-listed species; and
- Ensure that mitigation measures are effective and practical to implement;
- Consider opportunities to engage with stakeholders as an interagency body to complement the stakeholder activities of each agency; and
- Communicate the IWG’s work to stakeholders in a transparent manner.
EPA states that “[e]ffective endangered species protection cannot be accomplished solely by federal agencies,” but also requires “open and continuous engagement with stakeholders on practical solutions to harmonizing species conservation with pesticide use.” To that end, the IWG plans to hold its first stakeholder listening session in early 2022 and will provide details on the proposed session before the end of 2021.
By Lisa M. Campbell, James V. Aidala, and Susan Hunter Youngren, Ph.D.
On April 15, 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) held a one-day workshop regarding assessing risks to endangered and threatened species from pesticides. This workshop was intended to provide a forum for stakeholders to offer scientific and technical feedback on the ongoing agency efforts to develop draft Biological Evaluations (BE) for three pilot chemicals (chlorpyrifos, diazinon, and malathion) in response to the National Academy of Sciences’ (NAS) report “Assessing Risks to Endangered and Threatened Species from Pesticides.” The workshop was the fourth interagency workshop on this issue, and follows previously-held public meetings in November and December 2013, April 2014, and October 2014, and was held as part of the enhancement of the stakeholder engagement process finalized in March 2013. A copy of the Fourth ESA Stakeholder Workshop agenda is available online. The Interagency presentations are also available online.
This workshop presentations and discussion appeared to demonstrate progress among the agencies in coordinating their work to address the issues that have been the subject of this and prior workshops. The presentation content exhibited a better understanding of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) evaluation process by the Services, and the presentations themselves allowed for more interaction between the presenters and participants; some of the question and answer sessions (conducted after each segment) included detailed exchanges of information among the participants.
To the dismay of some registrants and observers, however, as the various evaluation models were described, and an avian case study presented, the direction of the joint analyses seemed to be moving towards the marriage of very conservative EPA assessment models and assumptions with the Services’ desire to avoid any potential impacts on individual members of a protected species and any habitat. Should this direction not change, the Endangered Species Act pilot assessments could be very conservative and indicate what many may believe is an unwarranted need for significant changes in some current pesticide labels. Simply put, from a registrant perspective, the good news is that the agencies are cooperating and working better together; the bad news is that both EPA and the Services appear to be planning to use very conservative models and assumptions, which could result in proposals for severe restrictions on some current use patterns.
By Timothy D. Backstrom
On January 20, 2015, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued its latest Biological Opinion (BiOp) in a series of BiOps evaluating potential effects of pesticide use on salmon in the Pacific Northwest. When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decides to permit continued registration of a pesticide (during reregistration or registration review), Endangered Species Act (ESA) Section 7(a)(2) requires EPA to determine, in consultation with the NMFS and/or the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), that continued registration is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered or threatened species. Under current procedures, EPA scientists make an initial threshold determination whether or not continued registration “might” have such an effect, followed by referral to the FWS or the NMFS for formal consultation in those instances where that threshold is met.
The January 20, 2015, NMFS BiOp concerns the pesticides diflubenzuron, fenbutatin oxide, and propargite, and is one in a series of NMFS BiOps for Pacific salmon. As part of litigation that began in 2001, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered EPA to determine whether it should have consulted with NMFS concerning reregistration of 55 specific pesticides. EPA subsequently initiated a formal consultation with NMFS for 37 of these 55 pesticides.
Like most of the prior BiOps, the latest NMFS BiOp recommends that EPA require the affected pesticide registrants to adopt buffer zones and other mitigation measures. The scientific methodology underlying the NMFS BiOps has been sharply criticized by industry and questioned by EPA. EPA has not yet adopted the measures recommended by NMFS in any of the previous BiOps. The BiOp for the pesticides chlorpyrifos, diazinon, and malathion was vacated and remanded to NMFS by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on February 21, 2013. That decision was based in part on use of implausible assumptions in the NMFS model and on the decision of NMFS to recommend uniform buffer zones without regard to site-specific factors. Industry has criticized the latest BiOp on similar grounds. Some may also ask why NMFS did not utilize methodology like that recommended in 2013 by a panel of the National Academy of Sciences, but NMFS states that consultations with other agencies concerning a process to implement the NAS recommendations are still pending.