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Posted on December 08, 2022 by Lisa M. Campbell
By Lisa R. Burchi, James V. Aidala, and Dennis R. Deziel
On November 29, 2022, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced proposed new mitigation measures for 11 rodenticides, including measures to reduce potential exposures to three federally listed endangered and threatened species and one critical habitat. The mitigation measures are part of EPA’s goals outlined in its April 2022 Endangered Species Act (ESA) Workplan and one of the ESA pilots described in its November 2022 update.
Comments on the proposed interim decisions (PIDs) are due on or before February 13, 2023, in the following pesticide registration review dockets:
- Brodifacoum, EPA-HQ-OPP-2015-0767;
- Bromadiolone, EPA-HQ-OPP-2015-0768;
- Bromethalin, EPA-HQ-OPP-2016-0077;
- Chlorophacinone, EPA-HQ-OPP-2015-0778;
- Cholecalciferol, EPA-HQ-OPP-2016-0139;
- Difenacoum, EPA-HQ-OPP-2015-0769;
- Difethialone, EPA-HQ-OPP-2015-0770;
- Diphacinone (and its sodium salt), EPA-HQ-OPP-2015-0777;
- Strychnine, EPA-HQ-OPP-2015-0754;
- Warfarin (and its sodium salt), EPA-HQ-OPP-2015-0481; and
- Zinc Phosphide, EPA-HQ-OPP-2016-0140.
As background, in 2008, EPA issued a risk mitigation decision (RMD) for 10 rodenticides that set forth mitigation measures to reduce risks to human health and non-target organisms, including implementing minimum packaging size requirements for products on the consumer market (must be in packages one pound or less), prohibiting products intended for general consumers (i.e., homeowners or residential consumers) from containing second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGAR), and requiring tamper- and weather-resistant bait stations for outdoor, above-ground placements where children, pets, and wildlife may be present. The 2009 RMD represented EPA’s final decision on the reregistration eligibility of rodenticide products at that time and constituted EPA’s final action.
The PIDs cover three first-generation anticoagulant rodenticides (FGAR), four SGARs, and four non-anticoagulant rodenticides. Strychnine (the 11th rodenticide) was not part of the 2008 RMD but is now included as part of EPA’s registration review of the rodenticide group.
The PIDs propose additional mitigation measures based on findings in the 2020 draft human health and ecological risk assessments (DRA) and comments submitted on the DRA. According to EPA, these measures are intended to reduce exposure to non-target organisms. Proposed measures include requiring bait to be placed in tamper-resistant bait boxes to ensure it is contained and requiring users to collect carcasses of rodents that may have consumed rodenticides to prevent further exposures to non-target organisms that could consume the carcasses. In addition, in its PIDs EPA proposes that all products, excluding those registered solely for use by homeowners, include label language directing users to access the web-based Bulletins Live! Two and follow the measures contained in any Endangered Species Protection Bulletin(s) for the area in which the user is applying the product.
EPA states the ESA workplan describes how it is developing early mitigation for a subset of species where EPA predicts a likelihood of a jeopardy or adverse modification finding for one or more of the registration review pilot pesticides if mitigation is not undertaken. One of these pilots is for rodenticides, which will focus on addressing effects to mammals and birds that consume rodenticide bait (primary consumers) and to birds, mammals, and reptiles that consume primary consumers (secondary consumers).
According to EPA, as part of its registration review ESA pilot for the rodenticides, EPA evaluated their potential effects on individuals and populations of Stephens’ kangaroo rat, Attwater’s prairie chicken, and the California condor and its designated critical habitat. EPA states it chose these three listed species because they represent species that may be affected by rodenticides through different routes of exposure (e.g., primary consumption by Stephens’ kangaroo rat and Attwater’s prairie chicken, secondary consumption by California condor). EPA’s draft evaluation determined that rodenticide use is “likely to adversely affect” these three species but predicted the proposed mitigations will protect them from likely “jeopardy” (i.e., potential impacts to the survival of listed species) and “adverse modification” of critical habitat. A “likely to adversely affect” determination means EPA reasonably expects that at least one individual animal of any of the three species may be exposed to one or more of the rodenticides at a sufficient level to have an adverse effect. While EPA has made predictions about the likelihood of jeopardy and adverse modification, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is responsible for making the actual jeopardy/adverse modification findings for these species and has the sole authority to do so.
To focus the mitigations where they are most needed while retaining options for rodenticide users, EPA states the proposed mitigation measures for the three listed species would be targeted in specific geographic areas most relevant to the species. The PIDs include proposed mitigation measures to be included on the Bulletins Live! Two website for the species and the critical habitat of the California Condor. The draft evaluation for the three species and one critical habitat and associated mitigation measures are pilots for other listed species that may be similarly exposed and affected by rodenticides. In developing and applying mitigation measures for these species, EPA stated that it recognized that not all rodenticides have the same effects.
In addition to describing the pilot and the mitigation measures for the selected species, the PIDs also describe EPA’s plans for expanding those mitigation measures to the other approximately 90 listed species potentially affected by rodenticides. When this plan is issued in final, it will be known as the Rodenticide Strategy that EPA described in its November 2022 update to its ESA Workplan.
EPA also announced it intends to make effects determinations for all listed species available in a draft biological evaluation (BE), which EPA anticipates making available for public comment in November 2023. The BEs will contain EPA’s draft analysis of the potential effects of the rodenticides on listed species and their designated critical habitats and will identify mitigation measures for these species and critical habitats to avoid or minimize exposure from the rodenticides. EPA expects to complete the final BE for the rodenticides in November 2024.
If EPA’s final BE continues to find that rodenticide use is likely to affect adversely listed species or adversely modify their critical habitats, then EPA will initiate formal consultation and share its findings with the USFWS, which in turn can use the information in EPA’s BE to inform its biological opinions. If the USFWS determines in its final biological opinions that additional mitigations are necessary to address any jeopardy or adverse modification determination, or to address any incidental take, then EPA will work to ensure that any necessary registration or labeling changes are made.
Additional information on EPA’s rodent control pesticide safety review is available here.
The proposed interim decisions cover the full “rodenticide cluster” -- seven anticoagulant rodenticides and four non-anticoagulant rodenticides. Strychnine (the 11th rodenticide) was not part of the 2008 Risk Management Decision but is now included as part of EPA’s registration review of the rodenticide group.
EPA has determined that rodenticide use is “likely to adversely affect” three representative species but also predicts that the proposed mitigations will protect them from likely “jeopardy.” Note that while EPA has made predictions about the likelihood of jeopardy and adverse modification, the USFWS is responsible for making the actual jeopardy/adverse modification findings for these species and has the sole authority to do so. As stated above, EPA intends to make effects determinations for all listed species (about 90 species) available in a draft BE in November 2023, and EPA expects to complete the final BE for the rodenticides in November 2024. In short, this November 2022 action represents a mid-point, not a starting point or endpoint, for action on rodenticides, and EPA’s approach on addressing endangered species will be a good indicator of how well the ESA Workplan process and approach are working over the coming months.
Requiring bait to be placed in tamper-resistant bait boxes to ensure it is contained is a common, straightforward measure and generally follows current practices. Requiring users to collect carcasses of rodents that may have consumed rodenticides can be difficult to measure compliance and to enforce and also raises different public health concerns; we expect this approach to be debated further. In addition, the proposed interim decisions would require that all products -- excluding those registered solely for use by homeowners -- include label language directing users to access the web-based Bulletins Live! Two and follow the measures contained in any Endangered Species Protection Bulletin(s) for the area in which the user is applying the product. Understanding this process and the map for the user’s region specifically will be a process that applicators adjust to over time, but the quality and clarity of EPA’s assessments and maps will be important and need improvements. The Bulletins Live! Two system will need continuous investment and improvements to be effective, and linking all of these interactive processes (e.g., rodenticide strategy, ESA Workplan, web-based mapping and announcement systems) could prove cumbersome over time if not managed closely.
Overall, this continues the pesticide program’s march through the thicket of ESA decisions that must be made over the next many years. EPA is using its revised approach as outlined in earlier announcements regarding how it will attempt to comply with ESA as part of the registration and registration review process. The positive news is that EPA is starting to make progress on ESA compliance, which has long been discussed as part of program planning and in response to numerous ESA lawsuits over the past many years. Less clear is how EPA’s requirements will be able to be implemented and/or enforced, and how attempts to implement or comply with label changes might result in controversies among applicators and users of the affected pesticide products. The feasibility and acceptability of some label requirements are among the open questions about EPA’s new approaches to address this long-standing issue.
Posted on November 23, 2022 by Lisa M. Campbell
By James V. Aidala, Dennis R. Deziel and Heather F. Collins, M.S.
On November 16, 2022, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it released an Endangered Species Act (ESA) Workplan Update (Workplan Update) that outlines major steps to increase protections for wildlife and regulatory certainty for pesticide users. The Workplan Update details how EPA will pursue protections for nontarget species, including federally listed endangered and threatened (i.e., listed) species, earlier in the process for pesticide registration review and other Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) actions. According to EPA, these early protections will help EPA comply with the ESA, thus reducing its legal vulnerability, providing farmers with more predictable access to pesticides, and simplifying the ESA-FIFRA process that, left unchanged, creates both significant litigation risk and a workload far exceeding what EPA has the resources to handle.
EPA states this update is a follow-up to EPA’s April 2022 ESA Workplan that addresses the complexity of meeting its ESA obligations for thousands of FIFRA actions annually. The ESA Workplan prioritizes certain FIFRA actions for ESA compliance, outlines how EPA will pursue early mitigation for listed species under FIFRA, and describes directions for expediting and simplifying the current pesticide consultation process.
As part of registering new pesticides or reevaluating pesticides during registration review, EPA has a responsibility under the ESA to ensure certain pesticide registrations do not jeopardize the continued existence of listed species or adversely modify their designated critical habitats. EPA states that it has seen in the past few decades an increase in litigation due to EPA’s failure to meet its ESA obligations when taking FIFRA actions. Over the next six years, existing court-enforceable deadlines will require EPA to complete ESA reviews for 18 pesticides -- the most EPA estimates it can handle during this period based on its current capacity and processes. Ongoing litigation and settlement discussions for other lawsuits cover dozens of additional pesticides and will likely fill the EPA’s ESA workload well beyond 2030. According to EPA, if its ESA efforts continue at this pace, a future court may decide to curtail drastically pesticide use until EPA meets its obligations. EPA believes this situation would be unsustainable and legally tenuous and provide inadequate protection for listed species and create regulatory uncertainty for farmers and other pesticide users.
The Workplan Update is EPA’s first update to the ESA Workplan and covers four main goals:
- Describes EPA’s overall approach to mitigating ecological risks in registration review, which includes prioritization of registration review cases based on opportunities to reduce a pesticide’s risk to human health or the environment.
- Proposes a menu of FIFRA Interim Ecological Mitigation measures that EPA will draw from for many future conventional and biological pesticide registration and registration review actions to protect nontarget species. For each FIFRA action, EPA will consider this menu and propose, based on the risks and benefits of the particular pesticide, which specific measures to include on the pesticide label.
- Proposes label language to expand the use of online endangered species protection bulletins to implement geographically specific mitigation measures for individual listed species. These measures are designed to focus protections only in specific needed areas, thus minimizing impacts to agriculture. Where needed, EPA may develop these measures to complement the generic FIFRA ecological mitigation described above.
- Describes current and future programmatic initiatives with other federal agencies to prioritize mitigation for listed species that are particularly vulnerable to pesticides and to improve the efficiency and timeliness of the ESA-FIFRA process.
The first strategy described in EPA’s ESA Workplan is to “meet ESA obligations for FIFRA actions.” EPA states as part of its work to execute this strategy, it has identified a menu of Interim Ecological Mitigation measures it will use as a starting point to address pesticide risks to nontarget species during registration and registration review.
The menu of Interim Ecological Mitigation will include measures to reduce pesticide spray drift and pesticide runoff and will be considered as part of EPA’s upcoming proposed interim registration review decisions. While EPA intends for this set of Interim Ecological Mitigation measures to apply widely to many pesticides, EPA will consider the menu of options for any given pesticide depending on the level of risk that it poses to species and the exposure route.
EPA anticipates that this approach will more efficiently establish protections for nontarget species, including listed species, and standardize the protections across similar pesticides, in contrast to identifying mitigation measures pesticide by pesticide or species by species, as EPA has typically done in the past.
EPA states it will also work with registrants to add language on pesticide incident reporting, advisory language to protect insect pollinators, and language to most outdoor-use pesticide labels that directs users to reference Bulletins Live! Two, a website where pesticide users can find endangered species protection bulletins. These bulletins describe geographically specific use limitations to protect threatened and endangered species and their designated critical habitat.
EPA expects that once consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service is completed for any given outdoor-use pesticide, endangered species protection bulletins may be necessary for at least one listed species.
EPA also expects that working with registrants proactively to add the reference to Bulletins Live! Two to pesticide labels in advance of consultation will ultimately save EPA, state partners, and registrants time and resources by minimizing the number of amendments to labels.
The ESA Workplan Update also describes initiatives that, according to EPA, will help it and other federal agencies improve approaches to mitigation under the ESA and improve the interagency consultation process outlined in the ESA Workplan. These initiatives include EPA’s work to identify ESA mitigation measures for pilot species, incorporate early ESA mitigation measures for groups of pesticides (e.g., herbicides), and develop region-specific ESA mitigations.
Comments on the proposed set of interim mitigation measures and the proposed revisions to label language included in the Workplan Update appendix are due on or before January 30, 2023. Comments can be submitted at EPA-HQ-OPP-2022-0908.
This next phase of the ESA Workplan provides more detail about how EPA plans to impose various mitigation measures to meet its ESA obligations when registering a pesticide. The most favorable view of what EPA has presented is that it continues the march toward ESA compliance, which is long overdue, and provides more detail about the kinds of mitigation approaches it will place on pesticide labels to meet ESA requirements. The less favorable view here is that EPA has outlined a number of “off the shelf” mitigation options (buffers to reduce pesticide drift and water runoff), and EPA might impose such conditions in many instances where more careful analysis of usage data and site- or use-specific considerations might lessen the areas where such mitigation measures are needed.
EPA has stated previously as part of its earlier Workplan document, issued in April 2022, that using the present approaches EPA would complete only 5 percent of the ESA required reviews in about 18 years -- implying that the current approach would take about 360 years to complete. This next iteration of the Workplan, describing “early mitigation” strategies, is designed to reduce this unacceptable timeframe (360 years), but is likely to lead to fears among some stakeholders that in a “rush” to complete this work, EPA will make overly conservative label restrictions and reduce availability of the pesticide without increased species protections. Such concerns raise immediate ancillary concerns about stakeholder involvement in decision-making, compliance with what might be complicated label requirements, and enforcement of what is already typically a long list of label requirements for many current products. An example of such issues: one mitigation option example discussed is “do not use when rain is expected in the next 48 hours” -- which could raise issues concerning what or how compliance might be proven or enforced.
Again, to be sure, this next document about how EPA plans to make significant progress in meeting its ESA obligations continues the effort to convince courts that it is meeting its ESA obligations. As such, it represents a large step forward where in the past EPA was left with little progress or plans to present in court as part of litigation over ESA compliance. As it continues to reveal its plans and options, however, stakeholders will need to follow closely and consider the possible impacts of the Workplan and the resulting label proposals to follow.
Posted on January 20, 2022 by Lisa M. Campbell
By James V. Aidala, Lisa R. Burchi, and Barbara A. Christianson
On January 11, 2022, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it is implementing a new policy regarding the evaluation and registration of new conventional pesticide active ingredients (AI) to comply further with the Endangered Species Act (ESA) (ESA Policy). EPA also issued a Question and Answer document regarding its ESA Policy. Effective immediately, EPA will evaluate the potential effects of new conventional AIs on federally threatened or listed endangered species (Listed Species) and their designated critical habitats, and initiate ESA consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service (the Services) if necessary before EPA registers any new conventional AIs. The new ESA Policy will apply to all new conventional AI applications, including applications already submitted to EPA but not yet completed.
Under the ESA, EPA must ensure that its actions are not likely to result in jeopardy or adverse modification of designated critical habitat or Listed Species. To determine whether the action may affect Listed Species and their designated critical habitats, EPA makes one of three types of species-specific effects determinations: No Effect (NE), Not Likely to Adversely Affect (NLAA), or Likely to Adversely Affect (LAA). EPA states that historically it did not “consistently assess the potential effects of conventional pesticides on listed species when registering new AIs.” This, EPA states, “resulted in insufficient protections from new AIs for listed species, as well as resource-intensive litigation against EPA for registering new AIs prior to assessing potential effects on listed species.” EPA believes its new ESA Policy should assist in reducing these types of cases against EPA and improve the legal defensibility of new AIs.
EPA states that under the new ESA Policy, if EPA makes an LAA determination through its analyses of a new conventional pesticide AI, EPA will initiate formal consultation with the Services before granting a new AI registration. As part of its analysis and under its existing authorities, EPA will consider the likelihood that the registration action may jeopardize the continued existence of Listed Species or adversely modify their designated critical habitat and provide its findings to the Services. To determine or predict the potential effects of a pesticide on these species and habitats, EPA will use appropriate ecological assessment principles and apply what it has learned from past effects determinations and the Services’ biological opinions. EPA states it is determining whether any new information would be useful for assessing the potential impacts on Listed Species from a new AI, and it will specifically contact registrants that have a new Al application currently under consideration to discuss whether additional information is necessary for EPA’s ESA assessment for the new conventional AI.
If EPA determines that jeopardy or adverse modification is likely for a designated critical habitat or Listed Species, it will only make a registration decision on the new conventional AI after requiring registrants to implement mitigation measures that EPA determines would likely prevent such jeopardy or adverse modification. If EPA finds that a new AI is likely to affect adversely a Listed Species or its critical habitat, but that a jeopardy or adverse modification is not likely, it may nonetheless require registrants to include mitigation measures as part of their registration and product labeling to minimize the potential effects of incidental take to Listed Species that could result from use of a pesticide. In both situations, formal consultation with the Services would still be necessary, as EPA states final jeopardy or adverse modification determinations must be made by the Services. Regarding timeframes, EPA states in the Q&A that it “strives to complete new AI applications within PRIA timelines,” but will work with affected registrations to “renegotiate” PRIA deadlines if EPA believes additional time will be needed under the ESA Policy.
EPA states that it has prioritized conventional pesticide AIs but that it is continuing to explore applying these new ESA approaches to new biopesticide AIs and new antimicrobial AIs. EPA also is developing a comprehensive strategy to address ESA for pesticides at all stages of the registration process. EPA is currently developing a detailed work plan to outline additional improvements to further its compliance with the ESA, including steps to implement protections for high-risk species more efficiently, provide growers with more flexible mitigation measures, and increase stakeholder engagement.
This announcement represents the next attempt by the Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) to comply with ESA requirements in a way that, as the ESA Policy points out, will be more legally defensible while continuing its work to review and approve new pesticide AIs. In recent years, EPA has tried various arguments, mostly futile, to convince courts that past attempts to comply with ESA were sufficient.
This ESA Policy hints at important changes both in EPA’s past rhetoric regarding compliance and possible changes to the ways ESA assessments have been conducted in the past. On the record, EPA has maintained it complied with ESA when registering a new product. The courts have found this claim unsupported and almost always agreed with groups that challenged that claim. There have been a few exceptions where EPA, while not entirely resolving ESA concerns, had more “up front” consideration of ESA issues. Such earlier attention to resolving any ESA concerns, however, can add significantly to the time spent and data requirements to evaluate and address ESA issues.
Any relatively successful cases over past years complement the renewed and explicit commitment by the Biden Administration with the ESA Policy to attempt to resolve the long-standing problem of establishing a registration process that better addresses ESA issues with, among other things, improved coordination between EPA procedures and the review process (and conclusions) of the Services. Past Administrations have expressed similar rhetoric, but so far, many have tried, and all have failed.
In various forums, EPA has dryly described the efforts generally as -- “EPA is currently developing a detailed work plan to outline additional improvements to further the Agency’s compliance with the ESA.” More importantly, perhaps, and new to the mix is that EPA now has a senior political appointee (Jake Li as Deputy Assistant Administrator of OCSPP) especially tasked to lead efforts regarding the ESA-FIFRA integration process.
For applicants and registrants of new conventional AIs, these revised efforts may lead to some delays in the current expected timeframes to “work out” ESA concerns earlier in the process. And importantly, EPA’s ESA Policy describes how new approvals will include more “up front” mitigation measures designed to protect threatened and endangered species to a sufficient, or at least better, degree -- which appears to be a key change designed to reduce the litigation risks that have dogged new registration decisions in recent years.
Posted on November 03, 2021 by Lisa M. Campbell
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.