Posted on September 11, 2019 by editor
By Lisa M. Campbell and Timothy D. Backstrom
On September 9, 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) published a notice in the Federal Register announcing the availability of, and an opportunity for comment on, a document describing an “interim process” that OPP’s Environmental Fate and Ecological Effects Division is currently using to evaluate potential synergistic effects of mixtures of pesticide active ingredients on non-target organisms. As part of a lawsuit challenging the 2012 decision by EPA to register Enlist Duo Herbicide (a combination of 2,4-D and glyphosate), OPP scientists learned that patent applications for some registered pesticide products included claims that particular combinations of active ingredients provide “synergistic” control of target species. Although EPA was not at that time considering potential synergies in assessing the risk for ecological effects on non-target organisms, based on the patent application claims regarding synergy for Enlist Duo, EPA decided to request that the reviewing court vacate its registration decision and remand the application for Enlist Duo for further study of these effects and any measures that might be needed to mitigate the risk to non-target organisms. This decision sparked much controversy, and many in industry were concerned that patent application claims were not being correctly interpreted by EPA for the category of pesticide products at issue.
The new document released by EPA for review and comments is entitled: “Process for Receiving and Evaluating Data Supporting Assertions of Greater Than Additive (GTA) Effects in Mixtures of Pesticide Active Ingredients and Associated Guidance for Registrants.” EPA states that it “has generally been applying this interim process since 2016.” The process described in the document has five steps: (1) registration applicants must search for any granted patents that include synergy (GTA) claims for combinations of pesticides; (2) applicants must review the patent claims and supporting data for relevance to ecological risk assessment; (3) applicants must report to EPA all effects testing data from the relevant patents; (4) applicants must do a statistical analysis (using a method prescribed by EPA) to determine whether any observations of GTA effects are statistically significant; and (5) EPA will review all submitted information to decide whether it should be utilized in ecological risk assessment.
In the Federal Register notice, OPP lists five specific areas pertaining to the interim risk assessment process described in the document on which it is requesting comment:
- Are there technical aspects of the interim process that warrant change? If so, what changes are recommended?
- What aspects of the process could be applied to the evaluation of open literature sources of GTA effects pesticide interactions?
- Should EPA consider standardizing a more detailed search and reporting approach, and how should EPA do that?
- Should EPA continue the evaluation process as described in this document? If so, what performance metrics (e.g., number of evaluations) should EPA consider before deciding the utility of this approach?
- What applicant burden is associated with the activities described in this memorandum, including compiling, analyzing, and submitting the information? Specifically, does an estimate of 80-240 hours of burden per applicant cover the respondent burden associated with the interim process?
When the National Research Council (NRC) evaluated the importance of toxicological interactions between pesticide active ingredients in 2013, the NRC concluded that such interactions are rare, but that EPA should nonetheless consider such interactions when the best available scientific evidence supports such an evaluation. In the current Federal Register notice, EPA makes it clear that it is uncertain concerning the utility for risk assessment of the information used by manufacturers to support synergistic effects claims in pesticide patents. According to EPA, 24 applicants for new registrations have submitted patent data to date, but only three of these submissions contained information that indicated a need for further testing and no submission ultimately led to any adjustment of the ecological risk assessment. At this juncture, EPA will continue collecting patent data that may be pertinent to GTA effects, but when it has sufficient experience upon to base a general policy it may either continue or improve this process or discontinue it after explaining why.
When EPA requested that the reviewing court vacate and remand the registration EPA had granted for Enlist Duo, the parties seeking judicial review located data in the patent applications that EPA had not previously seen or reviewed and that EPA believed could possibly be pertinent to potential adverse effects on non-target plants. EPA concluded that it should revisit the decision based on the additional data. Although EPA decided to request vacatur and remand, the applicant Dow AgroSciences had arguably followed all of the procedures then in place, because FIFRA Section 3(c)(5) allows EPA to waive data requirements pertaining to efficacy, and EPA typically registers pesticide product that are not intended to protect public health without any independent evaluation of efficacy data. Nevertheless, in general EPA may choose to evaluate pesticidal efficacy data; such circumstances in the past often involved cases where EPA was required to consider whether pesticide benefits are sufficient to outweigh identified risks. In the Enlist case, EPA determined that it should do so where potential synergy in pesticidal efficacy is pertinent to evaluating ecological effects on non-target species.
What EPA must decide now is how often efficacy data that has been deemed adequate by the Patent and Trademark Office to support a patent for a new pesticide mixture will have any material significance in the context of ecological risk assessment. Before EPA makes a determination whether or not patent data has sufficient pertinence to continue requiring routine collection and evaluation of such data, EPA has decided it is prudent to afford all stakeholders an opportunity to comment on whether EPA has been asking the right questions.
All comments on the draft document must be submitted no later than October 24, 2019.
Posted on June 07, 2019 by Lisa M. Campbell
By Lisa M. Campbell and Lisa R. Burchi
On May 30, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (Ninth Circuit) issued an order in National Family Farm Coalition v. EPA, No. 17-70810 (filed Mar. 21, 2017) regarding the scope of its review of a petition challenging a 2017 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Notice of Pesticide Registration. This 2017 order addresses Dow AgroSciences LLC’s Enlist Duo product. The Petitioners include the National Family Farm Coalition and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The May 30, 2019, order addresses whether the court could review two prior EPA orders, one issued in 2014 and one in 2015, regarding the registration of Enlist Duo. Those 2014 and 2015 EPA orders had also been challenged in court, and subsequently remanded to EPA to consider additional information. Following EPA’s consideration of this additional information, EPA increased the allowed use sites for the Enlist Duo registration to include cotton and increased the number of states authorized to use Enlist Duo from 15 to 34 states.
The Ninth Circuit’s May 30, 2019, order finds that the 2017 order “reissues the original Enlist Duo registration and amendment addressed in the 2014 and 2015 orders, thus making the full registration of Enlist Duo for GE corn, soybean and cotton for use in 34 states subject to [its] review.” The court based its decision on the language of EPA’s 2017 order and EPA’s Final Registration Decision. The court found persuasive, for example, that EPA’s 2017 order states that it “supercedes” EPA’s 2014 order, which the court stated is “consistent with our determination that the 2014 order previously remanded to EPA has now been finalized.” Since EPA identified its 2017 order as final and had characterized its 2014 and 2015 orders as having an incomplete record, the court stated that it will “review the 2017 order on the combined records of the 2014, 2015 and 2017 orders, all of which is incorporated into the 2017 order’s record.”
The court further noted that EPA’s “2017 order also purports to extend the 2014 registration’s (and that of the 2015 amendment) initial 2020 expiration date by two years.” Since the court found that nothing “suggests that this term is specific to the new uses on GE cotton in 34 states or GE corn and soybean in the additional 19 states,” the court stated that the 2017 EPA order could not have been limited to adding only these post-2015 uses as EPA had asserted.
Following this determination, the Ninth Circuit stated that “submission of this case is deferred” pending additional briefing to address “all challenges to the initial registration (2014 order) and the original amendment (2015 order), as that registration and amendment has been reissued in the 2017 order -- including challenges to all supporting documentation” and “what relief [it] should provide if Petitioners’ claims are successful, ‘in whole or in part.’” The timing for such briefing is as follows:
- Counsel for each Petitioner is directed to file a supplemental brief of 7,000 words or less within 60 days of the date of the order (by July 30, 2019);
- Counsel for Respondent and Intervenor are directed to file a responsive brief of 7,000 words or less within 60 days from the date of filing of Petitioners’ briefs; and
- Petitioners may each file reply briefs not to exceed 3,500 words within 30 days from the date of the filing of Respondent’s brief.
Posted on April 01, 2016 by Lisa M. Campbell
By Lisa M. Campbell and Timothy D. Backstrom
On March 28, 2016, a three-judge panel in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Case Nos. 15-71207, et al. (consolidated) issued an order denying the Petitioners’ March 10, 2016, motion asking the court to adjudicate their challenges to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) registration of the pesticide Enlist Duo during remand of the registration decision to EPA, as well as their alternative request that the court stay issuance of its mandate and retain jurisdiction pursuant to the original petition for review. The brief three-sentence order did not offer any explanation as to why the court denied the relief requested by the Petitioners.
The Petitioners’ March 10, 2016, motion stated that it is “appropriate to adjudicate those arguments now, because Enlist Duo remains on the market during the limited remand, causing petitioners continued harm.” In support of their motion, Petitioners argued that the purpose of the remand was to address the “narrow question” of “synergistic effects of Enlist Duo’s two main ingredients on non-target plants,” and that an ultimate decision by EPA on this narrow issue “may have no bearing on the arguments petitioners have already briefed in this Court.” Petitioners also argued that the registrant and intervenor Dow AgroSciences LLC (DowAgro) has “reneged on its promise to the Court not to sell Enlist Duo” during the remand.
EPA and DowAgro both filed responses on March 21, 2016, opposing the Petitioners’ motion. EPA’s response to the motion stated that the court’s order remanding the matter to EPA was general in scope, and “EPA may properly choose to revisit the issues raised in Petitioners’ briefs while it also considers the new information provided by Dow regarding the synergistic effects of Enlist Duo’s two active ingredients.” Thus, if the court were to consider the Petitioners’ claims during remand, “the Court would be advising EPA as to the outcome of its remand work, which is contrary to the Court’s function.” EPA also opposed the request to stay the mandate and retain jurisdiction “because Petitioners will have ample opportunity to challenge any new agency action that EPA issues after concluding its remand work.”
DowAgro’s response stated that “[t]his Court’s order did not limit the scope of the remand, so the agency is free to alter, amend, or supersede the existing registration.” DowAgro also argued that adjudicating petitioners’ claims during remand would lead to improper “piecemeal review” because “petitioners’ challenges to the original registration may be substantially altered or mooted entirely.” With respect to the Petitioners’ allegation that DowAgro “reneged” on a promise not to sell Enlist Duo during the remand, DowAgro stated that this offer was only for “the interim period while this Court was considering the remand motion, not the indefinite period the matter was on remand to the agency.”
More information regarding the court’s original remand order is available in our blog item Ninth Circuit Denies EPA Motion for Vacatur, Grants EPA Motion for Remand.
It would have been, in the view of many, surprising for the court to agree to adjudicate Petitioners’ claims concerning the registration decision for Enlist Duo during the period that decision is remanded to EPA for further action. Similarly, it is not surprising to many that the court declined to retain jurisdiction, since the remand to EPA will not operate to constrain the ability of the Petitioners to raise the same claims in the event that EPA decides to issue a new registration for Enlist Duo following remand.
It is not clear at this juncture whether EPA will be inclined to reconsider its views concerning any of the Petitioners’ claims during the remand process. Petitioners likely will, however, have another opportunity to seek review concerning their claims, assuming they participate in the administrative process during remand, and EPA does not alter its original decision in a manner that moots those claims.