U.S. Eases Review of Pesticides for Endangered Species

The EPA will no longer have to consult with agencies on the potential harm of products. Environmentalists say it will weaken the law.

By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar
LATimes Staff Writer

July 30, 2004

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration made it easier Thursday for the government to approve pesticides used by farmers and homeowners, saying it no longer would require the Environmental Protection Agency to first consult other federal agencies to determine whether a product could harm endangered species.

The change, supported by growers and pesticide manufacturers, affects federal regulations for carrying out the Endangered Species Act, a law that protects about 1,200 threatened animals and plants.

Environmentalists said the streamlined process would strip away protections for those species.

The law has been successfully used by environmental groups in a recent lawsuit seeking to mitigate the effects of pesticides on salmon in the Pacific Northwest. A federal judge found that the EPA had failed to abide by a requirement that it consult with federal wildlife agencies over the potential harm from pesticides.

Under the new process, expected to take effect in a few months, the EPA will conduct its own scientific evaluation. The agency will be required to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other federal agencies only if its internal evaluation deems that a pesticide is likely to have an adverse effect on endangered species.

"The new rule benefits the pesticide industry at the expense of endangered species," said Aaron Colangelo, a lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a Washington-based environmental advocacy group. "By cutting the government's wildlife experts out of the loop, the rule removes an important safety net to protect endangered species."

Colangelo previously sued the EPA for allowing the pesticide atrazine to affect sea turtles in Chesapeake Bay.

Government officials said that because the consultation process had gotten so complex, it was routinely ignored by the agencies. They said it had become a bureaucratic maze that helped no one.

"With 1,200 endangered species and hundreds of chemicals, it becomes a logistical nightmare," said Hugh Vickery, an Interior Department spokesman. "The thinking was that we had to find a more efficient way."

Vickery said the litigation on the West Coast spurred the government to act.

"This got the fire going on trying to solve the problem," he said.

Environmentalists said the changes would weaken the law. "The law was designed to say, 'Look before you leap,' " said John Kostyack, senior counsel with the National Wildlife Federation. "This is leaping before you look."

But officials at the Fish and Wildlife Service said their agency would continue to monitor the EPA's work under the new rules.

"We are not out of the picture," said Clint Riley, special assistant to the wildlife service's director. "We would be in more of an oversight role. As soon as it looks like there would be any adverse effect, we would still be in the picture."

CropLife America, a pesticide industry association, issued a statement describing the new rules as "a sensible approach that strengthens protections to endangered animal and plant species while maintaining access to tested and approved pesticides that are essential to agricultural production, pest management, public health and the environment."

Colangelo said the revision had been on industry wish lists for years, as pesticide producers sought to overcome environmental lawsuits.

Environmentalists noted that the pesticide DDT was responsible for the decline of the American bald eagle in the late 20th century. Since then, pesticide control laws and the Endangered Species Act have reversed the trend.

"Instead of upholding the law, the president has chosen to let EPA off the hook," said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife.

Times staff writer Tom Hamburger contributed to this report.

Copyright 2004 Los Angeles Times

Informant: Teresa Binstock


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