WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency will be free to approve pesticides without consulting wildlife agencies to determine if the chemical might harm plants and animals protected by the Endangered Species Act, according to new Bush administration rules.
The streamlining by the Interior and Commerce departments represents “a more efficient approach to ensure protection of threatened and endangered species,” officials with the EPA and the Agriculture Department said in a joint statement Thursday.
It also is intended to head off lawsuits, the officials said.
Under the Endangered Species Act, EPA has been required to consult with Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service and Commerce’s National Marine Fisheries Service each time it licenses a new pesticide. But that hasn’t happened for some time.
Steve Williams, Fish and Wildlife director, said it was too complex to have to consider every possible result among the interaction of hundreds of active chemicals and 1,200 threatened and endangered species.
The two services are responsible for enforcing the endangered species law. EPA said it will consult those services if it determines a pesticide could adversely affect a species. But the new rules let EPA formally skip the consultations if it decides there would likely be no harm.
The heads of the two wildlife services will presume EPA’s review work is adequate in cases where EPA doesn’t seek a consultation.
“The two agencies completed a scientific review of EPA’s risk assessment process and concluded it allows EPA to make accurate assessments of the likely effects of pesticides on threatened and endangered species,” said Bill Hogarth, who heads the fisheries service.
The rule-making is partly in response to a successful lawsuit against the EPA in Seattle by the Washington Toxics Coalition, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and other groups. They argued that EPA hadn’t consulted with the government’s wildlife experts to gauge the risks various pesticides pose to salmon in the Pacific Northwest.
A federal judge in January temporarily banned the use of 38 pesticides near salmon streams until EPA determines whether they could harm the fish. An attempt by pesticide makers and farm groups to block the order was rejected by the appeals court.
Last year, the Natural Resources Defense Council sued EPA in federal court in Baltimore on similar grounds, arguing the agency hadn’t properly consulted the wildlife agencies while approving a popular weed killer, atrazine. The case is still pending.
Aaron Colangelo, a council staff attorney, said the new rule benefits the pesticide industry at the expense of endangered species.
“The fact that the consultations are so complicated counsels for better protection, not lesser protection,” he said. “The solution to ignoring it for decades isn’t to rewrite the rule so they can continue to ignore the consultations. The solution is to start complying with the Endangered Species Act.”