Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.


Bush Administration Rollback Would Weaken Regulation of Harmful Pesticides


Contact: Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity (510) 499-9185
Brian Litmans, report author (301) 587-2619
More Information: The report, Silent Spring Revisited - Pesticide Use and Endangered Species

The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) today released a comprehensive 67 page report detailing the failure of the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate pesticides harmful to endangered species. The report, Silent Spring Revisited - Pesticide Use and Endangered Species, analyzes the EPA’s dismal record in protecting endangered species from pesticides and exposes the agency’s ongoing refusal to reform pesticide registration and use in accordance with scientific findings. The report identifies over 375 species listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act adversely affected by pesticides. The report also discusses case studies of the EPA’s failure to consult with wildlife regulatory agencies about the impacts of pesticides on numerous endangered species and the agency’s illegal registration of pesticides known to be harmful to imperiled fish and wildlife.

“The Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory oversight of the pesticide industry has been abysmal, resulting in significant and unnecessary threats to endangered wildlife and human health,” said Jeff Miller, spokesperson for the CBD.

The report details that over two billion pounds of pesticides are sold in the U. S. each year for agricultural, commercial, and home uses and that the EPA has registered for use over 18,000 pesticides. Pesticides have been shown to be pervasive in fish and wildlife habitat throughout the country, threatening the survival and recovery of numerous endangered species. For example, pesticides have been linked to declines of amphibians in California and several species of Pacific salmon, threaten sea turtles in Chesapeake Bay, and continue to kill bald eagles nationwide.

The report comes as the Bush administration and the EPA are attempting to further undercut the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by changing how pesticide impacts to wildlife are evaluated. The EPA proposed new “Joint Counterpart Regulations” in January 2004 which would remove input from the expert wildlife agencies, the USFWS and NOAA Fisheries, in determining whether pesticides threaten endangered species. The EPA proposes to retain sole responsibility for assessing pesticide impacts, despite its dismal track record. The proposal would also allow the agrochemical industry to control the research on the environmental impacts of its products, with special participatory rights in the process not shared by the public. Conservation and pesticide watchdog groups filed a lawsuit in January 2004 to stop the EPA from giving illegal special access to a group of chemical corporations. There has been widespread opposition to the EPA’s proposed changes, including a letter of “serious concern” sent in June 2004 by 66 members of congress.

“Through the Joint Counterpart Regulations, EPA has unveiled its true intentions - establishing a procedure by which it can avoid ESA ‘complications’ by declaring that species are not adversely affected by pesticide use. Although this decision should rightfully be made by the agencies entrusted to assess impacts to listed species, EPA arrogantly asserts that it has the requisite experience to make such decisions despite an overwhelming record to the contrary. Disguising EPA’s efforts to avoid ESA compliance as merely an attempt to achieve regulatory ‘effectiveness,’ EPA has shown that it can not be bothered with conservation of endangered species,” said Brian Litmans, author of the report and public interest environmental attorney.

Formal consultation with the USFWS and NOAA Fisheries under the ESA provides one of the most effective mechanisms for imposing constraints on the use of harmful pesticides. Consultation ensures that the EPA avoids jeopardizing the continued existence of listed species and also provides the agency with comprehensive scientific information regarding locations, population trends, and threats to the survival of imperiled species. Over the past ten years, the EPA has failed to complete a single consultation that has not been the result of litigation brought by environmental organizations.

Furthermore, the EPA has refused to enter into consultation when requested to do so by the USFWS. For example, in 2002 the USFWS requested that the EPA consult on the impacts of atrazine on the endangered Barton Springs salamander in Texas. Atrazine is a heavily used herbicide so dangerous to humans and wildlife that it was recently banned by the European Union. Atrazine is also linked to declines of endangered amphibians in California, sea turtles in Chesapeake Bay, salamanders in Texas, mussels in Alabama, and sturgeons in Midwest waters. Conservationists sued the EPA in August 2003 for failing to consult on the impacts of atrazine to several listed species. The EPA’s revised registration of atrazine in November 2003 further revealed the agency’s obeisance to the agrochemical industries it was intended to regulate. Despite numerous studies and overwhelming evidence linking atrazine to significant human and wildlife health concerns (including endocrine disruption), the EPA announced that it would impose no new restrictions on its use. Although required by court order to further assess the use of this dangerous chemical, the EPA entered into a private deal whereby atrazine manufacturers will monitor a mere 3% of the watersheds that the EPA has recognized as “at risk” of atrazine contamination.

The CBD and other conservation groups have been forced to file numerous lawsuits to attempt to compel the EPA to consult with the USFWS on pesticide impacts to endangered species. Recent lawsuits filed by the CBD include: litigation in 2002 over the EPA’s registration of 45 pesticides impacting over 300 listed species nationwide; a lawsuit in 2002 regarding approval of 250 pesticides that may affect the California red-legged frog; and litigation in 2003 concerning 6 pesticides threatening the Barton Springs salamander. In response to a lawsuit by a coalition of conservation, fishing and pesticide watchdog groups, a federal court recently found the EPA in clear violation of the ESA for failing to protect listed salmon species and steelhead trout from pesticides, and imposed no-spray zones to keep pesticides out of west coast salmon streams.

“As a result of the EPA’s subservience to the pesticide industry there is currently very little oversight of widely used chemicals that hit the market,” stated Miller. “Industry already effectively controls both the registration process and scientific research - the Bush administration’s outrageous proposal to allow the EPA to further circumvent the consultation process is the equivalent of handing control of the Department of Health to the tobacco industry. The EPA simply needs to follow the law, consult on environmental impacts, and eliminate harmful pesticides that cause jeopardy to endangered species.”


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