THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY’S FAILURE TO PROTECT ENDANGERED SPECIES AND THE PUBLIC FROM HARMFUL PESTICIDES
Although much has been learned since 1962 when Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring, alerting the nation to the hazards of poisonous chemicals, current pesticide use still poses major threats to imperiled wildlife and human health. Annual pesticide use has continuously increased since 1962, both in pounds applied and the number of registered active ingredients. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has registered for use more than 18,000 pesticides and over two billion pounds of pesticides are currently sold in the U. S. each year for agricultural, commercial, and home uses. Pesticides have been shown to be pervasive in fish and wildlife habitat throughout the country, threatening the survival and recovery of numerous imperiled species. Over 375 species listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act may be killed or harmed by pesticides. Pesticides have been linked to declines of western amphibians and Pacific salmon, threaten sea turtles in Chesapeake Bay, and continue to kill bald eagles nationwide.
The Center’s Pesticides Campaign is intended to hold the EPA accountable for pesticides it registers for public use, and to cancel or restrict use of harmful pesticides within endangered species habitats. The Pesticides Campaign provides analysis of pesticide impacts on endangered species and education about the threats pesticides pose to wildlife and human health. A key component of this campaign is the Center’s 2004 report detailing the failure of the EPA to regulate pesticides harmful to endangered species (see press release). In February 2006 the Center published a report on the risk toxic pesticides pose to endangered species in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Formal consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act is the most effective means to cancel or constrain use of harmful pesticides registered by the EPA. Consultation ensures that the EPA will benefit from agency expertise and receive comprehensive scientific information regarding locations, population trends, and threats to the survival of imperiled species. Consultation is designed to protect endangered wildlife by ensuring the EPA’s pesticide registrations do not jeopardize endangered species, but it also benefits public health by forcing the EPA to thoroughly assess the harmful effects of pesticides. Unfortunately, the EPA has failed to complete a single consultation since 1993.
The Center and other conservation groups have been forced to file numerous lawsuits to attempt to compel the EPA to consult on pesticide impacts to endangered species. The Center filed litigation in 2002 challenging approval of 250 pesticides that may affect the California red-legged frog and in 2003 concerning six 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 Endangered Species Act for failing to protect listed salmon and steelhead trout species from pesticides, and imposed no-spray zones to keep pesticides out of west coast salmon streams.
An example of the EPA’s subservience to the agrochemical industries it was intended to regulate was the agency’s revised registration of atrazine in November 2003. The Fish and Wildlife Service requested in 2002 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. Despite numerous studies and overwhelming evidence linking atrazine to significant human and wildlife health concerns (including endocrine disruption), the EPA announced 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.
BUSH ADMINISTRATION ROLLBACK
The Bush administration and the EPA are attempting to further undercut the Endangered Species Act by changing how pesticide impacts on wildlife are evaluated. The EPA proposed regulations in January 2004 which would remove input from the expert wildlife agencies, the Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries, in determining whether pesticides threaten endangered species. The EPA proposes to retain sole responsibility for assessment of pesticide impacts, despite its dismal track record. This proposal would be particularly harmful not just to endangered species, but also to the health of farm workers who toil in pesticide-laden fields. The EPA estimates that pesticides poison 10,000 to 20,000 agricultural workers every year. 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, including the Center, 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. View a fact sheet on the proposed rule, the Center’s press release and the congressional letter.
CENTER ACTIONS ON PESTICIDES
The Center is filing a series of strategic legal challenges against the EPA to compel it to adhere to federal environmental law when registering pesticides. The legal actions will seek EPA compliance regarding pesticide impacts to specific imperiled species and also programmatic changes in the agency’s registration process.
May 2007 - Environmental Protection Agency Sued Over Pesticide Use Harmful to 11 Bay Area Endangered Species
January 2007 - Lawsuit Threatened to Protect 11 S.F. Bay Area Endangered Species From Toxic Pesticides
October 2006 - Settlement Agreement Will Protect California Red-Legged Frogs From 66 Toxic Pesticides
August 2006 – Court Finds New Bush Administration Pesticide Rules for Endangered Species Are Illegal
July 2006 - Center organizes coalition of environmental, public health, labor and Native American organizations and scientists to oppose bill changing nation’s toxic pollution laws, threatening public health and preventing states from regulating toxic chemicals
February 2006 - Center submits comments opposing BLM's proposal to use aerial spraying of herbicides to control invasive weed species in 17 western states
February 2006 - Published report on the risk pesticides pose to endangered species in the San Francisco Bay Area
January 2006 - Center Moves for Court Order Restricting Use of 66 Pesticides in Core Red-Legged Frog Habitat
September 2005 - Court Finds EPA Failed to Protect Mark Twain’s Celebrated Jumping Frog from Pesticides
September 2004 -
Filed lawsuit challenging new EPA rules that eliminate scientific oversight of pesticides
July 2004 -
Published report on the EPA’s failure to regulate pesticides harmful to endangered species
2004 - Compelling the EPA perform non-discretionary duties as chair of the Task Force on Environmental Cancer and Heart and Lung Disease
January 2004 -
Stopping the EPA from using an illegal insider chemical group to forge policy
December 2003 - Compelling the EPA to consult on impacts of six pesticides on the Barton Springs salamander
April 2002 - Compelling the EPA to consult on pesticide impacts to the California red-legged frog
June 2002 - Filed notice of intent to sue over the EPA's pesticide program
IMPERILED SPECIES AFFECTED BY PESTICIDES
The following are just a few of the many endangered, threatened or imperiled species the Center works to protect that are directly or indirectly affected by pesticides: