Growers for ESA Transparency ("GET") filed a petition Thursday requesting that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency take immediate action to establish clear procedures for making pesticide effects determinations and subsequent actions consistent with Section 1010 of the 1988 amendments to the Endangered Species Act.
No pesticide can be distributed or sold for use in the United States unless it has been registered by EPA under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. Registrations require that products carry labels providing specific directions for the appropriate use of the product, including limitations intended to protect the environment.
The Northwest agricultural organization says that EPA needs to correct a process that results in unnecessary restrictions on pesticide use without any indication that salmon will benefit.
And the restrictions put producers along the West Coast at a competitive disadvantage, GET says. The magnitude of the damage could be severe enough to drive fruit, berry, citrus and vegetable growers to foreign countries, costing both jobs and exports, according to a press release announcing the petition submittal.
"The Endangered Species consultation process is broken," said Heather Hansen, executive director of GET. "EPA and the National Marine Fisheries Service have been required by the court to consult regarding how the pesticide registration process may affect salmon. The current process is not based on the 'best available data.' It takes too long, excludes input from affected stakeholders, and results in unneeded restrictions on pesticide use which will be harmful to food production while failing to help salmon."
The petition is in response to an ongoing ESA consultation process in which NOAA Fisheries is scheduled to produce nine biological opinions, each on a different set of chemicals, by Feb. 29, 2012. In all 37 active chemical ingredients used in pesticides will be reviewed. Litigation prompted EPA's request that NOAA prepare the opinions. EPA is doing the followup by producing implementation regulations while taking into account use restrictions suggested in NOAA's BiOps.
"Unfortunately, current procedures effectively bar agricultural producers, pesticide applicators, and other end users from the effects determinations and consultation processes, leaving EPA and the Services without valuable information on which to base sound decisions," the GET petition says.
GET is a coalition of grower organizations from across the west including Washington Friends of Farms & forests, Oregonians for Food and Shelter, Western Growers Association, California Strawberry Commission, California Citrus Mutual and many others committed to improving the transparency of implementation of the Endangered Species Act.
In Washington, monitoring data shows that salmon are already being protected by current labeling, the petition says.
According to GET, Congress recognized the need to include agricultural producers in the implementation of the Endangered Species Act when it wrote Section 1010 in the 1988 amendments to the Endangered Species Act.
The legislation's Conference Report says:
"Agriculture is a major part of the U.S. economy and provides nutritional sustenance for our population and exports abroad…. The Conferees, therefore, anticipate that… [the Federal agencies shall] implement the Endangered Species Act in a way that protects endangered and threatened species while minimizing, where possible, impacts on production of agricultural foods and fiber commodities."
The petition says that "Specifically, Section 1010 requires EPA to take comment on:
(1) An explanation of the proposed restriction or prohibition on the use of
(2) An identification of the geographic areas affected by the restriction or
(3) An identification of the effects of the pesticide on the listed species;
(4) An identification of the listed species with a general description of the
geographic areas where the species are located and pesticide
application would be restricted, prohibited or otherwise limited in its
"To date, EPA has failed to meet these requirements."
In 2005, when EPA announced changes to the Endangered Species Protection Program, it acknowledged that Section 1010 "provided a clear sense that Congress desires that EPA should fulfill its obligation to conserve listed species, while at the same time considering the needs of agriculture and other pesticide users."
EPA committed at that time to provide an opportunity for input at three points in an ESA assessment:
-- prior to making a "may affect" determination;
-- in identifying potential mitigation options, if necessary, and
-- Prior to issuance of a biological opinion to EPA by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries Service.
The agencies' BiOps judge whether EPA actions -- such as determining how and where particular pesticides may be used -- jeopardize the survival of salmon and other species that are ESA listed.
"Despite a 20-year-old statute and a 2005 commitment by EPA to include agricultural producers, pesticide applicators, and other end users in the effects determination and consultation processes, EPA has yet to establish procedures to do so. Our petition seeks to correct this situation," said Terry Witt, executive director for Oregonians for Food and Shelter.
GET has asked that EPA respond to the petition with 40 days.