The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this week asked for public comment on a petition submitted Sept. 16 by a coalition of agricultural entities that asks the agency to allow more stakeholder participation during federal consultations on salmon-related Endangered Species Act issues.
The petition from Growers for ESA Transparency says that current ESA processes put West Coast growers at an economic disadvantage without any indication that salmon will benefit. The impact on fruit, berry, citrus and vegetable growers could be severe enough to cost jobs and decrease exports, according to GET. The groups say data collected by the Washington Department of Agriculture shows that salmon are already being protected by current restrictions.
“EPA and the National Marine Fisheries Service have failed to develop a functional consultation process,” according to the press release. “We have two federal agencies who can’t work together. Growers are caught in the crossfire.”
The groups say that 1988 amendments require that the ESA be implemented in such a way as to minimize harm to the production of food and fiber.
GET’s membership includes Washington Friends of Farms & Forests, Oregonians for Food and Shelter, Western Growers Association, California Strawberry Commission, California Citrus Mutual and others committed to improving the transparency of implementation of the Endangered Species Act.
GET is requesting EPA to take immediate action to establish, by rulemaking, clear and equitable procedures for notice and comment on the agency's pesticide effects determinations for salmon and other species listed under the ESA as threatened or endangered species and subsequent actions, including draft biological opinions by NOAA Fisheries Service or the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. The groups want to make sure that potential pesticide use restrictions that result from those consultation processes are consistent with section 1010 of the 1988 amendments to the ESA.
Before it licenses pesticides and prescribes application methods, EPA must evaluate in consultation with NOAA Fisheries and the USFWS what, if any, impact the use of those chemicals might have on listed species. Biological opinions can be issued by NOAA Fisheries or the USFWS that put restrictions on a pesticide’s use, such as requiring no-pesticide buffers between crops and streams inhabited by protected salmon.
EPA and NOAA Fisheries are amidst a 3 ½-year process that requires, as a result of a legal settlement, that NOAA Fisheries examine the impacts that 37 pesticides commonly used in the Pacific Northwest and California have on the protected salmon and steelhead. The agency must also design permanent measures to help pesticide users minimize the harmful effects of those pesticides.
BiOps have now been completed for six of the pesticides and agricultural interests have been sharply critical, saying that the “best available science” had not been used and that the consultations had been improperly closed to the public.
“EPA and the Services should be open to receiving information from knowledgeable third parties, and to according them a greater role in individual consultations from an early stage. 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 petition says.
“EPA must respect the statutory rights of affected stakeholders, including agricultural producers and pesticide applicators, and fulfill prior commitments to provide an opportunity to submit important information relevant to the effects determination and consultation processes, including agronomic information and information about the economic and agricultural impact and regulatory burden of proposed restrictions,” according to the petition. “This information is essential for EPA to consider in determining whether, and to what extent, to implement the RPAs [BiOp reasonable and prudent actions] and RPMs [reasonable and prudent measures] suggested by the Services.”
Comments on the petition must be received by EPA on or before Feb. 22.
EPA’s Federal Register notice regarding the comment period can be found at: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2010-12-22/html/2010-32035.htm
The notice describes the guidelines for submitting comments.