The Environmental Protection Agency will no longer have to consult with wildlife agencies before deciding whether pesticides are likely to harm threatened or endangered species, according to rules issued by the Bush administration yesterday.
Under current regulations, the EPA must get written approval from the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service before ruling that a new pesticide would not "adversely affect" imperiled plants and animals. Bush officials said the new rules would streamline the process by entrusting EPA scientists with the job of deciding how pest controls affect endangered species.
"This is the first administration to address a long-standing need to create a workable framework to protect species, ranging from salmon to butterflies and songbirds, ensuring that the potential effects of thousands of pest-control products are examined in a timely and comprehensive manner," said Steve Williams, director of Fish and Wildlife. "At the same time, we are making sure that farmers can continue to provide abundant food for our country and that consumers can continue to use many popular household and garden products."
Despite the previous requirement, the EPA frequently failed to consult with outside agencies on the question of pesticides, according to agency officials. EPA has sent 30 consultation packages to the two wildlife agencies since 2002, said spokeswoman Cynthia Bergman, yet they have only completed a dozen in the past decade.
The change will allow agency officials to "focus on those ingredients that are of most concern" rather than scrutinizing how hundreds of compounds could affect about 1,200 threatened and endangered species across the nation, said Adam Sharp, the associate assistant administrator for the EPA's Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances.
But environmentalists said the change will harm vulnerable plants and animals. The administration proposed the regulations in January: It received about 125,000 comments, which ran 2 to 1 against the proposal.
Grant Cope, an associate attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice, said the new rule "is a drastic weakening of protections for all endangered species across the country."
"If you take the experts out of the room because you don't like what they're saying, that's one way to streamline the registration of dangerous pesticides," he said.
In response to a lawsuit by the group, a Washington judge ruled in January that farmers could not use nearly 40 pesticides around salmon-bearing streams because the federal and independent data showed the agents posed a threat to several kinds of salmon. In a separate development, several groups made public a National Marine Fisheries Service letter from April concluding that EPA did not use the best available science when it determined 28 common pesticides would not injure threatened and endangered salmon. Scientists have found Pacific Coast salmon with genetic deformities that have affected their ability to reproduce, and they have linked these problems to pesticides and other chemicals.
But officials noted that the regulations, which will take effect in one month, call for the two wildlife agencies to periodically review the EPA's endangered species determinations because only they can make the ultimate call on whether a federal action jeopardizes a listed species.
"The Fish and Wildlife Service and [National Marine Fisheries Service] are looking over their shoulders to make sure they do it right," said Interior Department spokesman Hugh Vickery.