Science ignored: Experts say Endangered Species consultation process is broken

By Sara Wyant

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WASHINGTON, May 4.  The use of federally-approved products to protect crops and human health could be jeapordized as a result of what lawmakers and experts say is a bureaucratic struggle between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Fish and Wildlife Services (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS). At least that was the common theme expressed during a joint House Committee on Agriculture and the House Committee on Natural Resources hearing titled, “At Risk:  American Jobs, Agriculture, Health and Species--the Costs of Federal Regulatory Dysfunction.” 

 

Under section 7 of the Endangered Species Act, the EPA is required to consult with the FWS and NMFS services for any potential threats of pesticides on endangered species. The services are then required to produce a biological opinion on the pesticide and its potential effects on nature and any endangered species.

 

The NMFS and FWS have concluded in biological opinions (BiOps) that endangered species, like the Pacific Salmon, could be jeopardized by the use of crop protection and pest control products along the West Coast, even though they are legally registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). As a resuslt of federal litigation, they've issued requirements of a quarter mile no-spray buffer around water bodies and in some cases, made it impossible for growers to protect their crops from insects and diseases.

 

USDA Chief Economist, Dr. Joseph Glauber testified that his office prepared an analysis of the potential impact to agriculture of the proposed no-spray buffers requested as injunctive relief in the Washington Toxics Coalition v EPA case. The analysis predicted losses in gross revenue ranging between $37 to $583 million, depending upon whether the no-spray buffers were applied to perennial as well as intermittent water bodies and whether the pesticide application were usually accomplished using aerial or ground spraying.

 

Barry Bushue, President of the Oregon Farm Bureau and Vice President of the American Farm Bureau Federation, shared his concerns about how the new requirements could impact his 14-acre “home” farm, which he described as 980 feet long, bordering an intermittent stream.

“The buffer on the label for Lorsban Advanced are 25 feet for a ground boom and 150 foot for aerial. However, the NMFS has indicated that the buffer for this insecticide should be 500 feet for the ground and 1000 feet for aerial,” Bushue testified. “If an aerial application is required, BiOp would block the use of critical crop protectants on my entire farm.

 

Bushue testified that the BiOps were based upon “extremely conservative worse-case scenario assumptions and flawed modeling” that do not reflect real-life use of the EPA approved pest control products. 

 

 

Members of both parties called on the services and other agencies to work together to expedite the biological opinions, provide greater transparency and use the best available science. The USDA, EPA, Department of Commerce and the Department of the Interior asked the National Academies of Science to review the models used by the services in determining threats to endangered species

 

"Today's hearing offered a clear message: National Academies of Science's review of the Services' scientific models must be comprehensive and must analyze the economic impact of any suggested alternatives. And, until that review is completed, EPA should not be asked to implement the recently finalized biological opinions. Additionally, given the admission of fundamental flaws in the Services' model, they should consider seeking re-initiation of consultation when scientific models have been developed, validated, and agreed upon," said Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.)

 

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