A bureaucratic process meant to ensure pesticides will not harm endangered species is broken and in need of reform, witnesses and Members of Congress concluded at a Tuesday hearing.
The hearing was held jointly by the House Agriculture Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee, prompted by concern over pending lawsuits that allege the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) didn’t properly consult on pesticide registrations with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), EPA is required to complete a consultation process with wildlife agencies in addition to its review under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), which itself takes seven to 10 years and considers the effects of new chemistries on wildlife.
EPA hasn’t completed a consultation since 1999, because, while NMF is completing biological opinions, its scientists and EPA’s can’t agree on the underlying scientific data needed to reach the standard for a full consultation.
This has created an opening in which pesticide opponents can sue based on the consultation process itself versus alleging harm to the endangered species.
There is deep concern that the lawsuit could restrict the ability of producers to use pesticides even after a full FIFRA review, including by banning their use outright until the endless reviews are completed or by requiring they not be used in buffer zones, which could tie up a significant amount of productive land.
The first panel at Tuesday’s hearing included federal witnesses, while the second was made up of stakeholders, including representatives from a mosquito control organization, a scientific consulting group, an organic fruit operation, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Association of the State Departments of Agriculture and Pacific Coast fishing operations.
The most telling testimony came based on questions from Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), who questioned if federal resources are available to complete the consultation process – a resounding no.
Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) asked each stakeholder witness if legislation is needed to streamline the process and received agreement on all sides. Based on other questioning, it appeared most Members of both Committees also agreed the current process is broken.
NAWG staff and grower-leaders, particularly those from the Pacific Northwest, will continue to monitor discussion on the ESA consultation process; work to make Members and other government leaders aware of the problems this could cause for food production; and evaluate possible paths for improvement of the process.
For more from this week’s hearing, please visit http://agriculture.house.gov/hearings/hearingDetails.aspx?NewsID=1370.