A little-noticed section of a congressional bill to overhaul the Endangered
Species Act would give federal regulators a five-year pass from seeking expert
scientific advice from wildlife agencies on the harmful effects of pesticides
on rare animals and plants, a move environmentalists say would further threaten
hundreds of animals including several in the Bay Area.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency evaluates insecticides and herbicides
up for registration or, every 15 years, for re-registration. Under the law as
it is now, if it finds evidence that a pesticide could affect animals and plants
protected by the act, the agency must consult with wildlife agencies before approving
Environmental groups say it is crucial that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have an opportunity
to present scientific studies showing effects of chemicals on animals and plants
because the groups have used the evidence in court to force the EPA to limit
the use of dozens of pesticides that could hurt salmon, steelhead and the California
But under the bill by Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, for five years the agency
would not have to seek the expertise of wildlife agency scientists over how
pesticides could affect the imperiled species.
The bill would eliminate key provisions of the nation's toughest environmental
law safeguarding the 1,272 listed species of plants, birds, fish, amphibians,
insects and mammals in the wild. The bill already has passed the House and is
expected to find support in the Republican-controlled Senate.
The pesticide changes and other major revisions are opposed by environmental
groups, and local governments and states across the nation are passing resolutions
in support of the original 1973 act, including the California counties of Marin,
San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz; and the city of Los Angeles.
"We see the act as a safety net for wildlife, and the Pombo bill cuts
a hole in that net,'' said Sarah Matsumoto, field director of a nationwide coalition
of 360 conservation, religious and hunting and fishing groups that want to save
In past years, the Fish and Wildlife Service has raised concerns about harm
to listed species from pesticides, among them 2,4-D, atrazine, diazinon and
endosulfan. In 2002, the agency wrote the EPA saying that the insecticide endosulfan,
under consideration for re-registration at the time, could kill or disrupt endocrine
systems of fish, birds, amphibians and mammals even at normal applications.
Endosulfan should not be re-registered, the agency said.
But as of 2004, the EPA had registered 103 products with endosulfan for general
use and about 60 special uses, according to Jeff Miller, wildlands coordinator
at the Center for Biological Diversity in San Francisco.
In response to a lawsuit the group filed in the case of the red-legged frog,
a judge ruled that the EPA was in violation of the act because it didn't consult
with the Fish and Wildlife Service over 66 pesticides, including endosulfan.
The center filed a motion in January asking the judge to restrict the use of
endosulfan in key frog habitat throughout California.
A report released today by the center, titled "Poisoning Our Imperiled
Wildlife: San Francisco Bay Area Endangered Species at Risk from Pesticides,"
says the pesticides could harm 31 threatened animals, including the San Joaquin
kit fox, Alameda whipsnake, Western snowy plover, California tiger salamander,
the freshwater shrimp, Lange's metalmark butterfly and the delta smelt.
Some of the 35 plants disappearing from the region are the Presidio Clarksia,
Tiburon Indian paintbrush and Sebastopol meadowfoam, the report says.
The original pesticide-review requirement was written into the Endangered Species
Act to protect the hundreds of sensitive species at risk of extinction from
poisons used on farms, forests and households. Pesticides were a major factor
contributing to the decline of the bald eagle, peregrine falcon, California
brown pelican and other species, and DDT was banned in 1972.
Pesticide industry representatives have been lobbying for years to remove the
requirement, and they support it in the Pombo bill. They have argued that the
EPA is the expert agency and that the pesticides don't need further scrutiny
from the wildlife agencies if the EPA has carefully reviewed pesticides under
the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Recovery Act.
Kenneth Weinstein, a Washington, D.C., attorney representing Syngenta Crop
Protection Inc. and CropLife America, has argued for the five-year delay on
behalf of his clients in courts and in Congress. For several years, the EPA
has conducted a general ecological assessment on pesticides that "provides
a basic level of protection for all wildlife, including endangered species.
So they're not without protection,'' he said.
"What still needs to be done is the individualized assessment for every
pesticide for every one of the 1,200 endangered species. The Pombo bill lets
that process play out. It lets the EPA do its job without having courts breathing
down its neck telling the agency how to do its job,'' Weinstein said.
Republican leaders in the House and the Senate, including Pombo, chairman of
the House Resources Committee, and Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, chairman of
the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, support a major revision
of the act.
Pombo said Wednesday that when he took office in 1993, he saw the Endangered
Species Act creating problems for private property owners and tried to fix it.
"What I've learned over the last 13 years is that the law didn't work
at helping species. The only way you could fix both problems is to bring property
owners in as part of the solution'' by offering incentives and forming a cooperative
relationship, he said.
Perhaps the most far-reaching proposal would eliminate a requirement that federal
resource agencies designate acres of habitat that are deemed critical for the
recovery of a species and replace it with voluntary recovery plans. The Pombo
bill also includes dozens of other changes, long sought by opponents of the
act, who include lobbying groups for developers, builders, ranchers and growers
who want payment from the government if the act interferes with plans to alter
In preparation for a fight in the Senate perhaps as early as this month, moderate
Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, chairman of the Fisheries, Wildlife
and Water Subcommittee, has tried to win a bipartisan compromise. Chafee initiated
a drive with other senators to use the mediation services of the nonprofit Keystone
(Colo.) Center, which helped his father, Sen. John H. Chafee, win bipartisan
support for amendments to endangered-species laws a decade ago.
But the efforts failed last week after the parties couldn't agree on ways to
change the act. Inhofe, who supports Pombo's bill, said he would bring up a
workable bill for a vote by the end of March. The Democratic leadership is talking
with its Republican counterparts but is leery of changes that would weaken the
California Democrat Sen. Barbara Boxer sees the Pombo bill as gutting the original
act and says the "kind of blanket exemption to exclude pesticides from
the consultation process required by the Endangered Species Act will be harmful
not only to endangered species but also to human health."
Conservation groups also caution that the proposed reduction in pesticide scrutiny
over the next five years would come as the Bureau of Land Management plans to
spray 18 herbicides, including four new ones, on 932,000 acres of public land
in 17 Western states, including California.
In comments on the proposal, lawyers for the Center for Biological Diversity
said they could find no evidence in the BLM's environmental review or elsewhere
in the record that the 18 herbicides that the agency proposes to use in the
project were properly approved by the EPA in accordance with the act.
Getting rid of the requirement for consultation with wildlife agencies "has
been on the wish list of the pesticide industry for a number of years,'' said
Brent Plater, attorney at the center. "When Bush became president, and
Congress was in the hands of Republicans, this 'wish list' made it into the
CURRENT RULES FOR PESTICIDES
When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reviews pesticides for approval,
it must seek expertise of wildlife agencies if it finds evidence that the chemicals
could hurt endangered species.
HOW THE RULES WOULD CHANGE
For five years, the EPA -- or any federal or state agency using pesticides --
would not have to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration about possible harm to rare species.
Source: Endangered Species Act; House Bill 3824
Pombo's plan would remove key part of Endangered Species Act.
Endangered: San Joaquin kit fox
listed as endangered in 1967.
Habitat: Contra Costa, Alameda, Santa Clara counties.
Hundreds of foxes were killed by strychnine-poisoned bait used to kill coyotes.
Fumigants, used to kill burrowing rodents, and rodenticides can be fatal to
the foxes, which weigh about 5 pounds.
Threatened: Western snowy plover
listed as threatened in 1993.
Habitat: All coastal counties.
Organochlorines such as endosulfan and the banned DDT reduce egg production
and damage embryos of the small shorebirds.
Threatened: Alameda whipsnake
listed as threatened in 1997.
Habitat: Alameda, Santa Clara counties.
The fast-moving slender black snake with yellow-orange racing stripes can be
harmed by rodenticides, herbicides and insecticides consumed by their prey.
They live in grassland and chaparral.
Endangered: California freshwater shrimp
listed as endangered in 1988.
Habitat: Marin, Sonoma, Napa counties.
Organophosphates such as chlorpyrifos, diazinon and diuron have run off farms
and households into creeks and pools, where they can poison the shrimp.
Endangered: Lange's metalmark butterfly
listed as endangered in 1976.
Habitat: Contra Costa County.
The only remaining butterflies live in the Antioch Dunes National Wildlife
Refuge. Pesticides drifting onto the refuge harm them and the insects that pollinate
their food plant, the naked-stemmed buckwheat.
Threatened: California tiger salamander
listed as threatened in 2004.
Habitat: Sonoma, Solano, Contra Costa,
Alameda, Santa Clara counties.
Toxic agricultural and landscaping chemicals, including endosulfan, can paralyze,
delay metamorphosis of and kill the sensitive amphibian, particularly vulnerable
because of permeable skin.
Source: Center for Biological Diversity
Pesticides Found in Most Rivers, Streams
By JOHN HEILPRIN, Associated Press Writer
Fri Mar 3, 6:07 PM ET
Most of the nation's rivers and streams — and the fish in them —
are contaminated with pesticides linked to cancer, birth defects and neurological
disorders, but not at levels that can harm humans.
Francisca Herrera holds her one-year-old son Carlos Herrera-Candelario, who was born without legs or arms after his parents claim they were exposed to toxic pesticides, sit, Wednesday, March 1, 2006, in their attorney's office in Miami as they announce the law suit they filed against the agriculture company, AG-Mart. The baby's father Abraham Candelario, left, and lawyer, Andrew Yaffa, center, are in the back ground. (AP Photo/J. Pat Carter)
Pesticides were found in almost all U.S. rivers and streams between 1992 and
2001, says a study released Friday by the U.S. Geological Survey, although most
drinking water supplies haven't been affected.
"While the use of pesticides has resulted in a wide range of benefits
to control weeds, insects and other pests, including increased food production
and reduction of insect-borne disease, their use also raises questions about
possible effects on the environment, including water quality," said Robert
Hirsch, the USGS associate director for water.
Pesticides were seldom found at concentrations likely to affect people, and
they were less common in groundwater. But they were found in most fish.
Most frequently detected in agricultural streams were three herbicides used
mainly on farms: atrazine, metolachlor and cyanazine. Just last week, the Environmental
Protection Agency settled a 2003 lawsuit brought by the Natural Resources Defense
Council, forcing the government to assess whether atrazine threatens the survival
of endangered Chesapeake Bay sea turtles, endangered Texas salamanders and 16
other aquatic species.
Three other herbicides used commonly in cities — simazine, prometon and
tebuthiuron — showed up more often in urban streams.
The USGS looked for 100 pesticides, and found 40 of them had a widespread presence
in streams and sediment in both urban and agricultural areas, at concentrations
that could affect aquatic life or fish-eating wildlife. The pesticides showed
up more than 90 percent of the time in the fish tissue found in agricultural,
urban and mixed land-use areas.
In each of the streams the USGS studied, at least one pesticide was detected.
In about 19 of every 20 streams with agricultural, urban or mixed land-use watersheds,
pesticide compounds were found at nearly all times of the year. The most frequent
occurrence was in shallow groundwater beneath agricultural and urban areas,
where more than half the wells contained one or more pesticide compounds.
Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, a national research and
advocacy group, said the data surrounding the nation's reliance on about 1 billion
pounds of pesticides a year "shows an urgent need to strengthen policies
at all levels of government and curtail pesticide use."
The USGS report is based on an analysis of data from 51 major river basins
and aquifer systems nationally, and a study of an aquifer system that runs through
eight states from South Dakota to Texas, east of the Rocky Mountains.
It found that concentrations of individual pesticides nearly always complied
with the EPA's drinking-water standards, though no water samples from streams
were taken at drinking-water intakes. The EPA also is responsible for reviewing
pesticides, based on pesticide-makers' tests that can cost tens of millions
of dollars. It typically takes up to a decade to study each one before it can
reach the marketplace, according to industry figures.
But simply detecting the presence of a pesticide does not always mean there
is reason for concern, said Jay Vroom, president of CropLife America, which
represents pesticide developers and manufacturers. He emphasized that the use
of pesticides by farmers, ranchers and others is strictly regulated by federal
and state laws.
"Water quality is of paramount importance to us," he said. "And
the USGS report correctly recognizes that the large majority of pesticide detections
in streams and groundwater were trace amounts, far below scientifically based
minimum levels set for protecting human health and the environment."