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A Move to Ease Pesticide Laws

Posted in the database on Saturday, March 04th, 2006 @ 12:15:01 MST (3887 views)
by Jane Kay    San Francisco Chronicle  

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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 its use.

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 red-legged frog.

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 it.

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 land.

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 act.

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 Pombo bill.''



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.


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."

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