Top House lawmakers want better look at pesticide effects

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, May 1, 2013 - Two House committee chairmen called for a return to the drawing board yesterday after the release of a report saying federal agencies should use “a common scientific approach” in determining the possible effects pesticides could pose to endangered or threatened species.

The report, “Assessing Risks to Endangered and Threatened Species from Pesticides,” was issued by the National Academy of Science's National Research Council (NRC) and found that EPA, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) should use risk assessment approaches that address problem formulation, exposure analysis, effects analysis, and risk characterization.

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The report raised general concerns regarding the federal government's methods to conduct scientific assessments of ecological risks from pesticides, as required by the Endangered Species Act.

However, the report apparently failed to specifically evaluate NMFS biological opinions that several House members, states, scientists and a federal court, have criticized as “flawed and indefensible.”

The report prompted House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., to call on the federal agencies to start over and conduct a thorough study that more directly answers questions relating to Endangered Species Act biological opinions (BiOp) and crop protection products.

Previously, at a May 2011 joint hearing between the committees, lawmakers urged the federal agencies to ensure the NRC conducts a complete and comprehensive evaluation of all aspects of the BiOps pertaining to pesticide use nationwide.

According to a House Agriculture Committee release, lawmakers specifically requested that such a study include an evaluation of the technical and economic feasibility of the so-called “reasonable and prudent measures” suggested by the NMFS, as well as a comprehensive scientific peer-review of each of the BiOps that had been issued to date.

Lucas said that while he appreciates the “hard work” of the NRC, the final report is “meaningless.”

“If we are to truly protect threatened and endangered species and their critical habitats, it is essential that the federal agencies charged with administering the Endangered Species Act be open to legitimate scientific scrutiny of their policies and practices,” Lucas said.

If implemented, NMFS measures are expected to affect more than 112 million acres and impact rural economies in California, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho by ending the use of vital crop protection tools. Lawmakers say the measures would also put human health at risk by restricting the ability to control disease-carrying mosquito populations.

Hastings said the National Academy of Sciences' report raises questions about the lack of data and questionable science used by federal agencies to implement the Endangered Species Act, and will require more oversight.

CropLife America (CLA) applauded the release of the report, noting the “growing legal and scientific consensus in favor of sound science and modern agricultural practices.”

Jay Vroom, CLA president and chief executive officer, said, “Judges and scientists agree that the protection of endangered species depends on the latest scientific evidence and the NAS report calls for a common scientific approach to evaluating regulations by all stakeholders.”

Next, Vroom said, common ground must be found between modern agriculture and the protection of endangered species.

“Agriculture continues to evolve in order to support increased biodiversity through the preservation of beneficial species and our most valued resources,” Vroom said. “Furthermore, we see a new opportunity to also focus on the myriad benefits to wildlife from modern farming practices.”



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