WASHINGTON, April 20, 2017 - Three agribusinesses have asked the Interior and Commerce departments to stop analyzing the effects of three widely used organophosphate insecticides on endangered species, arguing that EPA evaluations provided to the agencies have overstated the risks of the chemicals to wildlife and that the process used by federal agencies to analyze the risks of pesticides to endangered species is deeply flawed.

Dow AgroSciences, ADAMA and FMC Corp. asked Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to direct the Fish and Wildlife Service (part of Interior) and National Marine Fisheries Service (in Commerce) to "set aside" their work on biological opinions (BiOps) on chlorpyrifos, malathion and diazinon. All three hold registrations for chlorpyrifos. ADAMA is a registrant of diazinon and FMC a registrant of malathion.

The companies contend that an approach the agencies adopted to evaluate the effects of pesticides on endangered species, which was developed based on recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences, is "fundamentally flawed" and also should be "set aside."

FWS and NMFS are working from biological evaluations prepared by EPA that found chlorpyrifos and malathion are likely to harm 97 percent of about 1,800 threatened or endangered species in the country, and that diazinon was likely to harm 79 percent. In the next few weeks, Fish and Wildlife (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) are expected to issue their draft BiOps, which will recommend measures to avoid harming listed species or their habitat.

The requests are in letters dated April 13 and obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity, which called them a “back-channel ploy to abandon a nearly four-year effort to protect endangered species from these pesticides.”

The Center said Dow, which introduced chlorpyrifos in 1965 and is the largest producer of the insecticide, was “buoyed by the Trump administration’s recent decision to scrap a ban on the brain-damaging pesticide.”

Last month, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt rejected a petition from the Natural Resources Defense Council and Pesticide Action Network to prohibit the use of chlorpyrifos. NRDC and PAN are challenging that decision in court.

The assessments are required under a legal settlement reached between CBD and the federal government in 2014. In the letters, the companies asked the Cabinet secretaries to direct their legal counsel to ask for extensions from the court to complete the final BiOps, which are due by the end of the year.

The companies, however, argue that EPA’s evaluations rely on overly conservative assumptions that result in inflated levels of risk. In a statement responding to the release of the letters, Dow said the risks of chlorpyrifos to human health and the environment have been thoroughly evaluated and that it “remains confident that authorized uses of chlorpyrifos products offer wide margins of protection for human health and safety.”

In the letters, the companies said that “many scientifically valid, registrant-submitted studies were not evaluated by (EPA), with no explanation. This is not justified and is contrary to EPA's own guidance and the recommendations made by the National Academy of Sciences,” or NAS.

EPA, FWS and NMFS have been following a process – which they call “Interim Approaches” – for conducting evaluations of pesticides’ effects on endangered species, based on recommendations in a 2013 NAS report. The companies, however, are calling the Interim Approaches “fundamentally flawed” and want to see them scrapped.

EPA, FWS and NMFS have said they plan to make changes to their process, which is being employed for the first time with chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion. “The agencies intend to refine the interim methods used in the first three pilot (biological evaluations) based on a phased and iterative approach,” EPA said in response to comments on the draft biological evaluations.

“We aim to streamline the process to a point where it is protective of species, timely for FIFRA registration review decisions, feasible within the agencies’ resource constraints, and transparent to the public,” EPA said.

At a recent CropLife America conference, EPA’s Marietta Echeverria, director of the Environmental Fate and Effects Division in the Office of Pesticide Programs, said that after the draft biological opinions are finished, the agencies plan to “try to come up with a more sustainable process because we understand what’s out there right now is very conservative and very complex and is not sustainable given our resources.”

In a statement, malathion registrant FMC said that withdrawing the evaluations “will allow the necessary time for the EPA to use the ‘best available’ scientific and commercial data while also allowing the EPA and the services to develop more consistent and sustainable approaches.”

The Center for Biological Diversity’s Hartl, however, said he thinks the companies will be satisfied “only when the BiOps require them to do nothing different. This is not a new tactic, it is a way of avoiding taking regulatory actions.”

He also said that CBD would not agree to an extension of the court-mandated deadlines, “because all other parties have worked in good faith for the past four years to try to make this process work.”

ADAMA did not respond to a request for comment by deadline. Neither did the Interior or Commerce departments.


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