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Industry-Driven Bill Guts Federal Safeguards Protecting Endangered Species from Toxic Pesticides

November 16, 2017
Center for Food Safety

Legislation Would Prohibit Enforcement Actions When Pesticide Exposure Kills Endangered Wildlife

WASHINGTON—The pesticide industry is pushing legislation on Capitol Hill that would dismantle Endangered Species Act requirements to minimize pesticides’ harm to protected species like salmon, California condors, and Florida panthers, according to a leaked version obtained by conservation groups.

A copy of the draft legislation is available for download.

Under current law, the Environmental Protection Agency must consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to minimize harm to endangered species from EPA-approved pesticides.

But the new legislation promoted by the pesticide industry would allow expert wildlife scientists to assess pesticides’ harms to endangered wildlife only upon request by pesticide manufacturers.

The proposal would also limit enforcement actions designed to prevent pesticides from killing or harming endangered wildlife.

In April 2017 the Dow Corporation asked EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to stop all efforts to fully assess the impacts of chlorpyrifos, malathion and diazinon, which have been shown to harm virtually all of America’s approximately 1,800 protected species. Since the request, the federal government’s efforts to protect endangered species from those three chemicals with commonsense measures appears to have stalled.

The new legislation would essentially codify Dow Chemical’s request for the EPA to ignore pesticides’ harms to endangered species, eviscerating meaningful protections for fish, wildlife, and plants under the Endangered Species Act.

“The pesticide industry wants to deep-six all evidence of the massive threats its products pose to our wildlife,” said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “If this appalling bill passes, the EPA would have virtually no power to prevent toxic new pesticides from fueling the extinction of some of America’s imperiled birds, butterflies and fish.”

“If Pruitt won’t protect our children and farmworkers from the overuse of highly poisonous insecticides, then he certainly can’t be trusted to protect our endangered species from them,” said Peter Jenkins, counsel for the Center for Food Safety. “Beautiful species like Palos Verde Blue butterflies, rusty patched bumble bees and even our majestic whooping cranes may all disappear if we are forced to trust Mr. Pruitt – but this bill removes all the checks on him.”

“Pesticides kill. That’s what they do. But they should not also kill America’s endangered wildlife,” said Jason Rylander, senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “This proposed bill would eliminate all requirements for the EPA to consult with agencies that have the most expertise on endangered species. It is clearly designed to give the pesticide industry a free pass when it comes to saving imperiled pollinators and hundreds of other endangered and threatened species.”

“This legislation would do the bidding of large corporate interests and gut key protections for imperiled species,” said Marjorie Mulhall, legislative director for lands, wildlife, and oceans at Earthjustice. “We need these commonsense measures to ensure that federally protected species are not harmed or killed by toxic pesticides.”

“This is just another Trump-era sell-out to special interests,” said Rebecca Riley, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “And as usual, the public and environment lose out. Concerns about pesticide connections to high-profile crashes in bee and butterfly populations reinforce the essential nature of these protections. But the Endangered Species Act doesn’t just help endangered plants and animals — it helps us too. Pesticides can also hurt people, so exempting them from the ESA will have serious repercussions beyond just our most vulnerable wildlife.”

"Wild salmon have to pass through a stew of chemicals, including pesticides, and are hanging on by a thread," said Sharon Selvaggio, program director for healthy wildlife and water at Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides. "The EPA has barely begun to comply with the Endangered Species Act and now the pesticide industry wants to call a halt? Why should this industry get a pass?”

The pesticide industry proposal comes on the heels of the Trump administration’s decision to ignore the well-documented danger that the pesticide chlorpyrifos poses to children’s health.

Shortly after becoming EPA Administrator, Pruitt reversed a research-based decision by the agency’s scientists to ban use of the pesticide — which is linked to learning disabilities in children — on food crops, including apples and oranges. Pruitt approved chlorpyrifos use even though the EPA’s own research shows residues of the chemical on produce in amounts exponentially above levels the agency has determined to be safe.

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