Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U .S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) released a white paper identifying how they plan to reconfigure the pesticide review process to meet the pesticide approval requirements for the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The new approach outlined in the white paper incorporates suggestions from the National Academy of Sciences’ Research Council (NRC) report released last May. The white paper is a step towards overhauling a deeply flawed process, though there will be several challenges to implementing this new approach for the agencies moving forward.
Under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), before a pesticide can be sold, distributed, or used in the U.S., EPA is required to determine that the pesticide does not cause unreasonable adverse effects on the environment. However, in the case of species listed as endangered or threatened under the ESA, all federal agencies, including EPA, are required to ensure that their actions will not jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species by diminishing the species’ numbers and reproduction. To do this, in its pesticide registration process, EPA is required to consult with FWS and NMFS when a federal action may adversely affect a listed species or its habitat. Over the last decade, questions have been raised regarding the best approaches or methods for determining the risks pesticides pose to listed species and their habitats. EPA, FWS, and NMFS have developed different approaches to evaluating environmental risks because their legal mandates, responsibilities, institutional cultures, and expertise vary. As a result, NRC was asked to examine the scientific and technical issues related to determining risks posed to listed species by pesticides.
After reviewing the NRC’s report, Evaluating Risks That Pesticides Pose to Endangered, Threatened Species – New Report, the agencies worked together to develop a shared scientific approach that reflects the advice provided by the NRC. The interim approach, designed to guide the consultation process, uses a three step risk assessment process to determine whether a pesticide is likely to pose a threat to listed species. Each step assesses risk through problem formulation, exposure analysis, affect analysis, and risk characterization. More....