A Rock and a Hard Placeby Editors
Capital Press, February 6, 2004
A U.S. district judge’s ruling to require massive new pesticide buffer zones will cost agriculture dearly in the West and could have been avoided.
Potential losses may be as high as $100 million in Oregon and Washington as land is taken out of production, thanks to the prohibition of 38 pesticides along hundreds of miles of salmon streams.
But who’s to blame and how could this have been prevented? The farmers and ranchers who use the pesticides did nothing wrong. They applied the pesticides as prescribed and in good faith.
Peel away the circumstances surrounding the lawsuit and the judge’s ruling and you can see that this situation all could have — and should have — been avoided.
The crux of the case against the federal Environmental Protection Agency is that it did an inadequate job of reviewing pesticides and how they might affect salmon. Under the federal Endangered Species Act, the EPA is required to confer with NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about pesticides that might reach salmon streams.
Because of thin budgets, the EPA has not adequately done that. Hence, the lawsuit filed by environmentalists.
EPA administrators should have known that, in these litigious times, their every move is under close scrutiny. One false step will land an agency in court. In this case, the judge ruled that the agency was taking shortcuts.
Another layer of this case involves pesticide use reporting systems in Washington and Oregon. Or, more accurately, it involves the lack of such systems in these states. In California, which has a PURS in place, the buffers are smaller and the pesticides fewer than in Washington and Oregon, where the buffers appear to be based on worst-case scenarios.
If they had such a reporting system in those two states, information they could have collected might have helped farmers.
Still another layer involves a recent EPA proposal to reduce the number of cases for which it is required to consult with other agencies. Exactly how will this reduce the EPA’s exposure to future lawsuits like this one? Could farmers become targets again through no fault of their own?
At the core of this issue are the farmers and ranchers who will pay the penalty for the EPA’s shortcomings. They rely on effective pesticides to maximize their bottom lines. When the judge ruled that large chunks of their land along salmon streams could no longer be sprayed, farmers bear the cost of lost production.
A more reasonable solution would have been for the judge to skip the temporary buffer requirements and impose a deadline for EPA to finish its review of the pesticides.
As it now stands, the buffer requirements could drag on indefinitely while the EPA takes its time to review the pesticides, just like it was before the lawsuit was filed.
The farmers are caught between a rock and hard place — the federal government and environmentalists.
And that’s an expensive place to be.
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