Groups Accuse EPA of Doing Shoddy Jobby Elizabeth M. Gillespie, Associated Press
Local officials in 4 states will select projects
SEATTLE -- Conservation and fisheries groups gave the government two months' notice on Monday that they plan to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency unless it does a better job gauging the risks various pesticides pose to salmon in the Pacific Northwest.
In a letter sent to EPA Administrator Michael Leavitt, lawyers with the environmental defense firm Earthjustice said the agency failed to use the best available science when it concluded that more than three dozen pesticides either would not harm or would not likely harm threatened and endangered salmon runs.
Earthjustice, which is representing the Washington Toxics Coalition, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations and other groups, cited an April 2004 draft letter from NOAA Fisheries - the federal agency in charge of restoring salmon - saying it did not support EPA's findings.
"Pesticides are deadly by design and they'll kill baby salmon after they wash off fields, orchards and lawns into salmon streams," Earthjustice lawyer Patti Goldman said. "EPA's job is to regulate their use so they don't violate the Endangered Species Act, but their own sister agency in the federal government has found them miserably failing at (the) obligation."
NOAA Fisheries spokesman Brian Gorman stressed that the letter was merely a draft and was never sent to the EPA. He said the fisheries agency is working with the EPA "to determine the safety and proper use of these pesticides.
"We have no issues as far as I can tell with EPA about our mutual goals," Gorman said. "It's not like we're in a food fight with the EPA."
A call to EPA headquarters was not returned Monday, and Bill Dunbar, a spokesman in the agency's Seattle office, said he could not comment.
Erika Schreder, a staff scientist with the Washington Toxics Coalition, said she's troubled that NOAA Fisheries isn't standing by the statements made in the draft letter.
"What we've seen is a pattern of the higher-ups basically quashing what the scientists are saying," Schreder said.
The EPA is in the midst of studying the potential risks some 54 pesticides might pose to salmon in rivers throughout Washington, Oregon and Northern California.
In January, a federal judge in Seattle issued a temporary ban on the use of 38 pesticides near salmon streams throughout the region, pending a final decision in a lawsuit that environmental groups filed alleging even tiny amounts of toxins in rivers harm salmon.
U.S. District Judge John Coughenour barred the use of the pesticides - from agricultural sprays to household weed-killers - within 20 yards of salmon-bearing streams until the EPA determined whether they would likely harm protected fish. He also banned the aerial spraying of pesticides within 100 yards of streams, except for public health reasons like controlling mosquitos.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected appeals filed by a coalition of industry groups that sought to block that order. CropLife America, a trade group representing pesticide makers and farm groups, argued the buffers could cost farmers in Oregon and Washington as much as $100 million.
Environmental groups have called that an exaggeration, saying farmers can keep farming using chemical and chemical-free substitutes.
Washington Toxics Coalition: <www.watoxics.org/pages/root.aspx
Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations: <www.pcffa.org
CropLife America: <www.croplifeamerica.org
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