A Push for Pesticidesby Editors
Boston Globe, August 6, 2004
Ever since DDT was blamed for nearly wiping out the bald eagle population, the federal government has tried to protect plant and animal species from the unintended effects of powerful pesticides. One safeguard was to have the Environmental Protection Agency seek expert advice from the Fisheries and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service before approving new pesticides.
The Bush administration has just decided to wipe out that layer of protection. Under a rule that will take effect in the next few months, the EPA will conduct its own evaluation of a new pesticide's impact on threatened or endangered species. It will be required to consult with the other agencies only if its own research indicates that a new substance might prove harmful. Critics of this weaker standard should be aggressive in taking the agency to court to uphold the original review process.
Pesticide manufacturers, timber companies, and farm organizations favor the new rule, saying the old process was too cumbersome. Wildlife groups and conservationists oppose the change, saying the EPA's evaluation is not as rigorous and that federal wildlife agencies could do speedier and more complete evaluations if they were better funded.
Critics such as the National Wildlife Federation point to EPA's approval of pesticides that threaten salmon in Northwestern rivers as an example of why such decisions cannot be entrusted to that agency alone. Earlier this year a federal judge in Seattle imposed a temporary ban on pesticides slated for use near thousands of miles of salmon streams in the Northwest. Environmentalists had argued that the EPA did not consult with Fisheries and Wildlife or National Marine Fisheries. Critics of pesticide use have made the same case in other suits challenging EPA approvals that did not included evaluations by the other agencies. Under the new rule, no such reviews would be required.
In the salmon case, environmentalists released a letter from National Marine Fisheries Service scientists in April saying that EPA had not used the best available science in approving the pesticides. Scientists have traced reproductive problems of some Pacific Coast salmon to genetic deformities that pesticides and other chemicals are suspected of causing.
According to John Kostyack, senior counsel for the National Wildlife Federation, pesticides are also suspected in the population declines of amphibians, sea turtles, and mammals like the San Jaoquin kit fox. The new rule for EPA review would put these and other species at even greater risk by streamlining the entry of toxic substances into their habitat. Wildlife -- and the human beings that share the earth with them -- deserve better protection.
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