Neonic insecticides under close ESA analysis
WASHINGTON - The Environmental Protection Agency is under fire for approving products containing clothianidin and thiamethoxam, two neonicotinoid insecticides without studying their effect on endangered species.
A federal judge says that the agency violated the Endangered Species Act by registering insecticides without complying with ESA guidelines, said George Kimbrell, who represents four beekeepers, the Sierra Club and the Center for Environmental Health.
The Endangered Species Act requires federal agencies to consult with FWS and/or NMFS to ensure that the effects of any “agency action” are “not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species or threatened species.” Historically, EPA has routinely avoided ESA consultation, perhaps because of the difficulty of assessing the impacts of pesticides on the more-than 1,600 listed species in the U.S.
U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney of California did not order EPA to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service on the effects of the products on listed species. Instead, she ordered the parties, including EPA and Bayer CropScience, which intervened on the side of the agency, to schedule a settlement conference. If settlement talks fail, both parties will end up back in court.
But environmental groups are challenging the agency with a flurry of lawsuits. One of which requires ESA to examine the effects of chlorpyrifos, malathion, diazinon, carbaryl and methomyl. EPA has studied the first three, but Dow AgroSciences, FMC and ADAMA have asked EPA to take back its assessments from FWS and NMFS and work on a new way for evaluating pesticidal impacts.
Chesney spent much of her opinion analyzing whether the plaintiffs had standing to sue. She concluded they did, but then ruled against them on all but the ESA claims.
Four of the plaintiffs submitted an emergency petition to EPA in 2012 seeking suspension of clothianidin’s registration on the basis that it presented an “imminent hazard” to the environment – specifically, honey bees. EPA said, however (and Chesney agreed) that the petition never explained “how the harm identified outweighed the benefits to growers and the agricultural economy from the use of the pesticide.”
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs also said EPA should have analyzed whether clothianidin posed an unreasonable risk to threatened or endangered species. Chesney, however, said the petition did not identify any evidence for that claim.
Chesney also rejected claims that EPA had violated the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act by failing to provide public notice when it registered seven products containing clothianidin and 19 products containing thiamethoxam.
Neonic registrants Bayer CropScience, Syngenta and Valent U.S.A. said in a statement, “This case centered around plaintiffs' arguments that EPA did not follow certain processes in the registration of certain products containing clothianidin and thiamethoxam - two important crop protection tools used by farmers. For most of those arguments the judge found that EPA followed the correct procedures. The judge's order also upheld EPA's decision that there was no imminent hazard to the environment from using clothianidin products. We will be reviewing the judge's order and our options as the case moves forward into the remedy phase.”
Among the products potentially affected by the order: Poncho/Votivo (as well as Poncho/GB, Poncho 600 and Poncho Beta), Clothianidin Technical Insecticide, four versions of Aloft, Thiamethoxam Lawn & Landscape, CruiserMaxx Cereals, CruiserMaxx Vibrance Cereals, CruiserMaxx Rice, Durivo and Avicta Duo.