The Continuing Saga of Salmon & Pesticides

For more than 15 years NCAP has been working to protect salmon from pesticides. And while we've had victories along the way, we've also had some major setbacks. Under the current administration, it’s about as bad as it’s ever been. NCAP’s goal has not changed. We want the federal government to make policy decisions that actually protect salmon from pesticide use, not put them at risk. But our government is undermining that goal. We need your help now more than ever! Read on to see what you can do to help.

In December 2017, in response to a court-ordered schedule stemming from prior litigation by NCAP and partners, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued a biological opinion (Biop) addressing the effects of three organophosphate insecticides (chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion) on marine species. The 2017 biological opinion, like MANY other Biops previously issued for other pesticides, finds that these pesticides jeopardize the survival and recovery of West coast, threatened and endangered salmon, orca whales and some other fish species. It includes measures to prevent pesticides from reaching salmon waters.  

Obviously, the Biop is a major blow to the pesticide industry. They’re fighting back, with deep pockets, in four different arenas.

The Court Fight

Manufacturers Makhteshim, FMC Corporation and Dow have challenged the December 2017 biological opinion on both procedural and substantive grounds.

The Farm Bill Fight

Industry is also actively working on Congress to remove the endangered species review process for pesticides. The 2018 Farm Bill includes a destructive attack on the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that would harm Pacific salmon, steelhead, orcas, and even California condors, as well as important pollinators like bees, butterflies and bats! With the recovery plans for over 300 endangered species ,  including pollinators , citing pesticides as a threat to recovery, activists are calling this controversial legislation the “Poisoned Pollinators Provision.”

In place of the ESA’s strong measures to protect endangered species under Section 7, the language in the Poisoned Pollinators Provision would cut the expert federal wildlife agencies out of Section 7 consultations, waive the EPA’s duty to minimize harm to listed species caused by pesticides, and seek to prevent citizens from going to court to protect imperiled species from pesticides. Additionally, the provision would waive Section 9 liability when pesticides kill and harm species, as long as they have been registered under the new procedures of this proposed legislation.

Basically, the provision is a loophole that would let EPA authorize widespread pesticide use without first consulting with experts to ensure the pesticide won’t drive endangered species to extinction!

The EPA Fight

Just in case Congress and the courts don’t work out for them, the pesticide industry is working to change EPA procedures too. Although the Biop was released as a final document, the EPA has decided to invite public comment – specifically seeking comments on the scientific approaches NMFS used. The EPA is planning to follow the pesticide industry’s desire to throw out analysis that predicts exposure based on label-authorized uses.  Instead, EPA will estimate exposure using “usage” data. Since no state requires users to report pesticide usage except California, this means that no one really knows what’s being used where, and when, allowing EPA to make up just about anything.

Moreover, for the usage data we do have (from California only), we know that pesticide use can change from year to year and place to place, depending on pest outbreaks. But EPA is seeking to ignore this fact.

Scientific approaches for estimating pesticide exposure to endangered species were already reviewed by the best scientific minds in the land. Here’s what the National Academy of Sciences said in 2013 about using anything less than the maximal authorized rate in looking at the effects of pesticides on endangered species:

Steps 1 and 2 of the ESA process should ensure that no potentially unsafe pesticide applications are ignored. Accordingly, an exposure modeler can only assume that a given pesticide is applied at the maximum allowable rate. Furthermore, in Step 3 of the process, the Services cannot reasonably be expected to use information that suggests that substantially lower application rates are used unless supporting data are available. Such data must include statistical descriptions of the spatially and temporally distributed application rates. Moreover, some measures would have to be taken to ensure that a use pattern could not dramatically increase in any particular season or locale (for example, because of crop shifts). Only then could exposure modelers use such knowledge to obtain EECs with associated uncertainties. For now, pesticide use is probably an inaccurate input for exposure analysis; registration and labeling are not well suited for solving this exposure-analysis bias. 

In other words, it's unreasonable to assume that less pesticide is being applied than is allowed by the label. Even if it's not currently, the potential to use at the highest rate is always present. We should base assessments on the maximum allowable rate, not on usage date. Accordingly, NCAP will strongly oppose these procedural changes.

The EPA Foot-Dragging

Over the last 10 years, EPA has already received Biops on more than two dozen other pesticides.  Except for one instance, it has refused to implement protective actions that NMFS recommended. And another consultation document due a year ago is late, and from what we know, being rewritten under EPA’s new industry-friendly processes.

We need your help!

The Farm Bill was defeated last week by Republican house representatives who want to take a hard line on immigration. But it will be back – and it contains poison for pollinators and salmon! Call or email your House representative and your two senators today. You can get their contact information by putting in your zipcode here. Tell them you want them to:

  1. oppose the Poisoned Pollinators Provision, and
  2. oppose weakening the Endangered Species Act in the Farm Bill. EPA needs to follow the same rules as any other agency.

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