WASHINGTON -- A provision in the 2018 farm bill would allow the Environmental Protection Agency to approve pesticides without undertaking reviews now required to protect endangered species.
Environmental groups say the provision is an "unprecedented" attack that could have lasting ramifications for ecosystems across the nation.
The House Agriculture Committee is scheduled to debate the bill today.
The bill would allow the EPA to skip consultations with agencies including the Interior Department's Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, which oversee the implementation of Endangered Species Act protections.
"This removes the requirement to bring in the expert agencies," said Lori Ann Burd, director of the Center for Biological Diversity's environmental health program. She said it would gut protections for endangered species.
In a December report, the National Marine Fisheries Service said pesticides like chlorpyrifos, malathion, and diazinon threaten a number of marine animals, including some that are protected, as well as the predators that prey on them.
"Current application rates and application methods are expected to produce aquatic concentrations of all three pesticides that are likely to harm aquatic species as well as contaminate their designated critical habitats," the report said, adding that species and their prey that live in shallow waters close to pesticide-use sites are expected to be most at risk.
"It's a poison-pill rider in the most literal and unfortunate way," Jordan Giaconia, federal policy associate for defense at the Sierra Club, said of the proposal. It takes just one harmful chemical to be injected into the ecosystem to cause widespread damage, he said.
Some types of protected salmon, butterflies and all kinds of pollinators could be harmed by toxic pesticides applied without proper review, advocates say.
But Republicans on the House Agriculture Committee see the language as part of "common-sense reforms" to an "onerous and conflicting" consultation process that needs to be modernized, according to a summary provided by the panel's majority.
"We're trying to streamline that process," House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, told reporters. "EPA doesn't have the resources to do a species-by-species deal, so we're trying to figure out a way to protect species, but also being able to get the crop protection things [pesticides] in place."
The Agriculture Committee's top Democrat, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, did not respond to a request for comment.
If the bill passes with the pesticide provision, it would be a victory for agriculture trade groups that have pushed hard in recent months for the language to be included in the five-year farm bill, and for chemical manufacturers like Michigan-based Dow Chemical Co. that have petitioned for less-stringent pesticide regulations.
More than 60 agriculture groups in January wrote a letter urging Agriculture Committee leaders to include the provision in the bill, saying the current review and permitting requirements are "redundant" and provide no additional environmental benefit.
Environmentalists, however, see parallels between the language in the measure, the lobbying efforts by the chemical industries and the actions of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.
The Center for Biological Diversity said the provision "essentially codifies" a request by Dow Chemical for Pruitt to ignore the harmful effects of pesticides on endangered species and to gut protections.
In April 2017, Wiley Rein LLP -- a law firm that represents several chemical companies, including Dow AgroSciences LLC; Makhteshim Agan of North America Inc., also known as Adama; and FMC Corp. -- wrote to Donald Trump's administration asking it to disregard an EPA report that had concluded that certain pesticides would be harmful to imperiled species. The letter was sent to the Commerce Department, the EPA, the Interior Department and the Agriculture Department.
The EPA in January 2017, at the end of Barack Obama' administration, released a report that found that pesticides like chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion could harm endangered species near the places where they were applied.
In March 2017, under Pruitt, the EPA scuttled a process initiated by the Obama administration to ban the use of chlorpyrifos, a known neurotoxin that has been found to be harmful to farmworkers and has been linked to developmental problems in newborns.
Information for this article was contributed by Ellyn Ferguson of Tribune News Service.
Business on 04/18/2018
Print Headline: Farm bill would pare species reviews