AG Becerra Blasts Federal Proposal Undercutting Protections for Endangered Species from Harmful Pesticides

SACRAMENTO, Sept. 15, 2019 – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today joined a coalition of 12 attorneys general in submitting a comment letter opposing a proposal by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that risks exposing endangered species to harmful pesticides. Under the proposal, the EPA would substantially alter the current method used to determine whether, and to what extent, a pesticide “may affect” an endangered species or critical habitat and thereby trigger the requirement to consult with federal wildlife agencies regarding pesticide impacts and mitigation measures. In the comment letter, the Attorneys General assert the proposal will allow more pesticide registrations to go forward without, among other things, being assessed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, which are responsible for listing and protecting endangered species.

“The Trump Administration’s proposed pesticide evaluation method recklessly threatens wildlife and our state’s natural ecosystem,” said Attorney General Becerra. “There are nearly 300 endangered species in California alone that could be put at risk by this proposal. By design, pesticides are toxic and assessing their impact should not be taken lightly. We’re urging the EPA to rescind this foolhardy proposal.”

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In the letter, the coalition argues the proposal violates the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and is arbitrary and capricious. Pesticides must be registered with the EPA before they can be used, sold, and distributed in the United States. Under the proposed changes to the evaluation method, the EPA will be able to approve pesticides without first consulting the U.S. agencies that are charged with protecting endangered species. In particular, the proposed evaluation method changes the scope and requirements for pesticide evaluation by:

  • Unlawfully redefining and limiting what species may be considered impacted by the pesticide;
  • Abandoning the prior, more precautionary approach to estimating the potential amount and location of pesticide use;
  • Excluding consideration of impacts to species where pesticide use only infringes on small percentages of their habitat;
  • Artificially limiting consideration of pesticide drifts;
  • Ignoring potential effects on species if there is uncertainty about whether they are extinct; and
  • Failing to consider impacts of species on federal lands.

In California, the ESA is credited with the survival and recovery of endangered species such as the brown pelican, the grey wolf, and the California condor. The current pesticide evaluation method allows federal agencies to prepare biological opinions and alternatives for proposed actions affecting wildlife. Without these protections, pesticides like DDT would continue to threaten the extinction of animals such as bald eagles. Impacts to wildlife from pesticide exposure can cause acute or long-term harms like cancer, kidney and liver damage, and birth defects. Exposure can also alter an organism’s behavior, affecting its ability to survive. For example, for bees, even small levels of pesticides can result in sublethal effects that negatively influence their mobility, feeding behaviors, and navigation.

In filing the comment letter, Attorney General Becerra joins the Attorneys General of New Mexico, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington, Vermont and the District of Columbia.

A copy of the letter is available here.