LENEXA, KAN. (APRIL 12, 2022) – Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its first-ever comprehensive workplan to address the decades-old challenge of protecting endangered species from pesticides. The plan establishes four overall strategies and dozens of actions to adopt those protections while providing farmers, public health authorities, and others with access to pesticides.
“Today’s workplan serves as the blueprint for how EPA will create an enduring path to meet its goals of protecting endangered species and providing all people with safe, affordable food and protection from pests,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “The workplan reflects EPA’s collaboration with other federal agencies and commitment to listening to stakeholders about how they can work with the Agency to solve this longstanding challenge.”
“The workplace announced today will allow us to better protect wildlife, imperiled species, and ecosystems” said White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory. “I look forward to continuing to work collaboratively across the federal government to better protect wildlife from extinction and minimize the impacts of pesticides.”
“USDA appreciates the steps EPA is taking today. We are confident that EPA can streamline ESA consultations around pesticides in a way that continues to conserve wildlife while allowing farmers access to the tools they need to produce the food and fiber that all of us rely on,” said USDA Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Robert Bonnie.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is eager to help EPA achieve its vision to protect federally listed threatened and endangered species while fulfilling its obligations related to authorizing the safe use of pesticides,” said Martha Williams, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director.
“NOAA supports the Environmental Protection Agency’s ESA-FIFRA workplan and looks forward to continued collaboration with our interagency partners to ensure the protection of federally listed species and their habitats. Implementation of this work plan will lead to a more consistent and timely regulatory process, and better outcomes for our species and our partners,” said NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad, Ph.D.
EPA has an opportunity and an obligation to improve how it meets its duties under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) when it registers pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). For most of EPA’s history, the Agency has met these duties for less than five percent of its FIFRA decisions. This has resulted in over 20 ESA lawsuits against the Agency, which have increased in frequency in recent years, creating uncertainty for farmers and other pesticide users, unnecessary expenses and inefficiencies for EPA, and delays in how EPA protects endangered species.
EPA currently has over 50 pesticide ingredients, covering over 1,000 pesticide products, with court-enforceable deadlines to comply with the ESA or in pending litigation alleging ESA violations. Completing this work will take EPA past 2040, yet the work represents less than five percent of all the FIFRA decisions in the next decade for which ESA obligations exist. This is an unsustainable and legally tenuous situation, in which EPA’s schedule for meeting its ESA obligations has historically been determined through the courts. The workplan must provide a path for the Agency to meet those obligations on its own, thus protecting endangered species while supporting responsible pesticide use.
Today’s workplan also sets a new vision for a successful ESA-FIFRA program that focuses on protecting species under the ESA, while minimizing regulatory impacts to pesticide users, supporting the development of safer technologies to control pests, completing timely FIFRA decisions, and collaborating with other agencies and stakeholders on implementing the plan.
The workplan describes four strategies and multiple actions to further the vision.
- A key strategy is for EPA to meet its ESA obligations for all FIFRA actions that invoke ESA. Because EPA does not have the capacity or scientific processes in place to meet all these obligations immediately, it has identified the FIFRA actions that are the highest priority for fulfilling its ESA obligations. These include actions with court-enforceable deadlines and new registrations of conventional pesticides.
- A second strategy is to improve approaches to identifying and requiring ESA protections, especially for species facing the greatest risk from pesticides.
- A third strategy is to improve the efficiency and timeliness of the ESA consultation process for pesticides, in coordination with other federal agencies.
- And the final strategy is to engage stakeholders more effectively, to better understand their pest control practices and implement species protection measures.
EPA needs the help of other federal agencies, state agencies, and stakeholders to implement these actions. Through the workplan, EPA is describing its future directions in the hope of collaborating with all these organizations on implementation. Over the coming months, EPA will engage with a wide range of stakeholders to identify opportunities for collaboration and will continue seeking input on more effective and efficient ways to meet its ESA obligations. The workplan is a living document that EPA will periodically revisit to incorporate lessons learned from implementation.
Under the Biden-Harris Administration, EPA has begun taking unprecedented steps to fully meet its ESA obligations when registering pesticides, including:
- In November 2021, EPA worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of the Interior, Department of Commerce, and Council on Environmental Quality to reconvene the ESA-FIFRA Interagency Working Group established under the 2018 Farm Bill. In January 2021, the group held its first-ever stakeholder meeting in the form of a public listening session with over 500 participants. The group is evaluating feedback from the event and determining next steps.
- In January 2022, EPA renewed the registrations of two herbicide products for the 2022 growing season while incorporating robust measures to protect non-target plants and animals under FIFRA and the ESA.
- In January 2022, EPA announced that before it registers any new conventional pesticide active ingredient, the Agency will meet its ESA obligations, including by evaluating potential effects on ESA-listed species and, where necessary, initiating ESA consultation with the federal wildlife agencies.
- In March 2022, EPA announced that it will begin taking steps to protect endangered species in response to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s biological opinion for the insecticide malathion. The opinion represents a major milestone in EPA’s collaboration with the Service on the first-ever completed nationwide consultation between the agencies.
In addition to these measures, EPA has held numerous internal strategy sessions and workshops to identify practical steps the Agency will pursue under the ESA-FIFRA workplan. In the coming months, EPA will offer more details on implementing the workplan, especially actions to adopt mitigation earlier in its FIFRA process and to meet its ESA obligations when reevaluating pesticides every 15 years.