Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to
by Gene Johnson, Associated Press
SEATTLE -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear an appeal of a ruling that banned the use of pesticides around Western salmon streams.
"We're very happy," said Patti Goldman, an attorney with the environmental law firm Earthjustice. "There have been many attempts by the chemical industry and the growers to get rid of the buffers; we now know they will remain in place."
In January 2004, two years after finding that the Environmental Protection Agency had failed to consider the effect of pesticides on protected salmon, U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour in Seattle imposed a 100-yard buffer for aerial spraying and a 20-yard buffer for ground application of three dozen pesticides, from agricultural sprays to household weed-killers.
His injunction also required that stores selling pesticides in 500 communities in the West post warnings about the potential effect of seven common pesticides on salmon and steelhead. The signs read: "SALMON HAZARD. This product contains pesticides which may harm salmon and steelhead. Use of this product in urban areas can pollute salmon streams."
The judge's conditions will remain in effect until the EPA comes up with rules governing the use of pesticides around the streams in question.
The EPA, pesticide makers and farming groups appealed Coughenour's injunction, saying that environmental groups had not shown that the pesticides would cause irreparable harm. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal rejected their appeal last June.
Doug Nelson, general counsel of Washington-based CropLife America, which led the appeal, noted that originally, 54 pesticides were at issue when environmental groups accused the EPA of failing to consider the chemicals' effect on threatened species of salmon.
By the time Coughenour imposed the buffer zones, 18 had been cleared for use, and only 36 were affected.
Since then, "the majority of the compounds have been given a clean bill of health and are off the list," Nelson asserted. "They're not there because people enjoy throwing pesticides in the water. They're there because agriculture needs them to grow the crops."
The EPA did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Aimee Code, water quality coordinator for the Eugene, Ore.-based Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, said that while some of the original 54 chemicals do not appear likely to be a concern for salmon, the EPA was too quick to clear some for use, and environmental groups will probably have to go back to court to get the agency to reconsider.
One pesticide, carbaryl, which is used in flea treatments and lawn care among other things, was cleared for use within the buffer zones even though harmful levels of it have been found in Puget Sound and some area waterways, such as Seattle's Thornton Creek, Code said.
She noted that the Supreme Court's decision not to hear the case could help species beyond salmon. For example, pesticides have been found to accumulate in endangered orcas, probably leading to their decline. In Oregon's Willamette Valley, she said, pesticides have killed Kincaid's lupine, a plant that has a symbiotic relationship with Fender's blue butterfly - both endangered species.
"Across the board, the EPA has neglected its duty to determine the effect these pesticides can have," Code said. "It's going to be a lot of work to keep these chemicals out of our rivers and streams. I hope people will make the choice to use fewer of them."
Heather Hansen, executive director of Washington Friends of Farms and Forests, said the effect of Coughenour's ruling on farmers varies depending on what they grow, how much land they own, and how close they are to which streams. But fruit growers appear to be worst off, because many Asian countries can cut off their trade if fruit fly or maggot larvae are detected.
Without using the barred pesticides in the buffer zones, it can be more expensive to make sure fruit is pest-free, Hansen said.
"It's one of those situations where the ruling's against the government, but the people who suffer are the families out there trying to make a living," Hansen said.
CropLife America: www.croplifeamerica.org
Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides: www.pesticide.org
learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs