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New Rules on Pesticides Challenged

by John Heilprin, Associated Press
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 24, 2004

WASHINGTON -- Environmental groups went to court yesterday against Bush administration rules that allow the use of new pesticides with fewer checks on how they affect endangered species.

Eight groups filed suit in federal district court in Seattle claiming the rule changes in July violated several environmental laws. The changes let the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) review some pesticides without consulting Interior and Commerce department experts.

The changes were partly intended to reduce the government's vulnerability to lawsuits, since it has routinely been ignoring an Endangered Species Act requirement. That law says the EPA must consult the Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service and Commerce's National Marine Fisheries Service each time it licenses a new pesticide.

The EPA has been consulting the two wildlife services when it finds a pesticide could harm a species. But it has been ignoring the requirement for consultations when it decides there would probably be no harm.

"Because of the complexity ... there have been almost no consultations completed in the past decade," Hugh Vickery, an Interior Department spokesman, acknowledged yesterday.

The rule changes allow the EPA to overlook the requirement it is already ignoring.

"With 1,200 endangered species and how many hundreds of chemicals, you can see the logistical nightmare," Vickery said. "This is a more efficient approach that will let them get to the ones that really need to be done."

Vickery said the agency could not remark directly on the lawsuit.

The EPA was successfully sued in Seattle by Washington Toxics Coalition, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations and other groups, which argued that the EPA hadn't consulted experts on the risks several pesticides posed to salmon in the Pacific Northwest.

The EPA also has been sued in federal court in Baltimore by the Natural Resources Defense Council on similar grounds. The pending case involves atrazine, a popular weedkiller.

Those three environmental groups, along with Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, Institute for Fisheries Resources and Helping Our Peninsula's Environment, filed the suit yesterday.

John Heilprin, Associated Press
Seattle Times staff reporter Hal Bernton contributed to this story.
New Rules on Pesticides Challenged
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 24, 2004

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