The National Research Council this week released a risk assessments report on pesticides as they relate to the Endangered Species Act, sparking criticism from Reps. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and Doc Hastings, R-Wash., who said the report failed to specifically evaluate key issues.
The report was requested by the Environmental Protection Agency, USDA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service for the purposes of examining the ESA consultation process for pesticides.
But, the Congressmen said the hang-up is in the inadequate evaluation of NMFS' biological opinions – documents that state the opinion of the agency as to whether or not a federal action is likely to jeopardize the habitat of an endangered species.
The House Committee on Agriculture in May 2011 told the four federal agencies that the report should include a complete evaluation of all aspects of the biological opinions pertaining to pesticide use nationwide.
Members specifically requested that such a study include an evaluation of the feasibility of reasonable measures suggested by the NMFS in its biological opinions, as well as a comprehensive scientific peer-review of each of the biological opinions that had been issued to date.
According to a statement from the House Agriculture Committee, the USDA, EPA and NRC agreed that an evaluation of the NMFS' biological opinions would be "necessary and beneficial," however NMFS and FWS denied the request.
If implemented, NMFS measures in question would limit pesticide use on more than 112 million acres and impact rural economies in several western states. In the Ag Committee statement, it was noted that the actions would "[end] the use of vital crop protection tools, forcing family farmers out of business, and jeopardizing production of a significant portion of the fruits, vegetables and grains grown in these states. The measures would also put human health at risk by restricting the ability to control disease-carrying mosquito populations."
"While we appreciate the hard work of the NRC, the charge to the council was so restrictive as to render their final report meaningless," Lucas said. "If we are to truly protect threatened and endangered species and their critical habitats, it is essential that the federal agencies charged with administering the Endangered Species Act be open to legitimate scientific scrutiny of their policies and practices."
Despite the concern from lawmakers, crop protection advocacy group Crop Life America said the report works toward finding common ground between protecting endangered species and modern agriculture, and finds that agencies should use common approaches to evaluate risks to threatened and endangered species.
However, the group does similarly point out that "the completion of endangered species risk assessments for pesticides compliant with ESA has been impeded by a lack of communication and coordination among the regulatory agencies involved," and encourages FWS and NMFS to work more effectively with the EPA as they conduct environmental analysis as they relate to pesticides and wildlife habitats.