Hoover Daily Report

A Better Environment for Endangered Species

Monday, February 16, 2004

It's great news that most Americans now identify themselves as environmentalists. Unfortunately, a small number have embraced environmentalism with a religious fervor, basing their beliefs more on faith and dogma than on data and science.

The agenda of these radical environmentalists has less to do with protecting the environment and more to do with an antipathy toward business, profits, and certain technologies. Ironically, their efforts to achieve their own narrow vision of what constitutes a "good society" are often inimical to protecting the environment.

For example, exploiting a technicality that links the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to pesticide registration, environmental groups have filed a spate of nuisance lawsuits that attempt to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from registering or reregistering pesticides. The environmental groups allege that, by failing to consult with the agencies that administer the ESA—the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service—before registering a pesticide, the EPA has not complied fully with the law, despite the fact that the Fish and Wildlife Service's Endangered Species Act Consultation Handbook makes it clear it does not have the authority to "force an action agency to consult." Even the custodians of the ESA do not feel that they have the power to compel consultations despite current regulations seeming to require such an exchange.

These suits are not substantive but procedural; no actual damage to threatened or endangered species from the EPA's actions has been demonstrated. And never mind that pesticides control vermin, increase agricultural productivity, reduce the need to convert wild lands into farmland, prevent the growth of harmful fungi and bacteria on crops, reduce prices to consumers, and undergo exhaustive testing and regulatory review to ensure their safety.

Although the ESA requires all federal agencies to take into account possible adverse effects on endangered species, Congress recognized the value of pesticides by directing that pesticide registration by the EPA (under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act) should "minimize the impacts to persons engaged in agricultural food and fiber commodity production and other affected pesticide users and applicators."

The various government agencies involved have recently devised a solution to the procedural problem: Because the EPA boasts vast and comprehensive experience in assessing the potential risks of pesticides to plant and animal species—including those listed as endangered under the ESA—the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service have proposed a rule that will eliminate the requirement for the EPA to consult with other agencies on pesticide registration. This technical revision will not only assure greater consistency in the assessment of pesticides but, by freeing regulators to more expeditiously license environmentally friendly products, will also better protect endangered species and their habitats. And, of course, it will render the lawsuits moot.

This change will not fix other existing flaws in the ESA, but it will at least prevent this legislation from enabling activists to interfere with the development and registration of an essential class of agricultural and consumer products.