The nation’s farmers could face new restrictions on the use of pesticides as environmentalists and fishermen’s groups, spurred by a favorable ruling from a federal judge in Washington state, want the courts to force federal regulators to protect endangered salmon and steelhead from the ill effects of many commonly used agricultural chemicals. The eight-year-old ruling by a federal Judge in Seattle required the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review whether 54 pesticides, herbicides and fungicides were jeopardizing troubled West Coast salmon runs.
The agencies moved recently to restrict the use of three of these chemicals, methomyl, carbofuran and carbaryl, near bodies of water that flow into salmon-bearing streams, and they’re considering restrictions on 12 additional chemicals. But the Washington State Department of Agriculture says such restrictions would prevent pesticide use on 75 percent of the state’s farmland. A federal judge in California has issued a similar ruling that involves 11 endangered and threatened species and 75 pesticides in the San Francisco Bay area.
The Endangered Species Act (ESA), which was signed into law in 1973, requires federal agencies that are contemplating any action that could “jeopardize” listed species to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service and come up with a plan to alleviate or lessen the effects. The National Marine Fisheries Service has jurisdiction over some anadromous fish species, such as salmon, and the Fish & Wildlife Service covers everything else. The EPA has jurisdiction over pesticides, but environmentalists said it had largely ignored the endangered species requirements. “For years and years and years, EPA didn’t do these consultations on pesticides,” said Steve Mashuda of the Seattle office of Earthjustice, the law firm that brought the 2002 suit on behalf of the Washington Toxics Coalition and others.
“Those days are over.” PCFFA and IFR were both co-plaintiffs in that case.