July 14, 2020

Volume X, Number 196

July 13, 2020

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EPA Issues Revised Method for Conducting Biological Evaluations of Pesticides under the Endangered Species Act

On March 12, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the publication of its Revised Method for National Level Listed Species Biological Evaluations of Conventional Pesticides (Revised Method), a method for conducting Biological Evaluations under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). 

The Revised Method will be used by EPA to evaluate potential risks from pesticides to federally listed endangered and threatened species and to make effects determinations during initial registration and as part of periodic registration review.  The Revised Method allows EPA to include historical usage data that reflects where and how certain pesticides have been applied to make predictions about the future.

The Revised Method includes a three-step process to identify and evaluate the potential risk to endangered species by the assessed pesticide:

Topic Step 1 Step 2 Step 3
Assessment Biological Evaluation Biological Evaluation Biological Opinion
Scale Individual and Field Individual and Field/Landscape/Watershed1 Population and Landscape/Watershed
Determination No Effect/May Affect Not Likely to Adversely Affect/Likely to Adversely Affect No Jeopardy/Jeopardy2

1 Although Step 2 is conducted at an individual level, consideration is given to the likelihood that an exposure and effect will occur. This step considers the proportion exposed across the landscape/watershed and the distribution of exposure among individuals.

2 This is the determination for listed species. The determination for designated critical habitats is “No Adverse Modification/Adverse Modification.”

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler stated: “EPA’s improved methodology will better protect and promote the recovery of endangered species while ensuring pesticide registration review decisions are conducted in a timely, transparent manner and are based on the best available science.”

EPA has also released for public comment draft Biological Evaluations for carbaryl and methomyl, which were conducted using the final Revised Method.  If EPA determines a pesticide may affect a listed species or its critical habitat, it must consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service (the Services).  The Services will then issue a Biological Opinion to determine if the population of a species would be adversely impacted and, if so, propose ways to reduce risks.

Comments on the draft Biological Evaluations are due on or before May 18, 2020.  The public can submit comments at www.regulations.gov in Docket Number EPA-HQ-OPP-2020-0090

Commentary

Critics of the new method for doing Biological Evaluations have alleged that the purpose of the changes in this method, and of other recent revisions in ESA procedures, is to reduce the number of formal consultations that must be conducted with the Services.  Such allegations must be evaluated in the context of the severe bottlenecks in the current consultation process created by the limited resources and personnel that are available at the Services to conduct any required consultations and to prepare formal Biological Opinions.  The EPA method for doing Biological Evaluations has always been intended to use worst case assumptions to quickly remove from consideration those pesticides that are unlikely to pose any potential risk to endangered and threatened species, so that the limited resources available for the more extensive assessment triggered by consultation are used efficiently to address the most significant potential hazards.  Worst case assumptions, however, exaggerate the “reasonable worst case” and other more realistic scenarios.  Given the reality of limited review resources, focus on more uncertain risks draws resources away from attention on more certain risks to species.  Eventually the assessment system is expected to include other techniques (example: use of probabilistic models) to refine the analyses to concentrate further regulatory options on the most effective ways to protect species.

The draft BE for carbaryl and methomyl are available here and here.  

©2020 Bergeson & Campbell, P.C.National Law Review, Volume X, Number 82

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About this Author

Lisa Campbell, Bergeson PC, Federal Insecticide Fungicide Rodenticide Act attorney, TSCA lawyer, environmental statutes legal counsel, regulation compliance law
Partner

Lisa Campbell founded Bergeson & Campbell, P.C. (B&C®) with Lynn Bergeson. Today her practice focuses on many aspects of pesticide and chemical regulation. She counsels clients on a wide range of issues pertaining to exposure and risk assessment, risk communication, and related legal and regulatory aspects of pesticide programs under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). She also counsels B&C clients on various chemical-specific programs under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) as well as chemicals regulation and...

202-557-3802
Timothy Backstrom, Bergeson Campbell PC, Endangered Species Act attorney, EPA litigation, FIFRA lawyer, Clean Air regulation legal counsel, FOIA law
Of Counsel

Timothy Backstrom spent some 25 years in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of General Counsel (OGC) working on pesticide, toxic substances, and air quality issues before coming to Bergeson & Campbell, P.C. (B&C®). He offers an extraordinary understanding of how EPA operates, as well as established relationships with many key players at EPA. He brings substantial litigation experience in both federal courts and administrative adjudications. He served for many years as the OGC’s designated administrative law expert and, among many accomplishments, he headed the trial team when EPA intervened in a hearing concerning a request for an exemption from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for the northern spotted owl.

Besides insider knowledge of EPA, Mr. Backstrom delivers an unusual depth of expertise on pesticide registration issues and air toxics regulation, and a unique understanding of the EPA program requiring registration and testing of fuels and fuel additives. Having a technical background has allowed Mr. Backstrom to develop significant scientific expertise in toxicology and risk assessment. In the context of pesticide adjudications, he has presented and cross-examined numerous scientific witnesses. For many clients, he has identified additional options or theories that were not previously under consideration to resolve regulatory issues and to advance their business objectives.

202-557-3819
James V. Aidala, Bergeson, Senior Government Affairs Consultant, Toxic Substances Lawyer
Senior Government Affairs Consultant

Jim Aidala, Senior Government Affairs Consultant with Bergeson & Campbell, P.C. is a critical ally for any client addressing chemical policy, legislative, and related issues. He has been intimately involved with the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) legislative reauthorization and key regulatory matters for over two decades. Mr. Aidala brings extensive legislative experience on Capitol Hill and past experience as the senior official at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for pesticide...

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