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EPA rules on Enlist system herbicides, Endangered Species Act, and pesticide processes

EPA extends Enlist and Enlist Duo herbicide registrations for seven more years.

There’s been a flurry of agricultural chemical regulatory development this week. They include a January 11 decision by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to register Enlist and Enlist Duo herbicides for seven-year registrations for over-the-top use on herbicide-tolerant soybeans, corn, and cotton. Five-year registrations for the 2,4-D choline-based herbicides were set to expire this month. Enlist contains the active ingredient 2,4-D choline, while Enlist Duo is a premix containing both 2,4-D choline and glyphosate.

Agricultural groups supported the decision. “Enlist is a vital tool for soybean growers to protect their crops from damaging weeds and maintain important conservation practices,” said Brad Doyle, American Soybean Association (ASA) president in an ASA news release. “While we are cautious with reports of new restrictions on Enlist and will be carefully reviewing the registration in the days ahead to determine its impact on growers, a new registration for Enlist is a welcome announcement.”

ESA Restrictions

The new registration comes with several new Endangered Species Act (ESA) use restrictions aimed primarily at mitigating runoff and pollinator risks. The registration also includes prohibitions on using Enlist or Enlist Duo in certain counties where federal regulators deem ESA risks are significant.  

For example, South Dakota farmers will not be able to apply Enlist in the south-central and southwestern counties of:

  • Bennett
  • Charles Mix
  • Gregory
  • Lyman
  • Todd
  • Tripp

Minnesota farmers will not be able to apply Enlist Duo in the northwestern counties of:

  • Clay
  • Marshall
  • Polk

Farther south in Minnesota, farmers will not be able to apply Enlist Duo in the counties of:

  • Redwood
  • Renville
  • Stearns

Corteva officials say the amendment process included EPA conducting updated data analyses and initiating appropriate agency consultations to help confirm that Enlist herbicides continue to comply with the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). As part of that process, EPA updated its ecological and ESA risk assessments, resulting in the addition of targeted risk mitigation measures to the Enlist and Enlist Duo herbicide labels. They add that the updates will help ensure that use of Enlist herbicides in accordance with the label will help protect endangered species and their habitats while also allowing growers to continue to capture the benefits of the Enlist weed control system.

ESA and Pesticide Active Ingredients

This week, the EPA also announced it will immediately be revising its ESA processes for all pesticide active ingredients (AI). EPA officials say the reform will incorporate ESA assessments and implement any necessary mitigations to prevent species and critical habitat from being jeopardized at the beginning of the registration process.

Before this announcement, in most cases, EPA did not consistently assess the potential effects of conventional pesticides on listed species when registering new AIs, say EPA officials. This resulted in insufficient protections from new AIs for listed species, as well as resource-intensive litigation against EPA for registering new AIs prior to assessing potential effects on listed species, officials add. EPA’s new policy should reduce these types of cases against the Agency and improve the legal defensibility of new AIs, which often have lower human health and ecological risks than older pesticides, they added. 

“Incorporating ESA assessments into the registration process for new pesticides is a key component of EPA’s larger effort to meet the Agency’s ESA obligations efficiently and effectively,” said Ya-Wei (Jake) Li, EPA office of chemical safety and pollution prevention deputy assistant administrator for pesticide programs, in an EPA news release. “I look forward to seeing the positive impact of this new approach and working on additional improvements that are both beneficial for species and fair to pesticide registrants.”

Soybean growers are hopeful that this will increase the legal defensibility of pesticide registration decisions that have been under intense pressure from courts for failing to comply with ESA, say ASA officials. 

Still, ASA has been concerned with how ESA revisions impact commonly used agricultural chemistry. Last November, the EPA issued endangered species biological evaluations that could increase the species and habitats that EPA says are adversely impacted by commonly used agricultural chemicals such as glyphosate, atrazine, and simazine.  

 The message coming from EPA is that these products are harmful to endangered species, which simply is not true when they are realistically used,” said Kevin Scott, ASA chairman. “The agency’s decision is based on faulty science that used unbelievable and inaccurate product usage rates. Farmers are growing phenomenal crops, even in areas like western South Dakota, because of the availability of glyphosate and no-till. If use of these products is hampered, our production will decrease. We will push back hard on this issue.”

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