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More Endangered Species Act agricultural chemical reviews are on the way

The ESA review by EPA with Enlist herbicides was just the start.

More Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection risk assessment reviews that first included Enlist herbicides last January are on the way, say Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials. 

“This work plan is much broader than that [the Enlist review],” says Rod Snyder, senior agriculture adviser to the EPA administrator. “It will look at all active ingredients, including those products that have been around for a long, long time.” 

Longstanding Challenge

Snyder briefed members of the North American Agricultural Journalists (NAAJ) during NAAJ’s annual meeting earlier this week in Washington, D.C. 

Snyder says this process is to address the backlog of ensuring ESA compliance.

“This has been really a longstanding challenge for the agency,” says Snyder.  “It’s not a partisan issue. It’s been a challenge for both Democratic and Republican administrations.”

He adds that EPA is working with both environmental NGOs and agricultural communities regarding the ESA protection risk assessment review process. 

“We think that, over time, this will bring greater stability and predictability to the pesticide [review] process,” says Snyder. He adds that this will help ensure farmers have consistent access to pesticides without the threat of ESA court decisions removing active ingredients from the marketplace through court orders and settlements.

“Quite frankly, it’s responsive to the 2018 Farm Bill that included a provision asking the relevant agencies, which includes EPA, USDA, U.S Fish and Wildlife, and National Marine Fisheries to come up with a plan,” Snyder says. “We’re basically responding to what Congress asked us to do as we put together this plan.”

The Enlist Situation

Last January, the ESA review was part of EPA’s seven-year amended registration for the 2,4-D choline-based Enlist One and Enlist Duo herbicides.

Initially, the EPA issued geographic restrictions for Enlist One (2,4-D choline) and Enlist Duo (2,4-D choline and glufosinate) in 128 counties where the American burying beetle was found, as well as six counties where Enlist Duo was restricted due to the eastern massasauga rattlesnake. However, the EPA lifted these restrictions in these counties in late March. 

However, counties still remain where farmers cannot apply the Enlist products due to the ESA protection risk assessment process. Approximately 40 counties located in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Tennessee, and south-central Texas have prohibitions on both Enlist One and Enlist Duo for a listed species other than American burying beetle or the eastern massasauga rattlesnake, says a Corteva spokesperson.

The spokesperson says Corteva is continuing to conduct studies and provide additional data to EPA to allow the agency to remove more geographic restrictions while still ensuring protection of listed species and their habitats. However, the spokesperson added the process will take more time, and that it is too early to speculate on timing or outcome.

Concerns and Confusion

As part of this process, Snyder says he is spending much time with commodity groups and farm organizations on this topic. He acknowledges that much confusion and concerns exist in the agricultural community.

“We view the status quo as the bigger risk by not having products undergo ESA review in terms of legal vulnerabilities,” Snyder says. “Our goal is to try to bring these products into compliance in a way that is least disruptive to farmers as possible, but still bring protections for endangered species. If you begin to dig into the details, there are a lot of potential approaches we can use to help bring these products into compliance.”

Snyder notes the county-level prohibitions that occurred with Enlist are the most drastic options available. Many other tools exist, though, such as compensatory mitigation, Snyder says. This has been done in other areas, such as in wetlands provisions under the Clean Water Act, though never in the pesticide registration process, he adds.

EPA’s ESA mitigation measures may include measures that reduce the amount of pesticide that may leave a treated field or reducing the maximum application rate or number of applications allowed over a treated site, according to EPA literature.

All this takes time, Snyder says.

 “The challenge with the Enlist situation is that we were under a very short deadline with the January reregistration deadline,” he says. “We did the best we could with the time we had, but it was a very early example. We’re going to get more sophisticated and in a way that would have less of an impact on growers moving forward, but still provide adequate [endangered] species protections.”

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