In a better world, enviro groups would appreciate the importance of chemicals and pesticides

September 21, 2010 | By PACIFIC LEGAL FOUNDATION

Author: Brandon Middleton

Chemicals allow us to enjoy a greater standard of living than any of our ancestors could have ever imagined.  They preserve food for billions of people and prevent harm from annoying and dangerous pests, among other things.

Unfortunately, the trend nowadays is for environmental groups to use expansive environmental statutes to forestall the approval and use of needed pesticides and other chemicals.

The Washington Toxics Coalition, for example, thought it wasn't enough for the Environmental Protection Agency to evaluate the environmental effects of newer pesticides, but wanted an additional federal agency to specifically consider the interests of endangered species.  So the Coalition forced a bureaucratic environmental redundancy by suing the EPA under the Endangered Species Act.  The result: endless consultation and deliberation under a court ruling that has left farmers without the necessary tools to fight pests.  More on this story from the Capital Press:

Given that Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act requires federal agencies consult when their actions could affect a threatened or endangered species, the ruling wasn't surprising, said Heather Hansen, executive director of Washington Friends of Farms and Forests, which advocates for agricultural interests on pest management issues.

"But there really is no simple way to (consult)," Hansen said. "Pesticides are used in agriculture, in homes, on flea collars. So how do you consult on that?"

The original wording of the law didn't take complex scenarios into account, she said. "The ESA was written thinking in terms of: If you build a dam, it's in one spot at one time and you consult on that one action," Hansen said. "That is how the consultation process was envisioned: One action, one spot, one time."

At issue were 54 commonly used pesticides the toxics coalition claimed could harm threatened and endangered salmon runs. Coughenour in his ruling did not address whether the pesticides actually harmed the fish. Instead, he ordered the EPA and NMFS to consult with one another on each pesticide's impact on salmon.

The dispute the ruling triggered continues on several fronts:

* Environmental groups claim the agencies charged with meeting the judge's orders are dragging their feet in developing and implementing mitigating measures to protect fish.

* Farm and ranch groups and state agencies are challenging the science used by the National Marine Fisheries Service in developing biological opinions that shape proposed mitigating measures.

* The federal agencies charged with consulting on the pesticides have continually challenged one another's findings.

As the EPA prepares to restrict use of many common pesticides, farmers, ranchers and foresters appear to be the big losers.

According to figures from NMFS, under currently proposed actions — which involve no-spray buffers around streams, lakes and other water bodies — pesticide use will be restricted on 61 percent of Washington state's total land area. Fifty-five percent of Oregon, 32 percent of California and 26 percent of Idaho would also be restricted.

Hostility towards chemicals isn't going away anytime soon.  Earlier this month, as wildfires threatened the homes and lives of people in Colorado, environmentalists threw a hissy fit over how fire retardants might affect endangered species.  Bed bugs are making a comeback because environmental regulation makes the right pesticides unavailable.  And, although the Gulf oil spill of course needs to be cleaned up, politicians and environmental groups aren't happy with the use of dispersants — as put it, there is a collaborative effort to "maximize fear and liability over the chemicals."

The instinctive reaction to chemicals which benefit humans seems for many to be scream and sue.  But if there's a chemical that environmental groups don't oppose, I'd like to know what it is.