CHEMICAL INDUSTRY GIVEN PRIVATE ACCESS TO EPA
A lawsuit filed last week asserts that the Bush Administration is allowing a special task force from the chemical industry to lobby secretly and illegally inside the Environmental Protection Agency. The task force aims to circumvent current protections for endangered species. If successful, it will be easier for the industry to gain approval for the use of certain pesticides.
The lawsuit alleges that the industry group, representating 14 agrochemical companies, is meeting regularly behind closed doors with EPA officials in violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). Federal "sunshine" laws require that such meetings be open to members of the public.
The industry strategy, according to internal documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, is to eliminate the role of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries, whose biologists currently serve as oversight experts as to whether a pesticide poses a risk to wildlife.
It appears the industry is succeeding. Last year the EPA, which has no measures in place to protect most endangered animals and plants, began a process whereby the agency could assume full control over these decisions with little or no oversight from federal biologists. 1 "It is contrary to our American values for the Bush Administration to give the pesticide industry a secret insider role so they can weaken protections for endangered species," says Patti Goldman of Earthjustice, which filed the lawsuit on January 15 in Seattle. Other plaintiffs include the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Washington Toxics Coalition, and Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides. The lawsuit asks that EPA be ordered to comply with the open-meeting rules.
The industry taskforce includes Monsanto, Bayer, Dupont Ag Products, Dow AgroSciences and UniRoyal Chemical Co. The group, known as the FIFRA Endangered Species Task Force, was set up in 2000 to help research data on the locations of endangered species. But under the Bush Administration it has taken on a mission to alter the rules of the Endangered Species Act.
At the industry's behest, EPA is also considering rule changes that would allow greater risks to wildlife from pesticides before any expert review is initiated. Another change would restrict the type of evidence that can be introduced to determine the level of risk. A third change would allow EPA officials simply to ignore conclusions of expert scientists from other federal agencies.
The rule changes are expected to be announced soon, but already the EPA is authorizing the use of pesticides that Fish and Wildlife Service experts say can cause harm to endangered species.