Pesticides:

Trade group says amended suit against EPA counterproductive to protecting endangered species

How should U.S. EPA move past the political and policy issues surrounding pesticide registration and the impact of pesticides on endangered species? During today's OnPoint, Jay Vroom, president and CEO of CropLife America, explains why he believes an amended lawsuit against EPA, filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and Pesticide Action Network North America, is counterproductive to efforts to clarify the current process for registering pesticides.

Transcript

Monica Trauzzi: Hello, and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Jay Vroom, president and CEO of Crop Life America. Jay, thanks for coming on the show.

Jay Vroom: It's a pleasure to be here. Thanks.

Monica Trauzzi: Jay, the Center for Biological Diversity and Pesticide Action Network have filed suit. It's an amended complaint against U.S. EPA accusing the agency of not accounting for the impact of pesticides on more than 100 endangered species. Why does your organization believe a collaborative effort would be a better way to tackle this issue than going sort of this lawsuit route?

Jay Vroom: Right. So we've been at this issue between our industry and a variety of environmental NGOs for more than a decade, and in the interim there have been attempts at passing omnibus legislation in 2006 to reform the Endangered Species Act. We were a part of that. It failed, of course. Counterpart regulations that brought the affected agencies in about that era were vacated by a federal district judge. Subsequently, not entirely but most of those regulations were thrown out, and we find ourselves continuously back debating this issue in courthouses. And one of the things I've learned in my public policy career is that most of the time, public policy in a courthouse is a very blunt instrument, and most of the lawsuits that we've engaged in around this issue with regard to endangered species and crop protection products have been settled, or are pending, or just go endlessly. This latest one is what we call the mega-suit. It's the first suit involving ESA in crop protection products. It is virtually nationwide, 49 states jurisdiction claim, over 200 species, and then 380-some pesticide products. We filed a motion to dismiss this case, and after the elections last fall, the Obama administration joined us with their motion. That was granted but the judge in California said, "Well, but if the plaintiffs want to refile to solve some of the fundamental problems that the defendants and interveners have pointed out in their dismissal motion, he would accept that.

Monica Trauzzi: And we're at that point now.

Jay Vroom: That's the point that we are at.

Monica Trauzzi: That's what they have done.

Jay Vroom: Right.

Monica Trauzzi: But do you acknowledge that something needs to be done to address this issue?

Jay Vroom: Absolutely, yes.

Monica Trauzzi: Because it sounds like this has been a very long process, not a whole lot is happening, so how do we move the ball forward?

Jay Vroom: So the process is broken. You know, we fundamentally believe that species are being protected adequately by EPA's regulation of our industry. Our opponents disagree and believe that ESA should prevail. Unfortunately the ESA agencies don't have the capacity to handle all of the information and do all of the work that we believe EPA has already done so we're kind of at an impasse here around a process question. So we think that after, you know, we felt that we won with regard to the dismissal in this case, we'll see what the judge says about refiling on a narrower number of products and species and geographies ...

Monica Trauzzi: What are you expectations for how it might be handled?

Jay Vroom: I would expect that the judge would not look favorably on what they have refiled. It looks like they just slimmed down the original complaint, even though it's about the same number of pages, but it still has the same number of issues associated with the ability to claim injury, the jurisdiction issue in terms of being in the wrong court of law at the federal level, and all those other things. But again, that's all procedural. It really doesn't get at what are we going to do to make sense out of this process so that the resources of the government, the resources of farmers and other users of pesticides in our industry, are devoted toward advancing the environment and helping species, and we're very much committed to that.

Monica Trauzzi: So what's the plan then?

Jay Vroom: So there are a number of environmental organizations that aren't part of this lawsuit that we've been talking with that see some opportunity for some middle ground. The National Academy of Sciences have just issued their big new report, it took about two years, that actually was commissioned by EPA and the Endangered Species Services with support of the Congress, and we think that there's a roadmap in this new NAS report that if the government brought the stakeholders together, ourselves, the plaintiffs, and lots of other stakeholders that would like to participate, that a dialogue to start to look at, you know, what are the doable small-bite kinds of policy items and science refinements that could be taken on by these agencies, along with EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to bring some sense into inventing some new process without having to amend the Endangered Species, to get on with protecting the species and allowing innovation from our industry and others to help farmers do an even better job with their environmental footprint.

Monica Trauzzi: And both sides on this debate are really using this report to reflect what they're saying. Final question here, I'm curious how the lawsuit and this long process has affected industry operations. Any impact?

Jay Vroom: Well, it's certainly been more than a nuisance with regard to the distraction for our industry, having to participate in these lawsuits, participate in the settlements that have occurred. Fortunately we don't think that any of our farm customers have been terribly harmed by any of the interim measures and other kinds of settlement agreement decisions that have been made, mainly in the Pacific Northwest and in California. We don't think our members have been directly harmed terribly in terms of sales but something on the magnitude of this mega-suit with 49 states potentially being impacted, and hundreds of products of our industry, and intersectioned with hundreds and hundreds of different endangered species, is a real threat, and it's certainly a damper on innovation and creativity that otherwise could be actually devoted to advancing agriculture, getting modern agriculture efficiencies on the right track again, and also protecting the species that we all care about.

Monica Trauzzi: Right. We're going to end it right there, Jay. Thank you for coming on the show.

Jay Vroom: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

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