From: Gene Johnson, Associated Press
Published August 25, 2006 12:00 AM

Judge Strikes Down Pesticide Usage Rule

SEATTLE — A federal judge on Thursday rejected a Bush administration decision to weaken rules governing pesticide use, saying the change lacked scientific justification.


It was the second time in recent years that U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour chastised federal agencies for failing to follow the Endangered Species Act in licensing pesticides for sale.


In 2001, environmental groups sued over the Environmental Protection Agency's failure to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before allowing certain pesticides to be sold. Coughenour ordered the EPA to conduct the consultations in determining whether 55 of the pesticides were likely to harm salmon.


Instead, in 2004, the administration created a new rule allowing it to ignore the consultation requirement of the Endangered Species Act. Officials reasoned the EPA should decide on its own whether pesticides were likely to harm protected species.


The environmental groups sued again, and on Thursday, Coughenour threw out the new rule, saying the government could not simply ignore the act's requirements.


"The administrative record is striking in its total lack of any evidence of technical or scientific support for the policy positions ultimately adopted," Coughenour wrote.


He noted that in 2004 the EPA asked fisheries service scientists to support its findings that 28 pesticides were not likely to harm protected species.


The agency's Washington state office did not agree in any of the 28 cases, according to an internal fisheries service letter. Nevertheless, that agency and Fish and Wildlife agreed to the rules change "knowing of the substantial flaws in EPA's methodologies," the judge said.


The EPA did not immediately return calls seeking comment Thursday, and spokesmen for the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service said they had not had time to review the ruling.


Earthjustice lawyer Jan Hasselman, who represented the Washington Toxics Coalition and other environmental groups in the lawsuit, said the EPA should be working with agency scientists to determine the safety of the pesticides for endangered species around the country.


"Instead of addressing that in a serious way, they've been looking for shortcuts," he said.


Source: Associated Press


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