Regulatory changes in the Environmental Protection Agency's process for reviewing pesticides in accordance with provisions of the Endangered Species Act may be helpful to agriculture.

Unless, that is, further court action overturns the “counterpart regulations” that effect changes in the consultation process for pesticides between the EPA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The regulations, designed to make the Endangered Species Act more efficient and timely and to improve the protection of endangered/threatened species, were released in January. “Some 70,000 comments were filed, with about 40,000 of those in support,” says Gerret Van Duyn of the National Cotton Council's Washington staff, who spoke at the joint meeting of the Cotton Foundation and the American Cotton Producers Association at Albuquerque, N.M.

The Endangered Species Act, Van Duyn points out, requires that the EPA consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service before making pesticide-related decisions in order to work out differences before regulations are issued.

“The problem was that the FWS, according to a General Accounting Office report, had been unable to complete consultations in a timely manner. So, what we had was the FWS looking over pesticide registrations, trying to make heads or tails of what the EPA had done. As a result, companies and growers might be waiting an additional three to five years on a product registration.”

Several groups filed lawsuits and the court ruled the EPA in violation of the act and instructed it to come into compliance.

In a Washington state toxics case, the court imposed no-spray buffers of 60 feet for ground applications and 300 feet for aerial applications for certain ag chemicals along salmon-bearing streams in Washington, Oregon, and California. The buffer requirements continue while the Washington Farm Bureau and other agriculture organizations appeal the ruling to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where oral arguments are scheduled in September.

As of June 19, Van Duyn says, the EPA had completed consultations on 33 of the 54 pesticides listed in the court order. At least 13 of the 33 were determined to have no effect on threatened or endangered salmon species.

“The agricultural community, the National Cotton Council, the American Farm Bureau Federation, and others really got involved in this issue. Just recently, there has been a concentrated effort to get the final version of the counterpart regulations out before the elections completely dominate the political scene.

“The final regulations were announced by FWS July 29, but have not yet been published in the Federal Register. We are very pleased with this, but unfortunately we expect there will be litigation against the counterpart regulations and that we'll be involved in more court cases to defend them.”

Another 12 court cases are in progress around the country, he says, many in cotton growing regions, dealing with watersheds and other issues, and lawsuits have also been filed against the EPA's ability to make these decisions.

“In the meantime, the EPA will be reviewing pesticides for registration and re-registration under the counterpart guidelines, and will be making a lot of decisions that the FWS might be unable or unwilling to make. This should help to expedite the registration process, and that's very good news, assuming that the litigation doesn't reverse the decision.

“The only downside to the counterpart regulations is that a particular product may have specific species restrictions that will necessitate working with the EPA on a case-by-case basis.”

Several new agricultural chemicals have been approved in recent months, Van Duyn says, several of them focusing on holes in the Roundup Ready package involving certain broadleaf species. Included also are new herbicides, a new pyrethroid, two miticides, a defoliant, and insecticides with safer technologies or aimed at specific problem pests.

“Also released this year on a limited basis is Liberty Link cotton, and recently deregulated by USDA is Widestrike, a Bt product that we expect to see registered at the end of the fourth quarter this year or the first quarter of 2005.”

Upcoming, he says, is Roundup Flex, which offers an extended spray window for Roundup. “We hope to see this released in 2005.” Syngenta has an experimental use permit for the next line of its new transgenic VipCot cotton, and “we would hope to see some of this in 2006.”

About 22 cotton products are currently in the EPA's re-registration process, Van Duyn says, including malathion, methyl parathion, aldicarb, 2,4 — D, thiram, DSMA, MSMA, several seed treatments, and others.

“We're pleased that we now have an arrangement with the Special Re-registration Division, before they go into the review process, to discuss how products are used, where they are used, etc., rather than their assuming these things. This can make a big difference in their decisions on whether or not a product will be available on the market.”

Also in the pipeline for cotton: three new biotech traits, three new herbicides, and two new insecticides, some of which will be available in the '05 marketing season.


e-mail: hbrandon@primediabusiness.com