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EPA ordered to issue long-delayed findings on bee-killing pesticide

The agency has been dragging its feet rather than study whether the insecticide it approved eight years earlier is harmful to endangered species.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Federal regulators have until September 2023 to determine whether the pesticide they approved eight years ago puts endangered species at risk, the D.C. Circuit ruled Tuesday, balking at what have been years of agency inaction.

“The ESA required EPA to issue an effects determination and engage in any required consulting before registering cyantraniliprole,” Senior U.S. Circuit Judge David Tatel wrote for a three-judge panel, using abbreviations for both the Endangered Species Act and the Environmental Protection agency. “Eight years of outright non-compliance flouts the ‘rule of reason.’”

Holding the EPA to its own recently proposed deadline, Tatel called for status reports on its progress in this process every two months.

“It shouldn’t take eight years and two lawsuits for the agency to carry out its fundamental duty to protect irreplaceable pollinators like the Fender’s blue butterfly and the rusty-patched bumblebee,” Stephanie Parent, a senior attorney for the Center of Biological Diversity, said in a statement.

Along with the Center for Food Safety and Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity sued the EPA over its delinquent oversight of the toxic insecticide cyantraniliprole or CTP in 2014.

“Based on data showing the concentrations or amounts of CTP that cause direct effects, EPA classified the chemical as 'slightly to moderately toxic to freshwater fish; slightly toxic to estuarine/marine fish; slightly to very highly toxic to freshwater invertebrates; moderately to highly toxic to estuarine/marine invertebrates, highly toxic to benthic invertebrates; highly to very highly toxic to terrestrial insects' from acute exposures,” that complaint noted.

With CTP approved for uses on a wide variety of agricultural crops, as well as golf courses, lawns, ornamental plants, fly bait and public health pests, the environmental groups estimated that more than 1,300 federally protected species would face harm.

“Even after finding that cyantraniliprole is ‘highly or very highly toxic’ to hundreds of endangered species the agency authorized widespread uses of it in both agricultural and urban areas without measures to safeguard protected species,” the plaintiff organizations noted Tuesday in a press release.

Critics of cyantraniliprole also note that the substance remains in the environment for years after it has been used. 

“The EPA’s risk assessment found the pesticide has a half-life of 1,327 days in the soil, meaning half of the pesticide remains in the soil for more than three and a half years after it is applied,” the environmental groups wrote Tuesday.

At the circuit court level in 2017, the EPA admitted that it hadn’t reviewed the pesticide consistent with the Endangered Species Act. Tatel was critical of the agency's failure to make headway on the court's ensuing order to review the pesticide registration with protected plants and animals in mind.

“In the ensuing five years, ... EPA made no progress toward completing cyantraniliprole’s effects determination — that is, no progress until earlier this year. Only then did EPA schedule cyantraniliprole’s effects determination, though it took no steps to complete it,” Tatel wrote.

“Completing an effects determination and any required consultation would reveal whether such a threat exists, and if so, its magnitude. If EPA identifies risks to endangered species, it could revise cyantraniliprole’s labeling to include mitigation measures or limits on use,” Tatel continued.

An EPA spokesperson declined to comment on the ruling Tuesday, citing pending litigation policy.

U.S. Circuit Judges Patricia Millett and Neomi Rao, Obama and Trump appointees, joined Tatel in the ruling.

Earlier this year, the EPA released an inaugural comprehensive work plan for protecting endangered species from pesticides.

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