A Legal Victory for the (Very) Little Guys
A Court Settlement Puts the E.P.A. on Track to Regulate Pesticides ... The New York Times
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
A new court settlement will put the Environmental Protection Agency on track to regulate pesticides more tightly.
Call it a win for the little species, though all kinds of endangered animals and plants stand to benefit. A sweeping legal settlement approved this week has put the Environmental Protection Agency on a binding path to do something it has barely done before, by its own acknowledgment: Adequately consider the effects on imperiled species when it evaluates pesticides and take steps to protect them.
Pesticides and Environmental Impact
“When you think about what a pesticide is, it’s supposed to kill pests,” said Michal Freedhoff, assistant administrator for the agency’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. “It is difficult to design a process where it kills only the things it is supposed to kill.” In the same area as crop-damaging insects, there may be threatened bumblebees and butterflies; among unwanted weeds, endangered plants. At the same time, pesticides help farmers produce enough food to meet the demands of a growing population. And they need a wide variety of pesticides to defend their crops, they say, as insects and weeds gain resistance to various chemicals.
Lack of Compliance
By its own account, the E.P.A. has failed to meet the obligations of the Endangered Species Act for more than 95 percent of the thousands of pesticide assessments it completes annually, according to a report the agency issued last year. That lack of compliance has opened it to a flood of lawsuits from environmental groups, as well as a spate of recent court decisions against the agency. One 11-year-old case grew to include so many pesticide products, more than 1,000, that it came to be nicknamed “the megasuit.”
Biden Administration’s Efforts
Under the Biden administration, E.P.A. leaders have tried to chart a new course that abides by the Endangered Species Act. The new settlement, which resolves the megasuit, locks in that effort with judicially enforceable deadlines, said Jonathan Evans, the legal director for environmental health at the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that brought the megasuit. “Another administration just can’t jettison this,” he said. CropLife America, a trade association for pesticide manufacturers that joined the lawsuit as an intervenor on the side of the E.P.A., praised the settlement as “another important step” in the government’s work to better comply with the Endangered Species Act.
Benefits and Restrictions
A benefit to farmers from the settlement is protection from having a pesticide abruptly pulled from the market as a result of a court order. One endangered species that stands to gain is the rusty patched bumblebee, once a widespread pollinator in the East and Upper Midwest. Another is the Taylor’s checkerspot, a butterfly from the Pacific Northwest whose brown wings are adorned with white and orange spots. Aquatic species like salmon and mussels do, too, as they are particularly vulnerable to pesticides that contaminate nearby water. Rather than outright bans on pesticides, the settlement is likely to lead to restrictions on where they can be used in proximity to endangered species. New E.P.A. guidance may require buffer zones around waterways in certain areas, so endangered fish are not harmed by runoff. It could place restrictions on how far a chemical can drift when sprayed from a plane.
Challenges and Efficient Regulations
A major challenge for the E.P.A. in complying with the Endangered Species Act has been the sheer work of determining how each of the vast number of active chemicals in pesticides affects each of almost 1,700 federally protected species threatened with extinction. The process typically takes four to twelve years. Instead, the agency will bundle chemicals into groups according to their target species — plants, insects, rodents, fungus — and properties, for example, whether they dissolve in water or drift in air. This approach will let the agency set regulations efficiently.
SDGs, Targets, and Indicators Analysis
1. Which SDGs are addressed or connected to the issues highlighted in the article?
- SDG 15: Life on Land – The article discusses the need to protect endangered species and their habitats from the harmful effects of pesticides.
- SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production – The article mentions the importance of using pesticides responsibly to ensure the availability of food for a growing population.
2. What specific targets under those SDGs can be identified based on the article’s content?
- SDG 15.1: By 2020, ensure the conservation, restoration, and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services, in particular forests, wetlands, mountains, and drylands, in line with obligations under international agreements.
- SDG 15.5: Take urgent and significant action to reduce the degradation of natural habitats, halt the loss of biodiversity, and protect and prevent the extinction of threatened species.
- SDG 12.4: By 2020, achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle, in accordance with agreed international frameworks, and significantly reduce their release to air, water, and soil in order to minimize their adverse impacts on human health and the environment.
3. Are there any indicators mentioned or implied in the article that can be used to measure progress towards the identified targets?
- Indicator for SDG 15.1: Proportion of important sites for terrestrial and freshwater biodiversity that are covered by protected areas, by ecosystem type.
- Indicator for SDG 15.5: Red List Index, which measures changes in the overall extinction risk of species over time.
- Indicator for SDG 12.4: Proportion of hazardous waste generated, treated, and disposed of safely.
SDGs, Targets, and Indicators Table
|SDG 15: Life on Land||15.1: By 2020, ensure the conservation, restoration, and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services, in particular forests, wetlands, mountains, and drylands, in line with obligations under international agreements.||Proportion of important sites for terrestrial and freshwater biodiversity that are covered by protected areas, by ecosystem type.|
|SDG 15: Life on Land||15.5: Take urgent and significant action to reduce the degradation of natural habitats, halt the loss of biodiversity, and protect and prevent the extinction of threatened species.||Red List Index, which measures changes in the overall extinction risk of species over time.|
|SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production||12.4: By 2020, achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle, in accordance with agreed international frameworks, and significantly reduce their release to air, water, and soil in order to minimize their adverse impacts on human health and the environment.||Proportion of hazardous waste generated, treated, and disposed of safely.|
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