EPA has had restrictions in place for the use of chlorpyrifos and other pest control products for many years that minimize potential impacts on non-target organisms – including Pacific salmon. What EPA has apparently not had is a legally-sanctioned process for consulting with NMFS and FWS about these restrictions. Opponents of pesticides have been highly effective in using this administrative deficiency to impose court-ordered restrictions on pest control products based on legal opinion versus scientific assessment.

In fact, legal opinion has largely been responsible for shaping the process as it exists today. In response to a series of lawsuits against both the EPA and NMFS, NMFS entered into a legally-binding agreement requiring the Service to: 1) offer detailed opinions regarding 37 pest control products as to what precautions were needed to protect salmon; and 2) produce these opinions on a court-ordered timetable. EPA was then obliged to review these NMFS opinions, called Biological Opinions, or BiOps, and establish a plan for implementing them.

[M]uch of the historical water quality monitoring data relied upon is outdated and inappropriate in the context of the use of these pesticides. These historical data more appropriately reflect pesticide use prior to substantive mitigation that has been put in place by EPA. – EPA Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances

Along with two other pesticides, chlorpyrifos is one of the first pest control products to be evaluated under this process. As required, NMFS produced an evaluation summarizing the risk to salmon posed by these three products and the precautions required to protect them. However, that assessment was severely criticized not only by agricultural groups and registrants of the three pesticides but also by state and federal regulatory authorities – including EPA – as highly assumption-based, derived from flawed modeling, and formulated largely without reference to the extensive water monitoring conducted on these three products over many years.

EPA’s plan for implementing these NMFS recommendations, while based in better science than that used by NMFS, is still highly precautionary and, as written, would effectively prohibit use of chlorpyrifos and these other two products on more than 112 million acres, including some of the most valuable and productive farm and forestry land in the U.S. What’s more, this decision is being made by regulatory authorities without consultation with agricultural stakeholders or consideration of the adverse impacts on growers’ livelihoods.

Learn more about the history of the controversy.