In a sweeping victory for the agriculture industry, a federal judge in California dismissed the Center for Biological Diversity’s lawsuit against Environmental Protection Agency regarding Endangered Species Act (ESA) reviews for registered pesticides. The decision should help establish a precedent that would make it far more difficult for environmental activist groups to bring lawsuits against ag interests.
“We know that unnecessary and burdensome regulations are a growing concern for Illinois corn farmers,” said Phil Thornton, IL Corn’s Value-Added Projects Director. “Making regulations even tougher are these lawsuits. I’d daresay that environmental activists groups are hiring more attorneys than they are environmental scientists at this point.”
“IL Corn continues to monitor situations like this. With Illinois corn checkoff dollars, we’re doing the research that’s necessary to keep nuisance lawsuits and unnecessary regulations from impacting corn farmers,” Thornton continued.
The Center for Biological Diversity and the Pesticide Action Network of North America filed a complaint in the Northern District of California in January 2011 alleging that EPA violated Endangered Species Act by failing to consult with the Fish & Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service over the potential effects of 382 pesticides on 214 threatened and endangered species in 49 states. This “Mega Suit” posed a significant risk to agriculture by raising the possibility of court-ordered injunctions imposing unwarranted mitigation measures that would limit product usage throughout the entire United States.
The plaintiffs requested that the court apply “appropriate restrictions on the use of pesticides where they may affect endangered and threatened species and critical habitats” until interagency consultations are completed and the product registrations are in compliance with the ESA.
If successful, these “appropriate restrictions” had the potential to result in the imposition of buffers zones and other product use restrictions. In similar ESA cases in recent years, court rulings actually reduced the amount of land available to agriculture while doing little to protect threatened species and their habitat.
While the order leaves a narrow avenue for the environmental groups to repackage this case and come back to the court, the agriculture industry could not have hoped for a better outcome. Judge Spero’s decision should at least temporarily mitigate the threat of large scale lawsuits that threaten the availability of pesticide products on ESA consultation grounds.