To meet the conservation and species recovery goals of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs must consult on each "action" to register or re-register a pesticide use with other federal fish and wildlife agencies like the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Through a formal 3 step consultation process, EPA is required to make an “effects determination” on whether registration of an active ingredient may harm a threatened or endangered species or its habitat. If there may be harm, a formal “consultation process” is initiated between federal agencies and specific steps for consultation are outlined in Section 7 of the ESA.
The ESA Section 7 consultation process has been flawed over time, and the lack of a clear and transparent process has jeopardized the availability and use of effective products to the golf industry. Activist-driven litigation has been coercing the ESA consultation process for pesticides for the past decade. While each court case is different, settlement agreements often require stopping use of targeted active ingredients while EPA re-examines targeted active ingredients on targeted species and habitat. It can take years for the re-evaluation to occur. Further complicating matters, EPA uses a risk-benefit analysis to evaluate the registration and use of active ingredients, and the fish and wildlife agencies examine pesticide use from a hazard only lens. The intersection of FIFRA and ESA continues to present a significant challenge for the registration of pesticides.
EPA for decades has not successfully implemented ESA consultation process obligations as part of pesticide registration activities. However, it has been EPA’s intention to integrate ESA consultation process obligations into its Registration Review process.
In 2011, EPA, US Department of Agriculture (USDA), USFWS and NMFS asked the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to evaluate the ESA consultation review process and help impacted federal agencies develop a solid consultation process. In November 2013, NAS released a much-anticipated report stating that EPA, NMFS, and USFWS should use a common approach when determining the potential effects a pesticide has on an endangered species and their environment. In January 2022, EPA announced a new workplan that reflects the Agency’s most comprehensive thinking to date on how to create a sustainable ESA-FIFRA program.