EPA works to comply with the Endangered Species Act when approving pesticides

The courts have run out of patience with the EPA, which has been the target of more than 20 lawsuits that claim the agency has violated the Endangered Species Act.

Pesticide spraying on sugarbeets.
Mike Spieker / Agweek

WASHINGTON, D.C. — It’s imperative that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency thoroughly review pesticides before they are approved to ensure they are not in violation of the Endangered Species Act, says Jake Li, EPA deputy assistant administrator for pesticide programs.

The courts have run out of patience with the agency, which during the past few decades has been the target of more than 20 lawsuits, covering more than 1,000 pesticide products that claim the agency has violated the obligations of the Endangered Species Act, Li told farmers at the American Sugarbeet Growers Association annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

 A man stands waring a blue sport coat, white shirt and blue tie stands behind a podium
Jake Li, Environmental Protection Agency deputy assistant administrator for pesticide programs spoke at the American Sugarbeet Growers Association annual meeting in Washington D.C. on Jan. 31, 2023.
Ann Bailey / Agweek

About 250 farmers, including sugarbeet growers from Minnesota, Montana and North Dakota attended the meeting held Jan. 29-31, 2023.

Photo of Jake Li
Jake Li

Li showed the farmers a slide that included excerpts from judges who presided over some of the cases, illustrating judges' frustration with the EPA.

“Before registering a pesticide EPA must consult with the statutorily specified agencies that have expertise to risk on species’ survival. But for decades the EPA routinely skipped that step when it registered pesticides…” a slide quoting a judge who presided over the Center for Biological Diversity vs. EPA Dec. 2022 DC Circuit Court of Appeals case.


The EPA has released a work plan in response to the lawsuits.

Esa Workplan Update by Michael Johnson on Scribd

“We’re making progress, we’re making more progress than the EPA has ever made,” Li said.

Going forward one of the best ways to avoid violations of the ESA is to prioritize the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, Li said.

The 75-day public comment period, which opened Nov. 22 on the EPA’s proposed interim decisions for 11 rodenticides, is Monday, Feb. 13.

One of the challenges EPA has faced is a shortage of employees to work on registration because the agency’s scientists who review pesticides were reduced by 30%, said Chris Novak, president and CEO of CropLife America, a national trade organization that represents the manufacturers, formulators and distributors of organic and non-organic pesticides.

Chris Novak, president and chief executive office of CropLife America.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek

At the same time staff was reduced, the number of pesticides that needed to be reviewed have increased, Novak said. It takes three years for the agency to register a pesticide. Meanwhile, EPA is required to review registered pesticides every 15 years to ensure that they are carrying out their intended functions without “creating unreasonable adverse effects to human health and the environment,” the agency says on its website .

In fiscal year 2022 the EPA had more than 11,000 submissions on its website, Li said. During fiscal year 2022 the agency completed more than 7,700 Pesticide Registration Improvement Act and non-PRIA actions, registered 13 new active ingredients and approved 38 Section 18 emergency exemptions, including one for controlling herbicide-resistant amaranth in sugarbeets.

CropLife America supports the proposed fiscal year 2023 budget for the EPA, which provides $11.9 billion and 16,204 full-time employees. Increasing the budget will help pesticides get reviewed in a more timely manner, Novak said.


“We have to be able to fund and support the EPA,” he said.

Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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