District Court Issues Order Allowing Plaintiffs in Case Seeking Review of Neonicotinoid Pesticides under the ESA to Utilize Extra Record Material
On June 12, 2015, Federal District Judge Maxine Chesney issued a decision in Ellis v. Housenger (N.D. Cal.) allowing the plaintiffs to utilize expert declarations and exhibits that were not included in the certified administrative record to support their contentions that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) improperly failed to consult the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The plaintiffs in the Ellis case are individual beekeepers and non-governmental organizations, and two out of the six claims in their complaint allege a failure by EPA to consult under the ESA before registering or adding new registered uses for products containing two neonicotinoid pesticides, clothianidin and thiamethoxam. Judge Chesney’s order was issued in response to separate motions by EPA and by industry intervenors Bayer Crop Science, Syngenta Crop Protection, and Croplife America to preclude the plaintiffs from utilizing extra record material to support their ESA claims.
Although EPA and the intervenors argued that the Court’s review of the ESA claims should be confined to the administrative record based on the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), Judge Chesney determined that extra record material may be used to support an allegation that an administrative agency failed to consult with the FWS as required by ESA Section 7. The Judge based this holding on two cases decided in the Ninth Circuit, Washington Toxics Coalition v. EPA and Western Watersheds Project v. Kraayenbrink, which each held that extra record material may be properly considered in determining whether an agency improperly failed to consult under ESA Section 7. The Judge rejected the contention by EPA and the intervenors that these two decisions were supplanted by Karup Tribe v. U.S. Forest Service, concluding that the “arbitrary and capricious” standard of review established by the APA is utilized to review the ESA claims, but the scope of review for these claims is not constrained by the APA.
The effect of this decision will be to allow the plaintiffs to present expert opinion and evidence concerning the claimed adverse effects of the two neonicotinoid pesticides on endangered and threatened species, including but not limited to pollinator species, that was not expressly considered by EPA when it decided to register these pesticides. The plaintiffs will argue that such extra record material establishes that there was a sufficient basis to conclude that these pesticides “may affect” endangered or threatened species for EPA’s failure to consult FWS under the ESA to be arbitrary and capricious. This preliminary ruling could materially affect review of the ESA counts because there is a substantial division of expert scientific opinion concerning the alleged adverse effects of neonicotinoid pesticides, and the Court may conclude that EPA did not afford adequate weight to some of this opinion.