Wetlands in Klamath Basin

Standing grain is left for migrating birds in the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex. A federal judge has dismissed an environmental lawsuit against a federal policy governing neonicotinoid pesticides and genetically engineered crops in national wildlife refuges.

A federal judge has dismissed an environmental lawsuit against the Trump administration’s policy for using neonicotinoid pesticides and genetically engineered crops in national wildlife refuges.

Under the Obama administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service phased out the use of such pesticides and crops beginning in 2014.

The agency had determined that “neonic” pesticides negatively affect birds, aquatic insects and pollinators by overstimulating their nervous systems and causing other problems with toxicity.

Genetically engineered crops were phased out because the agency found they often encouraged increased usage of pesticides that the plants were modified to resist.

However, in 2018, the Trump administration withdrew the earlier policy because the “blanket denial” of these technologies didn’t give refuge managers enough latitude about field-level farming practice decisions.

Instead, the Fish and Wildlife Service was directed to consider the use of neonicotinoid pesticides and genetically engineered crops on a “case-by-case basis” according to the relevant laws and policies.

The Center for Biological Diversity and Center for Food Safety nonprofits filed a complaint against the agency last year, claiming the policy change violated federal laws governing wildlife refuges, endangered species and environmental policy.

The environmental plaintiffs argued the Fish and Wildlife Service didn’t provide any explanation for how these pesticides and crops would serve the purpose of conserving and protecting wildlife in the refuges.

The lawsuit asked a federal judge to vacate the Trump administration’s decision and reinstate the earlier policy.

However, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta in Washington, D.C., has now thrown out the complaint because the environmental plaintiffs lack the legal standing to challenge the policy change in federal court.

The judge has determined the environmental plaintiffs have overstated the effect of the Trump administration’s policy change, which withdraws the earlier restrictions but doesn’t directly authorize neonicotinoids or genetically engineered crops in any national wildlife refuges.

“By its own terms, the 2018 memorandum contemplates only the ‘consideration’ of such practices on a ‘case-by-case basis,’” Mehta said.

Efforts taken by the two nonprofits to educate the public about the policy change are “components of larger advocacy and lobbying efforts” rather than injuries that would establish standing to pursue the litigation, he said.

Likewise, the policy change doesn’t pose an “actual or imminent” injury to members of the organizations who enjoy visiting national wildlife refuges, the judge said.

“The mere prospect that the Service might someday authorize such use within a yet unknown refuge does not plausibly give rise to the substantial probability of harm required to establish standing,” he said.

I've been working at Capital Press since 2006 and I primarily cover legislative, regulatory and legal issues.

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