On July 9, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (Ninth Circuit) held oral argument in League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) v. Pruitt, a case brought to challenge the decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to deny a 2007 petition by Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The 2007 petition requested that EPA revoke all chlorpyrifos tolerances granted under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) and all chlorpyrifos registrations granted under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). After a series of delays and court decisions concerning EPA action on the 2007 petition, the Ninth Circuit issued a writ of mandamus in In re PANNA v. EPA requiring that EPA take action to grant or to deny the petition no later than March 31, 2017. Although EPA proposed in November 2015 to partially grant the 2007 petition and to revoke all chlorpyrifos tolerances based on concerns about neurodevelopmental effects in children, EPA ultimately decided to deny the entire PANNA and NRDC tolerance revocation petition in a decision dated March 29, 2017. More information on EPA’s March 29, 2017, decision is available in our blog item “EPA Denies Petition to Ban Chlorpyrifos.”

After the March 29, 2017 denial decision, the Ninth Circuit denied a motion for further mandamus relief in the PANNA case. The court stated that, once EPA denies a tolerance revocation petition under FFDCA, “[f]iling objections and awaiting their resolution by the EPA Administrator is a prerequisite to obtaining judicial review of EPA’s final response to the petition.” The petitioners in the current LULAC case filed administrative objections to EPA’s denial decision on June 5, 2017, but, on the same date, they also brought a new action seeking immediate judicial review. Five States and the District of Columbia subsequently intervened in the new case. EPA filed a motion to dismiss the LULAC case for lack of jurisdiction on August 21, 2017, but the court denied that motion, without prejudice to EPA renewing its jurisdictional arguments during briefing on the merits.

Background to Tolerance Petition Decision

EPA’s risk assessments concerning the potential neurodevelopmental effects of chlorpyrifos have been the subject of scientific controversy for a number of years. In decisions that were the subject of significant criticism and controversy, EPA scientists construed the associations reported in certain epidemiological studies of exposure to chlorpyrifos as evidence that chlorpyrifos may cause neurodevelopmental effects in children at exposure levels that are less than the threshold for induction of acetylcholinesterase inhibition. In November, 2016, EPA issued an updated risk assessment for chlorpyrifos and all organophosphate (OP) pesticides based on the same epidemiology studies, which included a determination that EPA would retain the default 10X safety factor established by the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) for chlorpyrifos and for all OP pesticides. Pesticide industry representatives have raised concerns about the design and conduct of the chlorpyrifos epidemiology studies, the scientific plausibility of the proposed association of neurodevelopmental effects with low level chlorpyrifos exposure, and the rationale for extending the FQPA determination to OP pesticides other than chlorpyrifos.

Prior to the change in administration in 2017, it appeared that EPA would proceed with its 2015 proposal to revoke chlorpyrifos tolerances based on the 2016 updated risk assessment. Instead, on March 29, 2017, EPA decided to deny the 2007 petition and to defer its ultimate scientific decision concerning the neurodevelopmental effects of chlorpyrifos until after EPA completes the currently pending registration review process for chlorpyrifos.

Briefs in the LULAC Case

In their briefs, the petitioners and the intervenors in the LULAC case have objected to further delay in EPA’s scientific decision concerning the neurodevelopmental risks presented by chlorpyrifos, as well as to the procedures specified by FFDCA that would require that they await resolution of their objections before seeking judicial review. From their perspective, EPA has already determined repeatedly that continued chlorpyrifos exposure is unsafe for infants and children, and EPA is therefore required to proceed with immediate revocation of all chlorpyrifos tolerances.

In their briefs, the petitioners and the intervenors argued that the procedures required by FFDCA are not jurisdictional, and that the court therefore has discretion to waive exhaustion of these procedures. They also argued that exhaustion should be waived in this instance because allowing EPA time to rule on their objections would ultimately be futile, and because further delay would perpetuate EPA’s purported disregard of the FFDCA safety standard. Further, they argued that, if immediate review is not available under FFDCA, it should be available under FIFRA because EPA also denied a request to cancel the FIFRA registrations for chlorpyrifos. Finally, the petitioners requested during briefing that the court issue “a writ of mandamus directing EPA to decide LULAC’s objections within 60 days.”

In its brief, EPA argued that the petitioners lack any jurisdiction to bring the current case because the detailed procedures specified in the FFDCA are jurisdictional in nature, and exhaustion of these procedures therefore cannot be waived by a reviewing court. EPA also argued that, even if the court could waive the exhaustion requirement, the petitioners have raised the same issues in their objections as they raised in their briefs, and there is no basis for the court to presume that allowing EPA to address these issues would be futile. Moreover, EPA argued that FFDCA Section 346a(h)(5) expressly precludes separate judicial review under FIFRA of EPA’s decision concerning the 2007 petition. Finally, EPA contended in its brief that the petitioners’ request for a writ of mandamus must be denied because the petitioners did not follow the procedure for making such a request in Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 21(a).

Commentary

During the oral arguments on July 9, 2018, two of the three judges on the Ninth Circuit panel reportedly expressed frustration concerning the prospect for years of further delay before EPA makes its ultimate decision concerning chlorpyrifos. Although it is not clear how the court would overcome the formidable jurisdictional barriers to immediate judicial review, it appears that some sort of judicial decision or order compelling EPA to take more immediate action on chlorpyrifos is a possibility.