In a rare move, on February 6, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9thCircuit agreed to an en bancrehearing of its decision in League of United Latin American Citizens (“LULAC”) v. Wheeler, 899 F. 3d 814 (9th Cir. 2018). That decision had ordered EPA to cancel all registrations of chlorpyrifos and revoke all chlorpyrifos domestic tolerances.
The original decision in LULACwas issued on August 9, 2018. It came some eleven years after Pesticide Action North America (“PANNA”) and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a Petition with EPA seeking the revocation of chlorpyrifos tolerances. Since tolerances are required for the food use of pesticides, tolerance revocation would eliminate all domestic agricultural uses. Tolerance revocation was the approach used by EPA when it sought to eliminate all food uses of carbofuran. See National Corn Growers Ass’n v. EPA, 613 F.3d 1131 (D.C. Cir. 2010).
By 2014, having received only partial responses, the Petitioners filed suit in the 9thCircuit seeking to compel a response to the Petition. That action was dismissed based upon EPA’s commitment to issue a decision by February 2014. When a decision was not issued Petitioners again filed suit in the 9thCircuit, and were successful in having EPA ordered to issue a decision by October 2015. See In re PANNA, 798 F.3d 809 (9thCir. 2015). Because of this order, EPA proposed to revoke the chlorpyrifos tolerances. See 80 Fed. Reg. 69,080 (Nov. 6, 2015).
However, EPA did not proceed to a final action, as a result of which the 9thCircuit issued another Order requiring EPA to take final action by December 30, 2016. See In re PANNA, 808 F.3d 402 (9thCir. 2015). Prior to taking final action on the Petition, EPA issued a revised risk assessment. See 81 Fed. Reg. 81,049 (Nov. 17, 2016). It found that the chlorpyrifos tolerances allowed aggregate exposures to chlorpyrifos which exceeded the safety standards of the Food Quality Protection Act, and thus should be revoked.
However, days before the Court-imposed deadline, EPA announced that it was denying the Petition in full. EPA stated that it found that more data was necessary to make a final decision on chlorpyrifos, and that it would complete its review of chlorpyrifos by the registration review deadline of October 1, 2022. See 82 Fed. Reg. 16,581 (April 5, 2017). That announcement prompted Petitioners to renew their litigation, resulting in the August 9, 2018 decision ordering the revocation of tolerances and the cancellation of registrations.
Much of the attention in the litigation has been focused on procedural issues unrelated to the actual science surrounding chlorpyrifos. EPA expended significant effort seeking to have the Court find that it did not have jurisdiction to hear the case, and there was a dissent to the August 9, 2018 decision agreeing with EPA’s position. Since EPA acts under the authority of the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act (“FFDCA”) with respect to tolerances, reviewability is determined under that statute. EPA argues that under the FFDCA the matter is not ripe for judicial review until EPA responds to comments to the April 5, 2017 publication. Plaintiffs argue that the response to comments is not jurisdictional and the case should be allowed to proceed, especially since EPA has stated that they do not intend to respond further until the final registration review position is issued, likely in 2022.
EPA was so focused on the jurisdictional issue that it offered no substantive defense on the risks of chlorpyrifos. Of course any such defense would be hamstrung by the prior public positions supporting the tolerance revocation. It remains to be seen whether EPA offers any substantive defense in the rehearing.
It is worth stressing again how rare a grant of rehearing en bancis. The Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure set a high standard for granting rehearings, requiring that the original panel decision either directly conflict with another decision of the 9thCircuit or another Circuit Court, or that the issues presented are of “exceptional significance.” Since there does not appear to be another Circuit decision directly at odds, by implication a majority of the active judges in the Circuit must have agreed that the FFDCA and FIFRA issues presented by this case are of such significance.
Another interesting aspect of this litigation is that the author of the LULAC was U.S. District Court Judge New Rakoff from the Southern District of New York, sitting by designation. Judge Rakoff will not part of the en banc panel, which could shift the balance in the case. Given the time required for briefing, scheduling of argument and deliberation, it is likely that a decision will not be forthcoming until the latter half of 2019.