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Daily News Blog

29
Jul

With Industry Support, a Republican U.S. Senator Introduces Bill to Codify Easier Access to Ag Pesticides–As If It Wasn’t Easy Enough

(Beyond Pesticides, July 29, 2022) Perhaps attempting to capitalize on the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision limiting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) ability to regulate carbon emissions, Senator Roger Marshall of Kansas (R) has filed a bill in the Senate that seeks to limit the agency’s ability to regulate pesticide use. The so-called EPA Transparency for Agriculture Products Act of 2022 is touted, on Senator Marshall’s website, as “a comprehensive bill to prevent . . . EPA . . . from overregulating essential pesticides that the ag industry heavily depends upon.” In truth — and perversely, given that he is a medical doctor — the bill aims to provide more license to use toxic pesticides that harm human health, the environment broadly, and ecosystems already under assault from toxic, synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, habitat destruction, and climate change.

Couched in language about “feeding the world,” the bill’s central concern seems to be financial impacts or challenges that farms (a good portion of which, let us remember, are giant, well-resourced agribusinesses) may face because of EPA pesticide regulations. Those regulations, of course, are promulgated by the agency to protect people, organisms, ecosystems, and natural resources from harmful impacts and risks from pesticide use (however well or poorly the agency manages to do that for specific pesticides).

The bill purports to “ensure pesticide registrations and rulemaking is (sic) based on proven science.” What it appears to do is throw monkey wrenches into EPA’s processes. How? By giving agro-industrial interests more rein and weight; by inserting economic considerations into EPA’s review processes (NB: this is not part of the agency’s mission or charge); by pulling into review processes “input” from other federal agencies; by dragging out effective dates of regulatory action; and by setting short deadlines for registration reviews, i.e., telling EPA it cannot employ more than two 60-day extensions for review of a label or labeling change, and then making approval of any such label automatic if EPA fails to take action on it before the final deadline (functionally, the end of 120 days of extension).

Among the bill’s over-reaching features is a requirement that the director of the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) conduct an “interagency review of any proposed interim, interim, or final registration decision regarding nonvoluntary, more restrictive changes to a pesticide label under a registration review.” Another is stringing out the effective date by which an interim or final registration decision (issued as part of a registration review of nonvoluntary, more restrictive changes to a pesticide label, including a revocation or cancellation of a registration) shall take effect to “one year after the date on which the interim decision or final decision, as applicable, and any comments submitted by the Secretary of Agriculture, are published in the Federal Register.”

Further, the bill wants to make EPA use industry data as part of its basis for registration review processes: “The Administrator shall base any decision issued as part of the registration review process on Department of Agriculture agronomic use data, commercially available agronomic use data, and industry agronomic use data” [emphasis by Beyond Pesticides].

The bill also seeks to constrain judicial purview over cases involving pesticides:

  • In issuing a decision that would result in more restrictive changes to a pesticide label, including a revocation or cancellation of a registration, the court shall allow the continued use of the registration through the following growing season.
  • Before issuing a decision that would result in more restrictive changes to a pesticide label, including a revocation or cancellation of a registration, the court shall conduct a de novo review to determine whether there is a viable and affordable alternative to control the same target pest.

In addition, Senator Marshall’s bill wants to boost the role of economic considerations in agency review of pesticides. It would add to a section of FIFRA (the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, the statute that governs the registration, distribution, sale, and use of pesticides) the mandate that the Agriculture Science Committee of EPA’s Science Advisory Board “review any decision or advice issued by the Scientific Advisory Panel (A) to determine whether the decision or advice would have an economic impact of more than $100,000 on the agricultural industry; and (B) if the decision or advice would have an economic impact of more than $100,000 on the agricultural industry, to consider and describe that economic impact.”

Again, this “consideration of economic impacts” is not part of EPA’s mission, which is “to protect human health and the environment.” In addition, that $100,000 figure is laughable when applied to “the agricultural industry.” Virtually any change could have that level of impact, given that there are approximately two million farms in the country, as well as all the adjunct businesses that are considered part of the “industry.”

Senator Marshall extolled the bill on his website, saying, “At a time when Kansas’ farmers and ranchers are coping with record inflation and broken supply chains, the last thing they need is the EPA revoking or severely limiting traditional farming tools and methods. Access to safe, effective pesticides is vital for allowing farmers to continue to efficiently and sustainably feed, clothe, and fuel the world.”

To approximately no one’s surprise, agrochemical and agro-industrial groups were immediately “all in” on this bill, and fell over themselves offering glowing commentary for use by the senator on his website. A few examples:

• The president of the Kansas soybean association said, “It’s simple, farmers need critical crop protection tools like glyphosate to feed the world. Farmers use it on 40% of all acres in the US and it enables more than $50 billion dollars of production annually. We appreciate this bill that will provide farmers with continued access to these and other crop protection tools prospectively.”

• The CEO of the Kansas Corn Growers Association offered this: “EPA is using regulatory tricks to drastically limit farmers (sic) use of critical inputs like Atrazine. A recent proposal would restrict its use on corn in almost all of Kansas leaving no cost-effective way to control herbicide resistance. EPA should refocus its attention on sound science and transparency is key to that.”

• The president of the Kansas Agribusiness Retailers Association and CEO of the Kansas Grain and Feed Association said, “Thank you, Senator Marshall for standing at the forefront in defense of our nation’s farmers who depend on these indispensable crop protection products allowing them to reliably feed, fuel and clothe the world.”

Prior to filing this bill, the senator was involved in a Zoom call in January with EPA Administrator Michael Regan and other agency officials to “discuss the problematic direction EPA is head (sic) with decisions that restrict access to safe and necessary crop protection products.” In February, he and other conservative senators (Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Mike Braun of Indiana, and Joni Ernst of Iowa) sent a letter to EPA Administrator Regan that called on him “to redirect the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs away from their current propensity for overly precautious, blanket bans and severe restrictions of necessary crop protection tools back towards a regular, risk-based regulatory process.” They specifically advocated for more lax regulation of chlorpyrifos, dicamba, glyphosate, and triazine herbicides (such as atrazine and simazine) — all very toxic and problematic pesticides for human and environmental health — and criticized EPA’s approach to Biological Evaluations required under the Endangered Species Act.

In a May 2022 hearing in the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry, Senator Marshall stressed to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack his insistence on the importance of the “crop protection” herbicide glyphosate; he urged Sec. Vilsack to “stand up to the Environment Protection Agency’s position on glyphosate that will restrict farmers’ access to the pesticide.” Then, in June 2022, Senator Marshall and conservative Republican senators Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, and James Lankford of Oklahoma sent a letter to President Biden calling on him to “defend” glyphosate and other pesticides.

The senator and his ilk appear, through this bill, to want to reduce significantly the constraints and limits on pesticide regulation. In placing conventional agriculture’s “need” for toxic pesticides at the heart of this bill and above the well-being of people and the natural world, the senator betrays not only disregard for that well-being, but also, a distinct lack of understanding of the broader agricultural universe in the U.S.

As Beyond Pesticides Executive Director Jay Feldman has pointed out, “The information on ‘need’ comes from those who are dependent on chemical-intensive management practices and, in fact, have established management practices that increase dependency over time. On the other hand, the fact that there is a burgeoning organic market not reliant on toxic chemicals does not seem to factor into the calculation of ‘need.’ The bottom line is that there has to be a concerted and affirmative effort to wean agriculture from its toxic chemical dependency if this country is going to protect people and Nature from health threats, biodiversity collapse, and the climate emergency. This legislation takes us in the wrong direction and leads us down a path with dire consequences. We should be making it more difficult to use fossil-fuel-based, toxic chemicals in agriculture, not easier.”

Beyond Pesticides has written about the relationship between the climate emergency and the toxic chemical (and plastic) pollution crisis here and here. Advancing a livable future requires a rapid realignment on both the toxics and climate fronts. Senator Marshall — who is an Obstetrician/Gynecologist, so one might think he would have a sense of the devastating impacts pesticides can have on a developing fetus — appears ignorant, willfully or otherwise, of these realities. The senator, who refers to himself on his website as “Doc Marshall,” has perhaps forgotten the oath he took as a medical student, one of the promises of which is primum non nocere — first, do no harm.

Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres, recently captured the stakes of what we are up against: “We have a choice. Collective action or collective suicide. It is in our hands.” One is hard pressed not to conclude that the senator and his Republican compatriots — inexplicably — favor the latter choice.

Sources: https://www.wibw.com/2022/07/21/new-bill-aims-safeguard-pesticides-farmers-epa/ and https://www.marshall.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/new-sen-marshall-bill-aims-to-maintain-availability-of-vital-crop-protection-tools/#:~:text=(Washington%2C%20D.C.%2C%20July%2021,ag%20industry%20heavily%20depends%20upon

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

 

 

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