The Senate has unanimously passed a bill to reauthorize the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act, which allows the Environmental Protection Agency to charge fees for pesticide registration that fund about one-third of the operations of the Office of Pesticide Programs.

The action took place Thursday evening after the Senate passed its version of the farm bill. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was the sole vote needed on the PRIA bill because an agreement on the legislation had been reached beforehand.

The Senate legislation includes an amendment from Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., addressing rules to protect farmworkers from pesticides and put in place requirements for state programs certifying pesticide applicators. The amended bill also would reauthorize PRIA through 2023, the same period as the House bill that cleared that chamber last year. The Senate bill now goes back to the House for approval.

Udall had put a hold on the Senate bill after it cleared the Agriculture Committee last June, seeking answers from EPA on its decision in March 2017 not to restrict use of the insecticide chlorpyrifos despite an earlier proposal to revoke food tolerances. The amended bill does not include any language on chlorpyrifos.

Udall and environmental groups who have worked with industry groups in the past to reauthorize PRIA also became concerned about EPA’s decision this year to consider revising minimum-age requirements in farmworker protection and certified pesticide applicator rules issued in 2015.

The bill that passed the Senate was amended by Udall with language requiring EPA to implement those two laws without making any changes until Oct. 1, 2021. The one exception is that the agency may propose changes to the Application Exclusion Zone in the farmworker protection rule. The AEZ is an “area surrounding the pesticide application equipment that must be free of all persons other than appropriately trained and equipped handlers during pesticide applications,” according to EPA.

The Udall amendment also addresses an issue in the farmworker protection rule that had raised concerns within the farming community: a provision allowing workers to appoint a “designated representative” to obtain data on pesticide applications.

The Senate PRIA bill directs the Government Accountability Office to prepare a report by Oct. 1, 2021, on the use of the designated representative, “including the effect of that use on the availability of pesticide application and hazard information and worker health and safety.” The report must include “recommendations to prevent the misuse of pesticide application and hazard information, if that misuse is identified.”

“The Senate came together in bipartisan fashion to advance PRIA and preserve critical protections for children and farmworkers,” Udall said in a news release. “We must maintain these essential safeguards for the people who toil day in and day out to help put food on all of our tables – safeguards which protect almost half a million young kids working on farms from handling toxic pesticides and guarantee farmworkers have access to safety information about the chemicals they are exposed to on the job.”

CropLife America President and CEO Jay Vroom praised Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chairman of the Agriculture Committee, and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., for getting the bill out of the Senate.

"Although this has been a long road, we are confident that the House and Senate will work together with all stakeholders to advance this critical piece of legislation to the President’s desk," Vroom said. "PRIA is integral to ensuring a stable source of funding for the EPA Office of Pesticide Programs’ registration activities and related programs, as well as ensuring regulatory timeline certainty for our members."

Mae Wu, a senior attorney in the Natural Resources Defense Council’s health program, said she was pleased with the passage of the Senate bill. “We hope the House will move quickly” to pass the updated legislation, she said.

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