The Environmental Protection Agency has decided to withdraw proposals under review at the Office of Management and Budget to lower the minimum age of farmworkers and certified applicators who handle pesticides.
In an undated letter to Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the agency had decided to withdraw the two proposals. He did not say why, but Capitol Hill sources say it was part of a deal to ensure committee approval of the administration's nominee for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, Alexandra Dunn, who was confirmed by the Senate last week.
In his letter to Carper, Wheeler said EPA had been developing a proposal to address minimum age provisions in the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard rule (WPS), “including changes to the designated representative and minimum age provisions, and application exclusion zone (AEZ) provisions.” Wheeler said EPA had also been working on a proposal to lower the minimum age for certified applicators who handle restricted-use pesticides.
“Although the subject matter associated with these potential changes has been subject to wide-ranging public stakeholder meetings and public comments, EPA will withdraw its OMB submission to propose revisions to these rules and will not make any changes to the designated representative and minimum age provisions,” Wheeler said. “It may consider proposing revisions to the AEZ provision in the WPS rule, but to no other substantive provision in the WPS rule. If such a proposal is issued, it would be subject to a public notice and comment period of no less than 90 days.”
Farm groups had urged EPA to take another look at both rules because of concern about the provisions, particularly the designated representative (DR) requirement. In seeking an extension of the implementation deadline in late 2016, the American Farm Bureau Federation and National Association of State Departments of Agriculture said the DR provision “exceeds the scope of the WPS rule by depriving farmers of reasonable expectation of privacy for confidential business information” and that farmers could become targets of “potential harassment and public criticisms for lawful use of EPA-approved pesticides.”
“We were disappointed that EPA will not pursue its efforts to repeal the ‘designated representative’ provision,” Paul Schlegel, AFBF managing director of public policy, said in an email. “The agency had drafted and sent to OMB a rule to repeal that provision, which AFBF opposes. We had not been seeking changes in the minimum age provisions or the certified applicator rule. On the AEZ, we similarly have had concerns and hope they can be remedied.”
The purpose of the AEZ requirement is to protect people who may be in the area of a pesticide application.
CropLife America, whose former CEO, Jay Vroom, had pushed for changes to the WPS rule, issued a brief statement in response to a request from Agri-Pulse: "CropLife America supports robust worker protection standards and will continue to work closely with the EPA and all impacted stakeholders to ensure working conditions protect human health and the environment."
Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, said he was “stunned and relieved by this welcome reversal.” Environmental and farmworker rights groups had fought EPA’s attempt to lower the minimum ages in the rules from 18 to 16, and also opposed other changes to the WPS rule.
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