Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan made a pitch for additional resources to bring safer and more effective pesticides to market as he defended the agency from criticism on a wide range of issues in an appearance before the House Agriculture Committee Wednesday.

Regan said there is “a slew of new products and new technologies that we should be employing.” But EPA, whose staffing levels he said are “reflective of the 1980s and 1990s,” doesn’t have enough personnel to review them in a timely manner.

“I would love to make sure that all of our farmers have all the tools” they need, he told the panel.

A number of members asked Regan if EPA was ignoring input from USDA on pesticides. Regan insisted the agencies have a close working relationship, saying at one point that the “majority of USDA advice is taken.”

He frequently noted that the agency was forced to make decisions because of court orders — such as EPA’s decision to ban uses of chlorpyrifos on food crops. Rep. Brad Finstad, R-Minn., told Regan the court decision in that case would have allowed the agency to retain some uses.

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At the hearing, which was the first time since 2016 that an EPA administrator appeared before the committee, Regan faced repeated questions about the use of E15 this summer — the agency has proposed approving a petition allowing the fuel to be sold in eight states in 2024 — and other biofuel issues, proposed and final decisions to restrict pesticide use, and PFAS contamination.

  • Regan stopped short of saying when EPA would issue a decision on the use of E15 this summer. Rep. Zach Nunn, R-Iowa, said suppliers have only 11 more days to prepare, but Regan said he has not yet received enough evidence to make a decision.
  • Regan continued to defend the “waters of the U.S.” rule, saying it would provide durability and certainty for farmers — a characterization completely at odds with that of critics at the hearing who said it creates more uncertainty and that EPA should have waited until the Supreme Court ruled in a case challenging federal jurisdiction argued last year. As he has in the past, Regan said EPA did not want to wait until after that opinion. “We will respect the ruling of the Supreme Court, but we won’t be starting from scratch,” he said.
  • On PFAS, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances known as “forever chemicals,” Regan said EPA’s goal is to “go after those that are polluting these lands,” not farmers. Farm groups have expressed concern that the designation of PFAS as hazardous chemicals could make their farms Superfund sites. EPA also is “working with USDA to better understand PFAS uptake in plants and animals.” Regan said.
  • Both Republicans and Democrats criticized the agency on biofuels, both for the uncertainty surrounding summer E15 use and for proposed tailpipe standards that they said ignore renewable energy in favor of electric vehicles. “We see a tremendous market for biofuels,” Regan said, emphasizing that the volumes in the 2022 biofuel mandate volume targets are the largest ever finalized by the agency.
  • In addition to chlorpyrifos, Regan got questions about proposed restrictions on atrazine and rodenticides. EPA has proposed restricting the use of 11 rodenticides, meaning they could only be applied by certified applicators. On the rodenticides, he said, “We want to make this as practical as possible.”

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