WASHINGTON, May 11, 2017 - The Senate Agriculture Committee plans to move a bill reauthorizing the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act “in a matter of weeks,” committee chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said following a hearing on PRIA legislation today.
Roberts added that was his “hope,” saying he “can’t be more definitive. We have an outrage of the week around here.”
The committee heard from a variety of interested parties about the benefits of PRIA, which establishes fees for registration and re-registration of pesticides, food tolerances, and dozens of other actions authorized by the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. The fees account for between 30 and 35 percent of the budget for EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, according to acting OPP director Rick Keigwin, who testified in support of the legislation along with Sheryl Kunickis, who heads USDA’s Office of Pest Management Policy.
The PRIA reauthorization bill, called the Pesticide Registration Enhancement Act (PREA), is the fourth iteration of legislation first passed in 2003. The House of Representatives passed PREA by voice vote in March.
Also testifying were Gary Black, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Agriculture; Dale Murden, past chair of National Sorghum Producers; Jay Vroom, president and CEO of CropLife America, and Virginia Ruiz, director of occupational and environmental health at Farmworker Justice.
Vroom’s and Ruiz’s groups are both part of a coalition supporting reauthorization of the law, which in addition to fees and deadlines, also supports improved safety standards for farmworkers and pesticide safety education for farm laborers and their families, Keigwin said.
Some other PRIA coalition members include the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, Natural Resources Defense Council and Biotechnology Innovation Organization. In a May 3 letter to the committee, the coalition said the legislation “increases and clarifies categories of EPA actions covered under the law and protects funds for research and grant programs for worker safety and training, (and) provides assurance that registration actions will be reviewed in a timely manner.”
There was some disagreement over PRIA’s effectiveness at the hearing. Keigwin said that before PRIA, OPP dealt with “large backlogs” of pesticide decisions, forcing companies to “establish priorities for which of their applications the EPA would review first.” Since the law went into effect in 2004, he said that OPP has met its deadlines on 98 percent of the 20,000 decisions it has made.
But Vroom said that while PRIA has resulted in quicker decisions, there has been some backsliding. A CropLife America analysis of PRIA actions completed between 2012 and 2014 showed that “new active ingredient approvals took between 946 days and 1,137 days, on average, during those three years – compared to the PRIA target of 730 days,” he said in written testimony. He explained that if EPA meets a deadline that has been renegotiated with a company, it considers the deadline to have been met.
Vroom also said Endangered Species Act requirements are siphoning off OPP resources. Lawsuits that used to focus on old chemistries are now holding up approval of new products, and compliance with the ESA, including interagency consultations on pesticides’ effects on species, has increased OPP’s workload by 15-20 percent, Vroom said.
Kunickis also took aim at the ESA, answering affirmatively when Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., asked whether ESA and FIFRA regulations were “duplicative.”
In her written testimony, Kunickis said that “EPA is currently required to evaluate the ecological impact of pesticides under the ESA, even though FIFRA, the law that directly regulates the registration of pesticides, already requires EPA to prevent ‘any unreasonable risk to man or the environment’ – a standard which could possibly consider endangered species.”
The Center for Biological Diversity criticized Kunickis in a press release issued shortly after the hearing, saying that Kunickis’ “assertion ignores the fact that the EPA has systemically failed to protect endangered species under (FIFRA) for the past 30 years.”
Responding to questions from Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., Kunickis also said that it would be helpful if USDA could formally participate in federal ESA consultations, which are restricted to the “action agency” – in the case of the pesticide consultations, EPA – and the Fish and Wildlife Service and/or the National Marine Fisheries Service, depending on which species are likely to be affected by the action in question.
“I think it would be extremely helpful to have a voice at the table on behalf of our agricultural producers,” Kunickis said, to which Heitkamp responded, “I do, too,” prompting Roberts to say, “I can anticipate a Heitkamp amendment to our reauthorization process.”
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