Pesticide relief in Farm Bill
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April 20, 2018
Pesticide relief in Farm Bill

A mere 4 days after the 2018 Agriculture and Nutrition Act (Farm Bill, H.R. 2) was introduced in the House, all 26 Republicans on the Chamber’s Agriculture Committee voted to approve the bill for consideration by the full House while all of the Committee’s 20 Democrats voted against it. The bill has many environmental measures, including continuation of the Conservation Loan and Loan Guarantee Program, which helps farmers and ranchers implement conservation measures on their land. Other conservation provisions that are “maintained and strengthened” include the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Regional Conservation Partnership Program, Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, and Small Watershed Rehabilitation Program.

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Committee approval was welcomed by most agricultural associations.

“The Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 takes us one step closer to bringing certainty to families who face the toughest farm economy in more than a decade,” said the American Farm Bureau Federation.

No requirement for ESA consultations

In contrast, environmental groups found multiple reasons to oppose the bill. Some groups called attention to provisions that would expedite EPA’s registration of pesticides at the expense of protection of the environment and endangered species. Specifically:

  • Section 9111 (Registration of Pesticides) states that in registering a pesticide, the EPA will no longer be required to consult or communicate with the secretary of the Interior or the secretary of Commerce when making such determination, unless otherwise petitioned to consult by the registrant of the pesticide. Those two agencies oversee the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service (collectively, the Services), the two entities most responsible for the implementation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the proposed section would “completely exempt the EPA from the requirements of the ESA, allowing the Agency to ignore the impact of toxic pesticides on endangered wildlife.”

The section does state that in any pesticide registration review, the EPA must use the best scientific and commercial information available (including information provided by the Services) and consider all restrictions on use when writing the criteria for the registration of a pesticide.

  • Section 9118 (Discharge of Pesticides) amends Section 402 of the Clean Water Act by adding new subsection(s) to prevent the EPA or a state from requiring a permit for a discharge into navigable waters of a pesticide authorized under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) except under listed circumstances (e.g., a discharge resulting from application of a pesticide in violation of FIFRA). Currently, pesticide applications to navigable water (waters of the United States) must be permitted under EPA’s Pesticide General Permit.
  • Section 9121 (Methyl Bromide) allows up to 20 metric tons of methyl bromide to be used for any “emergency” event. Methyl bromide is an odorless, colorless gas used to control a wide variety of pests in agriculture and shipping, including fungi, weeds, insects, nematodes (or roundworms), and rodents. The EPA has agreed to restrict the use of methyl bromide and reduce the amount used each year because it depletes the ozone layer. “The incredibly broad definition of ‘emergency’ opens it up to widespread abuse,” says the Natural Resources Defense Council.

If it is approved by the full House—as soon as early May 2018, according to its sponsors—H.R. 2 will be considered by the Senate. The bill would be effective through fiscal year 2023.

H.R. 2 is here.  

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