A Critical Year For Modern Agriculture

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America’s voters saw much action in the nation’s capital this past year, with an intense focus on health care and the economy, and a contentious mid-term election in which Democrats lost the House of Representatives. As we enter the New Year, the incoming 112th Congress must address many important issues in 2011.

A number of decisive items still stand at the forefront of the political debate and surely will continue to populate the Congressional calendar. However, issues such as chemical regulation and industry accountability, climate change and food safety are hot-button topics appearing on the docket with more frequency and increasingly gaining attention in the public’s eye. And in that realm, the crop protection industry sees areas of action in 2011, which will set precedent in modern agriculture for years to come.

As discussed last year, National Pollutant Discharge Eli­mination System (NPDES) permits still remain a pressing topic for our industry. CropLife America was disappointed in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to not review the 6th Circuit Court’s ruling that NPDES permits were required for four types of pesticide applications “to, over or near” waters of the U.S., per the Clean Water Act. We are closely involved in the creation of the final permit, to be issued in April, and working to ensure that modern agriculture’s voice is heard in this front. Even as the final permit is under creation and review, there are other items related to NPDES permitting that are worth consideration in the coming year.

The U.S. House and Senate have spoken out in support of agriculture and introduced three bills which aim to correct the 6th Circuit’s decision (S. 3735, H.R. 6087 and H.R. 6273), and re-establish primacy of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) over the Clean Water Act. All three bills would amend federal statute by stating that no federal permit is required to use pesticides that are applied in compliance with their FIFRA labels. CropLife America will continue to closely monitor this legislation in 2011 and work with lawmakers to pursue a permanent solution that preserves FIFRA primacy and restores regulatory certainty.

EPA released a proposed information collection request (ICR) in November estimating that the upcoming NPDES pesticide permit program will take over a million hours and cost more than $50 million a year to collect, report and evaluate information. While these numbers in EPA’s estimate look large in aggregate and on the surface, we believe that EPA has grossly underestimated the real cost of NPDES permitting. It suggests that, annually, it will take the estimated 365,000 permittees and 45 permitting authorities about 987,904 hours and 45,809 hours, and cost $50,109,969 and $1,740,754, respectively, to implement and comply with the permit.

Other Issues

The Endangered Species Act (ESA), and implementation of Biological Opinions (BiOps) issued by the Na­tional Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (the Services), remains another “must-watch” issue in 2011. The ESA consultation process between EPA and the Services has proven itself to be broken. CropLife America supports an ESA consultation process that is time-certain and based on sound scientific principles. In addition to the many industry petitions filed in this matter over the course of the last year, we stand ready to work with all parties to develop a consultation process that responsibly re-establishes and implements the statutory requirements of ESA Section 7.

Another priority issue that will continue to occupy CropLife America and its membership is pesticide spray drift. EPA proposed in 2009 that spray drift labels include the phrase “do not apply this product in a manner that results in spray [or dust] drift that could cause an adverse effect to people or any other non-target organism.” Safety risk factors already built into the existing label language protect against adverse affects from spray drift and the proposed language from EPA is laden with the precautionary principle. In order to avoid unreasonable burdens and unpredictable litigation, CropLife America believes that input from stakeholders should be sought to craft a realistic policy that integrates use of drift-reduction technologies and remains consistent with FIFRA standards. While EPA has acknowledged the need to re-evaluate their proposals, this issue remains unresolved and requires attention.

And to add to a busy 2011, the new Congress will also begin consideration of reauthorizing the Pesticide Reauthorization Improvement Renew­al Act (PRIA), which expires in 2012. CropLife America supports PRIA as it improves the predictability and speed of the pesticide registration process, and works closely with the Industry Fees Coalition and EPA. However, we do caution that proposals for any additional registration and tolerance fees would negate PRIA’s intent of providing additional resources for EPA’s pesticide registration efforts and a more predictable evaluation process.

Yet even as CropLife America stands ready to address these issues in 2011, we also anticipate preliminary work in the writing of the 2012 Farm Bill. Legislators will begin to fully address the Farm Bill next year and these items all may very well play an important role in the shaping of agricultural policy for years to come. While examining short-term issues in agriculture we also need to look ahead to anticipate future challenges, ranging from climate change to rural community revitalization, in order to construct a comprehensive and effective Farm Bill. We plan on exploring this topic at our National Po­licy Conference.

Greenwood is executive vice president of government relations and public affairs for CropLife America, Washington, DC.

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