Clearing A Path For Agricultural Progress

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While farm policy is crafted and enacted in Washington, DC, it is felt across the country. This reality rings especially true as leaders in the House and Senate strive to enact a broad five-year farm bill that encompasses a number of important provisions for farmers, ranchers and agricultural programs.

Despite the unorthodox path of the farm bill in this Congress, the House and Senate have both passed their respective versions of farm policy legislation and have procedurally taken the first steps toward establishing a conference committee on the legislation. CropLife America (CLA), the national association representing the crop protection industry, remains engaged year-round in a number of legislative issues on behalf of its members and farmers around the U.S.

This year, CLA also proudly celebrates its 80th anniversary as an association as well as eight decades of progress within the crop protection industry. In the past 80 years, the industry has helped to drive productive agriculture by supporting modern farming innovations. As CLA focuses on relevant policies and issues during this milestone year, we also look forward to what great achievements the next 80 years may bring.

Endangered Species Act Consultations

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) and its intersection with the primary federal statute for crop protection products, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), remains a top priority for CLA. The regulatory overlap, which creates inefficiencies for all stakeholders with no species advancement, also stands to impact farmers and ranchers through product use limitations, the establishment of buffer zones and other unwarranted restrictions. Currently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates crop protection products under FIFRA, while two other agencies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), review EPA’s work under the ESA with different requirements and mandates. Despite an exhaustive regulatory program administered by EPA, which includes specific consideration of threatened and endangered species, chemical registrants must then submit to a separate review by “the Services.”

The current consultation process is deeply flawed due to the duplicative regulatory actions that take place between EPA and the Services. Additionally, disagreements related to how ESA consultations should be conducted have culminated in costly lawsuits that threaten to limit agricultural productivity. One example is the ESA “mega” lawsuit Center for Biological Diversity and Pesticide Action Network North America v. EPA. The plaintiffs originally sought to restrict the use of valuable crop protection and public health products for American farmers and consumers by alleging that the existing and long-standing registration of more than 380 chemicals may have negatively impacted 214 species in 49 states. The case was dismissed in April 2013, but plaintiffs have since submitted an amended complaint.

In April, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released a report, “Assessing Risks to Endangered and Threatened Species from Pesticides,” that provided detailed recommendations on revising the process by which EPA and the Services conduct risk assessments under the ESA, while adhering to the pesticide registration process mandated by FIFRA. CLA views the NAS report, which was requested by the Obama Administration in 2011, as an independent, third-party reaffirmation that the process for pesticide consultations is broken. The report is also an opportunity to address and resolve the multiple outstanding issues which could lead to greater regulatory certainty for environmental organizations, farmers and registrants.

[Pollinators: A Science-Based Approach]

The Administration requested some time to review the NAS findings and recommendations, and we expect to hear an official comment in the very near future. In the meantime, CLA continues to work with Congress where placeholder language in the farm bill would also speak to the dysfunction at the intersection of ESA and FIFRA.

Clean Water Act (CWA), Jurisdictional Waters

EPA and state water regulators have been implementing the Clean Water Act (CWA) National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits for aquatic pesticide applications since 2011. The permits have proved to be duplicative and burdensome, and have demonstrated no additional health or environmental benefits. Due to an erroneous court ruling, applicators must obtain CWA permits for applications to, over or near water, although these applications are already made in accordance with labeling restrictions under FIFRA.

As states continue to work through ongoing resource challenges stemming from the implementation of NPDES permits, CLA continues to lead coalition efforts to clarify in the CWA that NPDES permits are not required for certain aquatic pesticide applications. The current farm bill being debated in the Congress this summer includes the text of H.R. 935, which would amend the CWA. While the fate of the farm bill remains uncertain, there continues to exist bipartisan and bicameral support for this clarification in the statute. In the Senate, Senators Hagan (D-NC) and Crapo (R-ID) have introduced companion legislation to H.R. 935.

Ultimately, all of our efforts in Washington revolve around the U.S. farmer and his or her ability to successfully adapt to technology advancements, meet environmental standards and face the challenge of rising global population demands. Crop protection products will be a crucial part of solving that equation. Modern agriculture continues to be one of the most exciting, vital and healthy industries in our country. In a profession already beset by so many challenges, CLA strives to clear a path for agricultural success through legislative engagement.

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

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