New Administration, New Focus

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As the U.S. Congressional agenda advances on a wide range of issues, several pieces of legislation are being considered by the House and Senate that put the spotlight on issues critical to agriculture and the crop protection industry. The agenda for 2010 will be formalized during the CropLife America annual meeting in Orlando later this month, but listed here are the key initiatives on the table for the organization.

Clean Water Act

The issue of Clean Water Act (CWA) National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits has taken center stage in 2009 as questions over permitting requirements for pesticide applications “on, over, or near water” threatens to hamper pesticide application.

CropLife America petitioned the entire Sixth Circuit Court to re-examine a three-judge panel’s January decision vacating EPA’s 2007 NPDES Final Rule for pesticides. CropLife America specifically objects to the panel’s classification as “pollutants” any residual left from the application of beneficial pesticides. Though the petition was denied, CropLife America continues to lead a stakeholder coalition that includes the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Cotton Council, and the American Forest and Paper Association, among others, and is working to educate Members of Congress and staff on the scope and potential implications of the Sixth Circuit’s decision.

Of great concern is that not only aquatic, but aerial and terrestrial applications could be impacted. This could put U.S. growers at an uncertain risk for liability and adversely affect agriculture as well as public health programs. While still considering its legal options, CropLife America is currently engaged with EPA in the creation of an NPDES permitting system to ensure that any general permit meets the critical needs of agriculture.

As in the previous Congress, members of the current House and Senate have introduced legislation to expand jurisdiction of CWA from “navigable waters” to “all waters of the United States.” The Waters Advocacy Coalition, of which CropLife America is a member, supports language that protects prior converted cropland. However, continued efforts to advance legislation to extend jurisdiction to “ephemeral waters” — to encompass roadside ditches to culverts — continues to be objectionable to agricultural allies and the shared concern such a significant expansion of federal authority under CWA would have on agriculture and other regulated activity.

Oceans 21

Another water-related issue being considered is H.R. 21, an act to implement a National Oceans Policy. Known as “Oceans 21,” H.R. 21 would create an Endangered Species Act-like regulatory program designed to protect the oceans with a significant inland impact on regulated activity like agriculture. In addition, this act would also codify for the first time the precautionary principle directly into a U.S. statute, directing agency action despite definitive scientific evidence.

The issue of climate change remains a priority for the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress despite less then overwhelming support for the proposed legislation. CropLife America continues to work closely with allies and stakeholders to ensure that the cost impact on agriculture is taken into consideration and existing conservation benefits/practices — like no-till farming, which has reduced overall energy consumption and soil erosion — are factored into any proposed climate change legislation that ultimately would be enacted. Though attempts to move this issue forward will continue in 2009, until a consensus can be reached, it is unlikely any such legislation will be enacted before 2010.

Progress on an issue critical to the fertilizer and crop protection industry was realized this summer when Congress approved $5.75 million to restore the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) chemical usage survey for Fiscal Year 2010. CLA and other agriculture allies have long advocated restoration of funding for the program that was previously suspended when budget limitations forced USDA to discontinue the collection of data in fiscal year 2008. NASS’ annual Chemical Usage Surveys on the use of crop protection chemicals and fertilizer in U.S. agriculture are relied upon by regulatory agencies and commodity and producer organizations alike to determine chemical use trends nationwide. The restoration of full funding ensures an accurate view of trends in use among chemicals and fertilizer in U.S. agriculture, not only for growers, who use such information to better serve the interests of agriculture, but for policy makers, USDA, and the general public. Its reinstatement prevents necessitating the outsourcing of data collection to high-cost, private, proprietary data services, which would have resulted in a restricted view of agricultural chemical use.

Scientific Integrity

CropLife America is also encouraged by the Obama administration’s commitment to enhance the integrity of scientific information used in the formation of public policy. CropLife America has been a vocal advocate of the President’s commitment to base his Administration’s decisions on the best available, scientifically valid data and evidence and ensure both transparency and the rule of law. CropLife America believes determining and setting criteria for the quality and validity of scientific evidence used to support regulatory decision-making allows for better coordination and effectiveness among all agencies that rely on the results of scientific analysis for direction — particularly those agencies that play such a critical role in developing and implementing policies that protect American agriculture.

Many complex and intertwined issues confront the crop protection industry and agriculture as a whole from energy availability and cost to conservation and climate change. CropLife America remains committed to focusing policy priorities on agriculture, and especially the regulation of crop protection products and tools that American growers and domestic and global food supply depends on.

Helmick is director, external communications for CropLife America in Washington, DC.

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