EPA & Threats to Pesticide Review

A series of actions by EPA during the Obama administration appeared to indicate a bias for decisions that were not science-based. In response, NPC and other organizations in agriculture grew increasingly concerned about the EPA’s approach to pesticide policy as registrations were facing an unpredictable and non-scientific review process.

As the Trump administration took office, their intention to implement a “regulatory reset” across a variety of federal agencies including EPA became clear. Part of that policy shift includes returning EPA to a standard of sound science, not popular opinion, as the basis for making decisions on pesticides.

In the development of the case for the cancellation of Chlorpyrifos, the Obama EPA discarded thousands of laboratory studies that supported the safety of the product, in favor of epidemiological studies that lacked similar scientific rigor. In taking this action, neither EPA nor the public were able to review the data that the epidemiological studies were based upon.

In response to this action, NPC took strong exception and indicated that when laboratory studies are available they should be given priority by federal agencies, policy review panels and government experts. Ultimately, the EPA under the Trump administration reversed the action to eliminate the tolerances for Chlorpyrifos and instead implemented the comprehensive reviews that NPC, CropLife and a variety of other industry experts advised. Returning to this balanced approach for pesticide regulation is a very positive step that will reinforce the strength of the regulatory process and restore confidence by the registrants and end-users.

NPC has also been active in pressing for full funding of EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs and for the full reauthorization of the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act (PRIA). That office and its supporting legislation are essential to ensuring that pesticide registrations and their required reviews are completed in a timely manner, so that farmers maintain access to safe and vital crop protection tools. The PRIA reauthorization bill has received bipartisan approval in the House. Unfortunately, it has not been considered in the Senate due to a “hold” placed on the bill by a Senator with concerns about an unrelated trade matter. NPC is hopeful that the PRIA reauthorization that was included in the House version of the Farm Bill will be maintained in a conference report or any other viable legislative vehicle. The ongoing lack of a fully reauthorized PRIA will hamper EPA’s ability to devote the necessary resources to the registration and review processes.

Pollinator HealthGovernment officials at the EPA are under ongoing pressure from environmental activists to curtail the use of neonicotinoids in agriculture, claiming that they are primarily responsible for declining health in pollinators. Scientific evidence points to the fact that a number of stress factors may be impacting the health of pollinators and that the impact of pesticide use on bee health is being overstated. The potato industry and pesticide registrants understand the importance of pollinators and are taking actions to address the factors that may be impacting pollinator health.

Scientists at USDA and EPA jointly reviewed the status of pollinators and sponsored a conference for all stakeholders. In the Report on the National Stakeholders Conference on Honey Bee Health issued in May 2013 following the conference, the agencies identified four categories of pollinator stressors: 1. nutrition; 2. pesticides; 3. parasites and pathogens (including the Varroa mite); and 4. genetics, biology and breeding. Loss of habitat and poor hive management has also been identified as stressors of pollinators.

Increasingly, the facts point to decreased high quality forage available to pollinators and the presence of the Varroa mite in U.S. bee populations as the key stressors. Potato growers across the U.S. are responding by including plants that are pollinator food sources in Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) plantings and working with the Feed a Bee Initiative, in a partnership with NPC, to plant forage plots for pollinators near or adjacent to production fields.

During the Trump administration the White House has not made reducing or eliminating the use of neonicotinoids a priority. The current pressure on EPA is largely a result of court cases and other actions initiated by environmental groups.

Endangered Species Act (ESA) Reform Given the Trump administration’s focus on regulatory reform, there is general optimism that some positive progress can be made in regard to the Endangered Species Act. The negative impact that environmental activist lawsuits and adverse regulatory decisions have generated under ESA are constraining reasonable activities by the agriculture industry in managing its natural resources.

For this effort to be successful, a two-pronged effort is generally assumed to be necessary that will involve regulatory reform within EPA, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Fish & Wildlife Service (“the Services”), along with legislative reforms undertaken by Congress.

The House version of the 2018 Farm Bill contains provisions that would fundamentally reform the interaction between EPA and the Services. It is currently unclear whether those provisions will be included in a final Farm Bill conference report.

Updated July 2018