On April 8, 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) to solicit information on the current pesticide exemption provision process. 86 Fed. Reg. 18232. EPA announced its intent to issue this ANPR on January 19, 2021, as discussed here. The issuance of the ANPR was paused following the Biden Administration’s Executive Orders requiring agencies to review their rules and policies to ensure consistency with the current Administration’s environmental policies.
EPA states that it is soliciting comments and suggestions to determine whether regulatory and policy changes are needed to improve the exemption provisions for pesticides that may be considered minimum risk under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). EPA states that changes to the current process could make the implementation and evaluation of the exemption provisions more efficient.
Comments on the ANPR are due before July 7, 2021. Discussed below are the issues raised in the ANPR for stakeholder consideration and changes made since the ANPR was first announced in January 2021.
The ANPR is generally the same as what was first announced in January 2021, in which EPA states it is seeking public input for two main categories:
- Whether EPA should be streamlining the petition process and revisions to how EPA evaluates the potential minimum risk active and inert substances, factors used in classes of exemptions, state implementation of the minimum risk program, and the need for any future exemptions or modifications to current exemptions; and
- Whether EPA should consider amending existing exemptions or adding any new classes of pesticidal substances for exemption.
One important difference is that the April 2021 ANPR now includes a discussion of environmental justice. EPA states that Executive Order 12989 directed agencies, “to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law, to identify and address, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its actions on minority and low-income populations.” EPA states in the ANPR that it has not identified any such disproportionate effects, since this ANPR is soliciting comments and is not proposing any specific actions or regulatory changes.
Specific questions posed that relate to environmental justice include the following:
- Given the identified minimum risk characteristics of these products and anticipated low impacts on communities, are current approaches effective for seeking input from the public and stakeholders, including state, local, tribal, and territorial officials, scientists, labor unions, environmental advocates, and environmental justice organizations? Are there particular approaches that are more or less effective?
- Are there other policies that EPA should consider in determining whether a substance should be exempt from FIFRA regulation via the Minimum Risk Pesticide Listing Program? For example, should EPA consider additional environmental justice and pollution prevention policies?
- When considering products that are a “minimum risk” to public health and the environment, should the product also be considered to be of low impact to all communities, including low-income and minority populations? Please explain why or why not.
- When considering whether a category or class of products are a “minimum risk” to public health and the environment, should the category or class of products also be considered as being of low impact to all communities, including low-income and minority populations? Are there other factors that EPA should consider?
Other questions posed that have not changed substantively since the 2021 ANPR include the following:
- Do you have any suggestions for improving the processes for initiating a review of a substance or for implementing a decision that a substance may be used or may no longer be used in a minimum risk pesticide process? Please explain how changes could increase efficiencies.
- EPA broadly requests comment on the utility, clarity, functioning, and implementation of the provisions in 40 C.F.R. Section 152.25.
- Are there other pesticidal substances or systems (e.g., peat) that EPA should consider adding as new classes at 40 C.F.R. Section 152.25 for exemption from registration under FIFRA? How do these other pesticidal substances or systems meet the existing factors?
- What other factors should EPA consider in determining whether a category or class of products should be exempted from FIFRA regulation? Please explain how these factors should be weighed in a determination.
- Have the changes to the federal program in the 2015 rule, which provided specific chemical identifiers and labeling changes, made it easier for manufacturers, the public, and federal, state, and tribal inspectors to identify specific chemicals used in minimum risk pesticide products?
- Are there state challenges to implementing the minimum risk program? Can EPA address those challenges with changes to its program? Do states have suggestions for improvements to the program?
Given the change in Administrations and the “pause” that was imposed and further review that was required before this proposed rulemaking could be issued, it was unclear whether EPA would issue this proposal.
Now that EPA has issued the ANPR, it is important for stakeholders to review these issues carefully and consider submitting comments to identify challenges with the current regulatory criteria and procedures, as well as potential modifications that could improve the regulatory process.
EPA states: “Should EPA decide to move forward with changes to the program, the next step would be to identify, develop and evaluate specific options for amending the current regulations in 40 CFR 152.25, and issue a proposed rule for public review and comment.” EPA also notes that with regard to environmental justice, it is seeking public input on the consideration of environmental justice concerns in the context of the issues raised in the ANPR, and that “if and when the Agency proposes regulatory options regarding exemptions under FIFRA or the related procedures, EPA will seek additional input from the public, as appropriate.”