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Four Senators Stall PRIA and Introduce Bill to Amend FFDCA -- Asserting “Safety First”
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By Lisa M. Campbell, James V. Aidala, and Margaret R. Graham

On July 18, 2017, four Senators (Tom Udall (D-NM); Benjamin Cardin (D-MD); Richard Blumenthal (D-CT); and Cory Booker (D-NJ)) submitted a letter to Senators Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), the Chairman and the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, regarding reauthorizing the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act (PRIA), worker protections, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) “legal duty to protect the public from unreasonable harm from pesticides.”  H.R. 1029, the Pesticide Registration Improvement Extension Act of 2017, which reauthorizes PRIA, was passed by the Agriculture Committee on February 16, 2017.  The letter states that it should include a “limited number of improvements” before being approved by the full Senate, including “adequately reflect[ing] important worker safety priorities” via “ensuring that the worker protection rules are implemented in a timely manner” and “finalizing the EPA staff recommended ban on chlorpyrifos.” The letter states the EPA’s decision to deny the petition to ban chlropyrifos should be “reversed immediately.”

More information on H.R. 1029 is available in our blog item House Agriculture Committee Passes Pesticide Registration Enhancement Act of 2017.

On July 25, 2017, Udall, Blumenthal, Booker, Cardin, and several other Senators introduced S. 1624, the Protect Children, Farmers, and Farmworkers from Nerve Agent Pesticides Act of 2017, which prohibits the use of chlorpyrifos on food and directs EPA to enter into a contract with the National Research Council to “conduct a cumulative and aggregate risk assessment that addresses all populations, and the most vulnerable subpopulations, including infants, children, and fetuses, of exposure to organophosphate pesticides.”  S. 1624 proposes to amend Section 402 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) to add to the list of adulterated food any food that “bears or contains chlorpyrifos, including any residue of chlorpyrifos, or any other added substance that is present on or in the food primarily as a result of the metabolism or other degradation of chlorpyrifos.”

Commentary

The Senate letter regarding issues with H.R. 1029 can possibly forestall the reauthorization of PRIA, which would cause many problems for EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP), as the PRIA funds are necessary for OPP to operate the pesticide regulatory program.

Politically, the hiccup on PRIA reauthorization indicates a further acceleration of the partisan sniping already sapping the ability of the Senate to reach agreement on any subject.  PRIA contributes to EPA’s budget, with specific funds directed to support farmworker protection.  As such, it has not proven to be controversial in past reauthorization efforts.  PRIA represents an industry contribution to support EPA’s regulatory reviews and farmworker protection programs, and without it, EPA’s budget will face further cuts.  Normally, democratic members of Congress would be expected to be against further cuts to EPA and applaud the more robust regulatory regime supported by the regulated community’s own fees.

The chlorpyrifos legislation also portends a new, more hostile operating environment for the current leadership of EPA.  It has been years since action on specific pesticide products has seen a serious legislative proposal; generally Congress is reluctant to engage on a specific regulatory conclusion which has complex scientific disputes at its core.

Opposition to current EPA leadership and Administration agendas appears to be so intense that partisan bickering will surround almost any EPA-related initiative brought to the Senate floor.