Bergeson & Campbell, P.C. serves small, medium, and large pesticide product registrants and other stakeholders in the agricultural and biocidal sectors, in virtually every aspect of pesticide law, policy, science, and regulation.
On June 20, 2014, the White House issued a “Presidential Memorandum -- Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators.” The strategy is directed to all federal agencies and is designed to “expand Federal efforts and take new steps to reverse pollinator losses and help restore populations to healthy levels.” The text of the memorandum lists a number of goals and comments on pollinator health, and has a focus on setting up a government-wide task force, along with directives about research into the factors affecting pollinator health and suggestions to improve pollinator habitat. The role and possible impacts of pesticides on pollinators are mentioned, but are not prominent. Specifically, the memorandum mentions that one of the strategies to consider is to include “identification of existing and new methods and best practices to reduce pollinator exposure to pesticides, and new cost-effective ways to control bee pests and diseases.” Finally, it directs the new federal task force to report back to President Obama in six months.
Six months from the date of the memorandum is drawing near (December 20) -- so now, where are we? In summary, remarks by those leading the task force (staff from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)) report that the response to the memorandum is now planned to be sent to the White House in draft form around the due date (the Holidays probably allowing for some schedule wiggle room), and that the public will be allowed to comment on the suggestions. That might mean a public release of the draft plan sometime in early Spring 2015, a date that coincidentally could dovetail with the beginning of the use season for commercial honeybee services (the almond crop in California begins to need bees around February depending on weather, temperature, and related considerations). No public release of the strategy is expected for at least 90 days or more. Private conversations and trade press reports indicate some slowness in convening and coordinating such a large and diverse group of agencies, as some agencies appear reluctant to participate in significant ways or otherwise are not sure exactly how or what their contribution to the effort should be (that, of course, is one of the main points of the exercise).
EPA and USDA have hosted two “listening sessions” on the memo -- on November 12 and 17 -- in Washington, D.C. Little detail was presented by the hosts; mostly it was open microphone with no advanced sign-up, so participants gave remarks in person or by phone. EPA and USDA did tell the audience that they would receive written comments on the memorandum if submitted by November 24. All of this public input will apparently go into the process of formulating the strategy. Many commenters, in fact most of those who spoke, had a “for or against” opinion about pesticide use and any possible impact on pollinators. Very few spoke of habitat issues or the research issues, even though those concerns dominate the text of the President’s memorandum.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it has “decided to postpone the [Pesticide Program Dialogue Committee (PPDC)] meeting scheduled for December 11-12, 2014.” EPA notes that “this is a particularly busy time of year in [the Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP)] as we are working to complete several major decisions and projects by the end of the year/early next year. We want to keep the momentum going so that we can share our progress with you early in 2015.” At this time, EPA intends to hold a half-day update via the web in February 2015 to bring stakeholders “up-to-date on these activities.” According to EPA’s November 21, 2014, Federal Register notice announcing the December PPDC meeting, the PPDC Work Group on Integrated Pest Management and Work Group on Pollinator Protection were scheduled to meet on December 10, 2014. EPA has scheduled the next two PPDC “in-person” meetings for May 14-15, 2015, and October 22-23, 2015.
On December 16, 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will host a half-day workshop on the application process for the use of inert ingredients in pesticide products. The workshop will take place in Arlington, Virginia. The goal of the workshop is to clarify the necessary elements of an application for approval to use an inert ingredient in a pesticide product. Complete application packages save applicants time and money, and reduce the number of application rejections. The workshop will cover: selection of a Pesticide Registration Improvement Act (PRIA) category, elements of an application, EPA’s evaluation process, and a retrospective review of inerts under PRIA. EPA will answer stakeholder questions throughout the workshop.
On October 22, 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requested public comment on a proposal to remove 72 chemicals from its list of substances approved for use as inert ingredients in pesticide products. EPA reportedly is responding to petitions submitted by the Center for Environmental Health, Beyond Pesticides, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and others that have asked EPA to issue a rule requiring disclosure of 371 inert ingredients found in pesticide products. EPA developed an alternative strategy designed to reduce the risks posed by hazardous inert ingredients in pesticide products more effectively than by disclosure rulemaking. EPA outlined its strategy in a May 22, 2014, letter to the petitioners, which is available online. Many of the 72 inert ingredients targeted for removal are on the list of 371 inert ingredients identified by the petitioners as hazardous. The 72 chemicals are not currently being used as inert ingredients in any pesticide product. The list of chemicals is available online.
Ingredients that are directly responsible for controlling pests such as insects or weeds are called active ingredients. An inert ingredient is any substance that is intentionally included in a pesticide that is not an active ingredient. Comments are due November 21, 2014. General information on inert ingredients can be found online.
On October 15, 2014, the Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) announced a voluntary program to document the effectiveness of agricultural pesticide spray application technologies on reducing pesticide spray drift. Under the Drift Reduction Technology (DRT) Program, agricultural equipment manufacturers would conduct (or make arrangements for a testing facility to conduct) studies to determine the percent drift reduction according to a verification protocol. Once completed, the manufacturer would submit the study to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for review and evaluation. As verified, these reductions could then be quantitatively credited in the environmental risk assessments used to develop the drift reduction measures appearing on the label of the pesticide product. EPA will then review the manufacturers’ studies and, based on these data, it will assign spraying devices a rating on a four-star scale:
* Four stars: Device can reduce spray drift by 90 percent or more.
* Three stars: Device can reduce spray drift by between 75 percent to 89 percent.
* Two stars: Device can reduce spray drift by between 50 percent to 74 percent.
* One star: Device can reduce spray drift by between 25 percent to 49 percent.
* No stars: Device can reduce spray drift by less than 25 percent.
EPA allows pesticide manufacturers to include labeling on their products that contain dual-use instructions, one for farmers using devices that have received stars through the DRT program and another for those using devices that do not have a DRT rating.
On September 30, 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) redesigned the Pesticide Registration Improvement Extension Act of 2012 (PRIA 3) website. The new website is available at www2.epa.gov/pria-fees. The purpose of the redesign is to make PRIA 3 information more easily accessible to stakeholders and the public, regardless of the type of device being used. EPA made no technical or regulatory changes to PRIA 3.
Spray Drift and Volatilization: Issues to Navigate Carefully as EPA Develops Registration Review Decisions
Spray drift and volatilization issues increasingly are significant issues in pesticide product risk assessments. Earlier this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued drafts of key guidance documents, which focused on issues that were key in the chlorpyrifos petition response, and more recently, at least one registration review decision that reflects current and still evolving EPA policy on spray drift and volatilization issues.
How potential for spray drift and for volatilization are identified and then managed are likely to be key elements of ongoing and future risk assessments underlying forthcoming EPA registration and reregistration, with significant potential impact on these decisions. Registrants should monitor closely the policies, EPA decisions implementing them, and their potential impact on their products, particularly given the public interest in these issues.
The EPA documents issued in the past eight or so months are significant, particularly given the years of controversy and difficulty in past attempts to propose a clear and “simple” definition of “drift.” The perception by some advocacy groups is that EPA is not adequately addressing alleged harms posed by drift, and resulting appeals for court intervention will undoubtedly complicate the matrix of considerations influencing EPA’s policy. These reasons alone make monitoring the development of these policies critical for registrants.
New Decision in Mega ESA Case Dismisses Most Consultation Claims with Prejudice, Although Certain Claims Survive Pending Further Submissions
In a wide-ranging decision issued on August 13, 2014, in Center for Biological Diversity v. EPA (N.D. Cal.) (often referred to as the “Mega ESA” case), Magistrate Judge Spero has dismissed most of the claims by the Plaintiffs that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) failed to consult or to reinitiate consultation under Endangered Species Act (ESA) Section 7(a)(2) in connection with EPA’s registration under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) of a variety of pesticides. This decision is significant not only for its findings concerning judicial review of consultations under the ESA, but also for the potential effect on challenges to generic reregistration decisions, and on individual product actions based on those EPA decisions. Registrants should carefully consider the impact of this decision on potential challenges to EPA actions involving their products. A copy of the decision is available online.
The ESA claims that were dismissed fall in three principal categories: (1) claims concerning Reregistration Eligibility Decisions (RED) for which the general six-year statute of limitations has expired; (2) claims concerning REDs that are reviewable only in the Court of Appeals under FIFRA Section 16(b) and that were not brought in that court within the applicable 60-day period; and (3) claims based solely on Plaintiffs’ allegations that EPA retains ongoing discretionary control over pesticide registration. Claims by the Plaintiffs that currently survive this decision, at least pending further submissions by the Parties, include claims concerning EPA’s reregistration of specific pesticide products, and claims concerning EPA’s failure to reinitiate consultation for any pesticidal active ingredients that were subject to prior Biological Opinions issued by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for which the process of reregistration is not yet complete.
On August 7, 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it has consolidated information on soil fumigants and placed it on a new “user-friendly” website. In an e-mail announcing the launch of its new Soil Fumigant Toolbox, EPA noted that the site is intended to reduce exposure to agricultural workers and the public. The website includes information on soil fumigants, buffer zones, and information targeted for communities, certified applicators of soil fumigants, and state and Tribal environmental agencies. EPA’s soil fumigant website is available online.
On July 7, 2014, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) a petition requesting that EPA commence a Special Review for the neonicotinoid pesticides, including six specific active ingredients (dinotefuran, acetamiprid, clothianidin, thiacloprid, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam), based on the risk that NRDC believes this class of compounds poses to honey bees and native bees. In the petition, NRDC alleges that neonicotinoids “may suppress bee immunity, disrupt brood cycles, impair foraging behavior by interfering with memory and learning, and cause disorientation, preventing bees from finding their way back to the hive.” By submitting this petition, NRDC effectively asks that EPA expedite the evaluation of the effect of this class of active ingredients on pollinators that EPA already intends to undertake as part of the Registration Review process required by Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Section 3(g), 7 U.S.C. § 136a(g). A copy of the petition is available online.
Presidential Memorandum Creates Federal Strategy to Promote Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators
On June 20, 2014, President Obama issued a Presidential memorandum entitled “Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators.” The memorandum creates a Pollinator Health Task Force, which will be co-chaired by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Task Force will develop a National Pollinator Health Strategy, which includes a Pollinator Research Action Plan, Public Education Plan, and public-private partnerships. In addition, Task Force members will take steps to increase and improve pollinator habitat. The Presidential memorandum is available online.
Various stakeholders anticipated some kind of Presidential activity during Pollinator Week, and these pronouncements establish some new initiatives that are not likely too controversial among the pesticide registrant community. Nevertheless, their issuance and activities that will take place as a result of them bear close attention and monitoring from the registrant community, particularly as advocacy groups may see the actions as too little.
Under the Presidential memorandum, the Pollinator Health Task Force has 180 days to develop a National Pollinator Health Strategy, which shall include explicit goals, milestones, and metrics to measure progress.