By Kelly N. Garson and Carla N. Hutton
On January 27, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a notification for Project Number OA&E-FY20-0095, announcing that it will begin fieldwork to audit EPA’s adherence to pesticide registration risk assessment regulations, policies, and procedures. In a memorandum addressed to EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP), OIG stated that its objective is to evaluate EPA’s ability to address human health and environmental risks prior to pesticide product registration. OIG will conduct the audit from EPA headquarters. According to the memorandum, the anticipated benefits of this audit include determining whether EPA has adequate controls to address human health and environmental risks prior to pesticide product registration.
OIG is an independent office created by the Inspector General Act of 1978, as amended. Though located within EPA, Congress funds OIG separately to ensure independence as it conducts activities such as audits and investigations to determine the efficiency and effectiveness of EPA’s operations and programs. Following the audit, OIG will prepare a report that may include recommendations for corrective actions OCSPP should take based upon OIG’s findings. More information on OIG’s previous reports and audit system is available on OIG’s website. Recent OIG reports regarding the implementation of FIFRA include:
By Lisa R. Burchi and Lisa M. Campbell
On September 25, 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a report Measures and Management Controls Needed to Improve EPA’s Pesticide Emergency Exemption Process that details the results from the its audit done to determine whether EPA has a comprehensive pesticide emergency exemption approval process that maintains environmental and human health safeguards. Section 18 of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) allows EPA to “grant federal and state lead agencies the authority to approve -- in certain emergency situations -- the limited application of a pesticide not registered for that particular use. These short-term pesticide use approvals are called emergency exemptions.” OIG states that the scope of the audit “focused on the emergency exemption management process and the internal controls necessary to consistently implement and administer it.” OIG did not “evaluate the science used to review emergency exemptions or the subsequent emergency exemption application decisions.”
OIG’s main criticisms of EPA’s emergency exemption program listed in the report are:
- EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) collects human health and environmental data through its emergency exemption application process, including the total acres affected, the proposed and actual quantities of the exempted pesticide applied, and the estimated economic losses but it does not use these data to support outcome-based performance measures that capture the scope of each exemption, to measure the potential benefits or risks of each exemption, or to determine how well the emergency exemption process maintains human health and environmental safeguards.
- OPP does not consistently communicate emergency exemption information with its stakeholders. OPP previously sent a “year in review” letter to states that summarized the emergency exemption activity for that year and provided additional information regarding the emergency exemption process. OPP has not sent this letter since 2015, however.
- There were significant deficiencies in the OPP’s online database management, in its draft Section 18 emergency exemption standard operating procedure and application checklist, and in its reports to Congress and the Office of Management and Budget.
The eight OIG recommendations in the report for the Assistant Administrator (AA) for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention’s (OCSPP) consideration, and OCSPP’s response to those recommendations, are as follows:
Recommendation 1: Develop and implement applicable outcome-based performance measures to demonstrate the human health and environmental effects of the EPA’s emergency exemption decisions.
- OCSPP Response and OIG Resolution: OCSPP did not agree with this recommendation, stating that development of an outcome-based performance measure for the Section 18 emergency exemption process was neither appropriate nor feasible. No proposed corrective actions were proposed and this issue remains unresolved.
Recommendation 2: Determine which application review performance target for emergency exemption applications the OPP plans to meet, and make that target consistent between its Annual Performance Goal and its internal controls governing the emergency exemption process.
- OCSPP Response and OIG Resolution: OCSPP did not agree or disagree with Recommendation 2, but it nevertheless provided a corrective action “to avoid future confusion” and a completion date (July 31, 2019) that was considered acceptable to OIG.
Recommendation 3: Update and prepare the draft standard operating procedure in final that OPP uses to guide the emergency exemption process.
- OCSPP Response and OIG Resolution: OCSPP agreed with this recommendation and provided planned corrective actions and a completion date (July 31, 2019) that was considered acceptable to OIG.
Recommendation 4: Develop formal emergency exemption application review procedures that detail specific data collection, management and reporting control steps, and procedures that require specific management controls for accurately and consistently updating the OPP’s Section 18 database.
- OCSPP Response and OIG Resolution: OCSPP agreed with this recommendation and provided acceptable planned corrective actions and a completion date (July 31, 2019) that was considered acceptable to OIG.
Recommendation 5: Develop concise emergency exemption application guidance that specifies the minimum requirements of an application submission and is available on the OPP’s Section 18 website.
- OCSPP Response and OIG Resolution: OCSPP did not agree or disagree with Recommendation 2, but it nevertheless proposed to: (1) evaluate how its web resources can be enhanced to respond to this recommendation; and (2) if it determines that enhancements to the Section 18 website are necessary, implement any needed web updates by December 2019. OIG does not believe the proposed corrective action for this recommendation is sufficient to meet the intent of the recommendation and states this recommendation remains unresolved.
Recommendation 6: Provide clear guidance to state lead agencies on how and when they can use efficacy data from other state lead agencies to satisfy the emergency exemption application criteria.
- OCSPP Response and OIG Resolution: OCSPP did not agree with this recommendation, stating that the only example provided by OIG to support this recommendation represents an extremely rare situation. No corrective actions were proposed and this issue remains unresolved.
Recommendation 7: Expand the data presented in the OPP’s Section 18 database by considering additional data points, such as application acreage requested, actual acreage applied, and registration status of each exempted pesticide.
- OCSPP Response and OIG Resolution: OCSPP agreed with this recommendation and stated it would “consider additional data points, such as application acreage requested, decision documents, and registration status of each exempted pesticide, as OCSPP explores ways to improve the website database and its overall content.” OCSPP proposed that by December 2019 recommendations would be made to the OPP Director for enhancing the Section 18 database and a memorandum would be provided to the OCSPP AA with a plan for updating the Section 18 database addressing these recommendations. OIG states that OCSPP did not commit to expanding the data presented in the Section 18 database and, thus, this issue remains unresolved.
Recommendation 8: Provide an annual update and information summary to state lead agencies to better inform them about any changes to the emergency exemption application-and-review process.
- OCSPP Response and OIG Resolution: OCSPP agreed with this recommendation and stated it would “explore how to provide periodic and useful program updates to applicants.” OCSPP proposed by that December 2019 it would “work with State Lead Agencies to identify the types of information they may find helpful for periodic updates” and “develop a strategy which details the activities that might be conducted to provide periodic and useful program updates to applicants.” OIG states that OCSPP found the term “periodic” unclear and stated the issue remains unresolved.
Although several of these recommendations and EPA’s proposals remain unresolved, registrants should monitor for actions to be taken by EPA in response to the OIG Report.
By Lisa M. Campbell and James V. Aidala
On September 18, 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a report on an evaluation conducted by OIG entitled “EPA Needs to Manage Pesticide Funds More Efficiently.” OIG states that it conducted the audit “to determine whether EPA manages the Pesticides Reregistration and Expedited Processing Fund (known as the [Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)] Fund) and the Pesticide Registration Fund (known as the [Pesticide Registration Improvement Act (PRIA)] Fund) effectively to minimize reliance on appropriated funds.”
In the report, OIG states its finding that “EPA should manage the [Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)] and [Pesticide Registration Improvement Act (PRIA)] Funds more effectively by reducing excess fund balances to within a target range. As of September 30, 2016, [OIG] identified excess funds of approximately $21.4 million for FIFRA and $8.5 million for PRIA, for a total of $29.9 million. A reduction in fund balances would increase the availability of appropriated funds for other environmental purposes.”
In the report, OIG makes the following recommendations to EPA:
- For the Assistant Administrator for Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP) to “establish a target range for its FIFRA and PRIA Fund balances and develop and implement a plan to reduce excess funds to within the target range”; and
- For the Chief Financial Officer to “reconcile the FIFRA and PRIA Funds’ balances to the corresponding liabilities.”
The report states that EPA concurred with establishing a target range and developing a plan to reduce excess funds for FIFRA Fund balances, but did not agree with establishing a target range and developing a plan to reduce excess funds for PRIA Fund balances, citing the lack of predictability of PRIA collections. OIG stated that it “still believe[s] PRIA has excess funds that should be addressed,” and “[t]he agency agreed to reconcile FIFRA and PRIA balances.”
This report follows two OIG reports issued on August 14, 2017, on audits of the financial statements of (1) the FIFRA Fund; and (2) the PRIA Fund for fiscal years (FY) 2015 and 2016. OIG is required to perform an annual audit of the financial statements of the FIFRA Fund under the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA), and of the PRIA Fund under PRIA.
OIG states in its reports on the audits for FYs 2015 and 2016, of both the FIFRA and the PRIA Funds, that it “noted a material weakness in that the EPA cannot adequately support its FY 2016 [PRIA/FIFRA] Fund costs.” OIG further stated, however, that this issue has been noted in prior audit reports, and that EPA is taking corrective actions.” For those reasons, OIG stated that it was making “no new recommendations for [these] material weakness[es].” In FYs 2016 and 2015, EPA “lost the audit trail to properly support how much of the [PRIA/FIFRA] payroll expenses were paid for by appropriations.” To address these losses, in October 2016, EPA instituted an enhancement to its timekeeping system’s cost allocation that will allow for “the creation of an audit trail to capture costs incurred by the [PRIA/FIFRA] Fund and other appropriations that support [PRIA/FIFRA]-related activities.”
More information on other EPA OIG reports is available on our blog under key terms OIG and EPA OIG.
The reality of why the FIFRA funds are in surplus is a political response to the overall budgetary politics of Congress. The Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) has not been authorized to utilize these funds fully or freely hire staff due to the budget agreements of Congress, and, more recently, due to the attempt by the new Administration to keep the Presidential budget proposal more in balance. The OIG knows this also, but “politics” is not the concern of a good audit, and this is not helped by the problem of EPA having “lost the audit trail” of how these monies were spent. PRIA reauthorization is soon to be overdue, and now appears perhaps to be in some jeopardy, at least in the near term. Fortunately for OPP, the surplus in these funds that OIG addresses will be able to buy the program some time to continue relatively “as is” while waiting for PRIA politics to subside to the point where reauthorization is approved and the program can focus more on the improvements suggested by the OIG report.
By Lisa M. Campbell, James V. Aidala, and Margaret R. Graham
On April 27, 2017, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ) sent a letter to Inspector General Arthur Elkins, Jr. at the Office of Inspector General (OIG) at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requesting the OIG to conduct an investigation into EPA’s March 29, 2017, order denying the September 2007 petition of the Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) requesting that EPA revoke all tolerances and cancel all registrations for the pesticide chlorpyrifos. The letter refers to the March 29, 2017, order as “Administrator Scott Pruitt’s order,” and asks OIG to address questions specifically targeting the rationale, communications, and consideration that Administrator Pruitt took prior to reaching the decision.
The letter states that Administrator Pruitt's “hasty reversal of this decision … appears not to be based on EPA’s existing recent scientific findings about the risk, or any new information that contradicts the findings about the health and safety risks of chlorpyrifos.” Further, the letter asserts that “it does not appear to be consistent with the law, which requires that pesticide products cannot be used unless ‘there is reasonable certainty that no harm will result from the aggregate exposure to the pesticide chemical residue.’”
- How did Mr. Pruitt reach the decision he announced on March 29, 2017? What was the timeline leading up to this decision? With whom did he communicate within EPA, the White House, or elsewhere in the Administration? With which outside entities did he communicate? Specifically, did Mr. Pruitt have any communication with staff or representatives of Dow Chemical or any pesticide industry trade groups including CropLife America?
- What was the rationale for Mr. Pruitt's decision, and why did he reverse an agency decision that had been years in the making? How was this rationale developed? Was it based on any new information or evidence?
- Was Mr. Pruitt's decision consistent with the requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act? Did he provide appropriate notice and comment and appropriately consider all relevant comments and information?
- Was Mr. Pruitt's decision consistent with the requirements of the FFDCA, which establishes a standard that, to maintain a pesticide tolerance, there must be "reasonable certainty that no harm will result from the aggregate exposure to the pesticide chemical petitition to revoke tolerances.pdf residue"? Has the EPA met the "reasonable certainty [of] no harm" standard in the law? Why did Mr. Pruitt note that chlorpyrifos was "widely used" when he announced his decision? Was this "wid[e] use" a factor in Mr. Pruitt's decision, and, if so, was this appropriate under the law? What other factors were taken into consideration by Mr. Pruitt?
- Is the EPA accurately and transparently presenting information to the public with regard to previous EPA actions concerning chlorpyrifos? For example, the EPA website for chlorpyrifos on January 2, 2017 contained information indicating that EPA "proposed to revoke all chlorpyrifos tolerances," and contained a link with detailed information about the health risks and the reasons for the EPA action. This reference to the proposed ban, and the link to the detailed EPA analysis are no longer available on the chlorpyrifos web page, and the link to the analysis (as of April 3, 201 7) now gives a "Page Not Found" error.
This letter not surprisingly continues the debate over the appropriate regulatory status of chlorpyrifos. Those disappointed by the recent EPA decision, apparently including Senator Warren and Representative Pallone, want to press EPA to explain in more detail not only the reasons for the decision not to revoke chlorpyrifos tolerances at this time, but also the rationale EPA used to rebut what they believe to be the decision-making record that EPA had accumulated over the last two to three years.
The explanation that the arrival of new leadership at EPA with the Administration led to a change in position is perhaps only part of the answer. The change in Administration did not change the underlying statutory requirements governing EPA’s registration, reregistration, and tolerance decisions, and EPA relied on these requirements as the basis for its decision not to make a decision at this time, as discussed in EPA Denies Petition to Ban Chlorpyrifos.
EPA’s response to any investigation initiated by this letter, as well as the OIG response, will be watched closely by all stakeholders.
By Lisa M. Campbell, Lisa R. Burchi, and Timothy D. Backstrom
On September 19, 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a report, EPA Needs a Risk-Based Strategy to Assure Continued Effectiveness of Hospital-Level Disinfectants, the result of OIG’s review of EPA’s Antimicrobial Testing Program (ATP) to “determine whether the program ensures the efficacy of EPA-registered hospital sterilants, disinfectants, and tuberculocides (“hospital-level disinfectants”); and to evaluate options for improving the ATP.” OIG found that the ATP “does not assure that hospital-level disinfectant products continue to be effective after they are registered,” specifically that:
- Once the EPA tests a product and it passes, it is listed as Agency Confirmed Efficacy on the agency’s website and is typically not tested again; the long-term efficacy of the product cannot be assured.
- EPA relies on manufacturers to voluntarily submit product samples for testing. In the last three years, out of the approximately 300 registered hospital disinfectant products that have not been tested, manufacturers submitted only 12 samples to EPA for ATP efficacy testing.
Importantly, however, OIG concludes: “Although the program as currently designed and conducted does not assure that most hospital disinfectant products continue to be effective, at this point it is redundant and unnecessary to make adjustments, since the EPA is concurrently having the products re-registered.”
OIG makes two major recommendations:
- EPA should suspend administering the current Antimicrobial Testing Program until completion of the one-time re-registration process.
- EPA should develop a risk-based antimicrobial testing strategy to assure the effectiveness of public health pesticides used in hospital settings once products are in the marketplace. At a minimum, OIG states, the strategy should:
- Include a framework for periodic testing to assure products continue to be effective after registration.
- Define a program scope that is flexible and responsive to current and relevant public health risks.
- Identify risk factors for selecting products to test.
- Identify the method to be used for obtaining samples for testing.
- Designate a date to commence risk-based post-registration testing.
In its response, EPA agreed with OIG’s recommendations, and stated it will develop a plan to coordinate and implement the discontinuation of the present-day program, with the closure of the ATP program to take place by November 2017. EPA also stated that by December 2018 it plans to develop a risk-based strategy to assure the effectiveness of public health pesticides used in hospital settings once products are in the marketplace.
Registrants of the affected products should monitor closely the development of EPA’s plans both to discontinue the program and to establish this new risk-based strategy for assuring product efficacy.
By Lisa M. Campbell and Lisa R. Burchi
In an April 22 memorandum, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its intent to begin preliminary research to assess the EPA’s inspections of, and enforcement against, illegal pesticide imports.
OIG states that its objective with this project is to “determine whether the EPA’s Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) import inspection program is effectively deterring, identifying and confiscating illegal pesticide imports, to protect human health and the environment.” OIG’s efforts will include determining whether EPA is effectively identifying pesticide imports for inspection and sampling, as well as whether EPA is taking appropriate enforcement action against noncompliant imports.
OIG notes that this project is included in its fiscal year 2016 Annual Plan. The Annual Plan notes a project commencement date of June 2016 and describes its efforts as follows:
- The EPA’s enforcement program addresses the illegal importation of unregistered or otherwise noncompliant pesticide products into the United States. This project could result in reduced risks to human health and the environment due to Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act imports noncompliance, while assuring effective deterrence through inspections and enforcement actions. We will seek to determine whether the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act Import Inspection program effectively deters or identifies and confiscates illegal pesticide imports to protect human health and the environment.
OIG’s review of EPA’s activities in this area should come as no surprise considering that the EPA Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) has identified import border compliance as one of its three FIFRA focus areas for the past several years. For example, OECA’s FY 2016-2017 National Program Manager Guidance (NPMG), which sets forth OECA’s priority-setting strategies, has made EPA Regions aware of EPA’s strong interest in import compliance. The NPMG suggests that the Regional office efforts in this regard include monitoring import compliance through inspections; focusing on “high-risk” unregistered pesticides and importers with a history of noncompliance or significant importation activities from countries frequently associated with noncompliant shipments; and overseeing the transition of manual review of Notices of Arrival (NOA) to the Automated Commercial Environment in the International Trade Data System (ACE/ITDS). Indeed, there is a noticeable uptick in EPA Regional office review of NOAs and OECA enforcement of noncompliant pesticide imports.
Companies that import pesticides should carefully review their import policies and how they prepare their NOAs to ensure they do not invite EPA scrutiny and potential enforcement action.
By Lisa M. Campbell, James V. Aidala, and Carla N. Hutton
On March 25, 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) sent a memorandum to Jim Jones, Assistant Administrator, Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP), announcing that it plans to begin preliminary research to assess EPA’s management and oversight of resistance issues related to herbicide tolerant genetically engineered (GE) crops. OIG states that its review will include the Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP), as well as other applicable headquarters and regional offices. OIG’s objectives are to determine:
- What processes and practices, including alternatives, EPA has provided to delay herbicide resistance;
- What steps EPA has taken to determine and validate the accurate risk to human health and the environment for approved pesticides to be used to combat herbicide resistant weeds; and
- Whether EPA independently collects and assesses data on, and mitigates actual occurrences of, herbicide resistance in the field.
OIG states that the anticipated benefit of the project “is a greater understanding of herbicide resistance[,] which will lead to an enhancement of EPA’s herbicide resistance management and oversight.”
Pesticide resistance is not a new issue and is one that EPA has affirmatively addressed when granting registrations for new products, GE or not, for some time. In fact, that newer chemistries often have a more niche mode of action to reduce potential toxicity concerns has led some observers to speculate that greater resistance is one potential trade-off for the development of less toxic materials.
This “investigation” may appear to some to be a response to concerns raised by critics of GE crops generally and to a recent EPA decision to approve Enlist Duo herbicide, a new formulation of 2,4,D- and glyphosate designed to address the problem of weed resistance to glyphosate-tolerant crops. Glyphosate tolerant crops were first approved some years ago, and their use was so broadly and readily adopted that issues have arisen with regard to potential resistance to some weed species. EPA is currently expected to approve another GE strain, Dicamba-tolerant crops, to control glyphosate tolerant weeds.
To critics of GE crops, using more herbicides to control problems caused by what they claim is overuse of another herbicide is evidence of a troubling “pesticide treadmill,” which they believe should not have been allowed to occur in the first place. Rebutting this criticism, others assert that resistance is a problem for all pesticides, not only genetically modified ones, and that with sufficient controls, resistance can be delayed, if not avoided. Registrants point out that it is very much in their self-interest to take steps to avoid resistance to their products -- once that occurs, the market viability of the product is significantly reduced.