By Carla N. Hutton
As reported in our November 2, 2020, blog item, on October 30, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final rule on the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS) regulation that revises the requirements on the pesticide application exclusion zone (AEZ), defined as an “area surrounding the point(s) of pesticide discharge from the application equipment that must generally be free of all persons during pesticide applications.” The final AEZ requirements were scheduled to go into effect on December 29, 2020, but on December 28, 2020, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York issued an order in the case of State of New York et al. v. EPA that resulted in a stay of the requirements. Subsequent orders have extended this stay of the effectiveness.
EPA published a May 16, 2022, Federal Register notice stating that as of February 15, 2022, the effectiveness of the WPS final rule is stayed by court order until August 22, 2022. 87 Fed. Reg. 29673. According to the notice, EPA intends to publish another document in the Federal Register to address the status of the 2020 final rule if the stay of effectiveness expires or is lifted, but EPA “does not intend to publish additional Federal Register documents to announce any additional court orders entered to further stay the effectiveness of the 2020 final rule.”
By Lisa M. Campbell, Lisa R. Burchi, and Barbara A. Christianson
On October 30, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final rule on the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS) regulation that revises the requirements on the pesticide application exclusion zone (AEZ), defined as an “area surrounding the point(s) of pesticide discharge from the application equipment that must generally be free of all persons during pesticide applications.” According to EPA, the targeted changes improve the enforceability and workability of the AEZ requirements, decrease regulatory burdens for farmers, and maintain critical worker protections. EPA also states the revisions made to the AEZ are consistent with the 2018 Pesticide Registration Improvement Extension Act of 2018 (PRIA 4).
The final AEZ requirements will go into effect on December 29, 2020.
EPA initially promulgated the WPS regulation in 1992 under EPA’s Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) authorities to protect farm workers from pesticide exposures in production agriculture. According to EPA, “WPS is a uniform set of requirements for workers, handlers, and their employers that are generally applicable to all agricultural pesticides and are incorporated onto agricultural pesticide labels by reference. Its requirements complement the product-specific labeling restrictions and are intended to minimize occupational exposures generally.”
In 2015, EPA issued significant revisions to the 1992 WPS. Of particular significance, 2015 revisions included a new provision requiring agricultural employers to keep workers and all other individuals out of the AEZ during outdoor pesticide applications. The AEZ was set at 25 feet in all directions for ground pesticide applications when sprayed from a height greater than 12 inches, and 100 feet in all directions for outdoor aerial, air blast, air-propelled, fumigant, smoke, mist, and fog pesticide applications. This provision was controversial, however, with state regulators expressing concerns with enforcing the complex AEZ requirements and farm owners expressing concerns with applying and complying with pesticide regulations.
EPA states in the final rule that it clarified and simplified the AEZ requirements based in part on input from state pesticide regulatory agencies and agricultural stakeholders after the adoption of the 2015 WPS rule. Consistent with PRIA 4, EPA is implementing changes related only to the AEZ requirements in the WPS. These targeted changes include:
- Modifying the AEZ so it is applicable and enforceable only on an agricultural employer’s property, as proposed.
- Adding clarifying language indicating that pesticide applications that have been suspended due to individuals entering an AEZ on the establishment may be resumed after those individuals have left the AEZ.
- Excepting agricultural employers and handlers from the requirement to suspend applications owing to the presence within the AEZ of persons not employed by the establishment who are in an area subject to an easement that prevents the agricultural employer from temporarily excluding those persons from that area.
- Allowing the owners and their immediate family (as defined in 40 C.F.R. Section 170.305) to shelter in place inside closed buildings, housing, or shelters within the AEZ, and allowing the application performed by handlers to proceed, provided that the owner has instructed the handlers that only the owner’s immediate family are inside the closed shelter and that the application should proceed despite their presence.
- Simplifying and clarifying criteria and factors for determining AEZ distances of either 100 or 25 feet by basing the AEZ on application method. EPA has removed the language and criteria pertaining to spray quality and droplet size, as proposed, so that all ground spray applications from a height greater than 12 inches are subject to the same 25-foot AEZ.
EPA states that many of the changes proposed in November 2019 were retained in the final rule. Changes that were made include the following:
- The final rule adds clarifications and revisions to the regulatory text regarding providing an immediate family exemption to the AEZ requirements. The final rule provides that the AEZ exemption for the immediate family members applies only when the farm owner or immediately family members are inside an enclosed building within the AEZ.
- The final rule also clarifies that owners may permit handlers to continue with applications when the owner’s family is inside an enclosed structure or home, provided that the owner has expressly instructed the handlers that only the owner’s immediate family members are inside the closed shelter and that the application should proceed despite their presence within that structure.
The final rule is available at EPA-HQ-OPP-2017-0543. Additional information on the revisions to the AEZ requirements is available here.
By Susan M. Kirsch and Barbara A. Christianson
On October 24, 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it is proposing narrow updates to the Worker Protection Standard’s (WPS) provision on the Application Exclusion Zone (AEZ) requirements. By narrowing updates to the WPS, EPA states that it will “improve the long-term success of the agency’s Application Exclusion Zone requirements” and “would improve enforceability for state regulators and reduce regulatory burdens for farmers.” EPA believes narrowing updates to the WPS will also continue to protect the health of farm workers and other individuals near agricultural establishments who could be exposed to agricultural pesticide applications. The proposed updates are consistent with the 2019 Pesticide Registration Improvement Act (PRIA).
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler states that EPA’s proposal “would enhance the agency’s Application Exclusion Zone provisions by making them more effective and easier to implement.” Wheeler states that “our proposal will make targeted updates, maintaining safety requirements to protect the health of those in farm country, while providing greater flexibility for farmers.”
EPA will hold a 90-day public comment period and seeks input on select updates that were publicly suggested to EPA by both state pesticide agencies responsible for enforcing the provision and agricultural stakeholders since the AEZ requirement was adopted in 2015. The proposed updates are also consistent with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s comments during a May 2017 meeting of EPA’s Pesticide Program Dialogue Committee.
Specifically, EPA is proposing to:
- Modify the AEZ so it is applicable and enforceable only on a farm owner’s property, where a farm owner can lawfully exercise control over employees and bystanders who could fall within the AEZ. As currently written, the off-farm aspect of this provision has proven very difficult for state regulators to enforce. These proposed changes would enhance both enforcement and implementation of the AEZ for state regulators and farm owners, respectively. Off-farm bystanders would still be protected from pesticide applications with the existing “do not contact” requirement that prohibits use in a manner that would contact unprotected individuals.
- Exempt immediate family members of farm owners from all aspects of the AEZ requirement. This will allow farm owners and their immediate family members to decide whether to stay in their homes or other enclosed structures on their property during certain pesticide applications, rather than compelling them to leave even when they feel safe remaining.
- Add clarifying language that pesticide applications that are suspended due to individuals entering an AEZ may be resumed after those individuals have left the AEZ.
- Simplify the criteria for deciding whether pesticide applications are subject to the 25- or 100-foot AEZ.
Publication of the proposed rule in the Federal Register will begin a 90-day comment period. Comments are due on or before January 30, 2020.
When EPA included the AEZ concept in its 2015 WPS updates, of chief concern for pesticide applicators, farmers, and state departments of agriculture were the compliance and enforcement practicalities of aspects of the AEZ requirements. For example, in scenarios where the AEZ extends to nearby roads and highways, it is difficult for pesticide applicators to be aware of every vehicle that may pass by that could enter the AEZ during applications. It is unclear if the revised AEZ requirements adequately address these practical realities. Agricultural stakeholders and pesticide applicators may wish to submit comments on the proposed revisions.
Additional information on the WPS is available on EPA's website.
By Margaret R. Graham
On September 20, 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it would be hosting a webinar titled “Best Practices for Ground Application” on October 25, 2018, from 2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. (EDT). The announcement states that this webinar is tailored for “growers, pesticide applicators, pest management professionals, and other interested stakeholders who work in crop production.”
The webinar will be presented by Dr. Greg Kruger, a weed science and application technology specialist from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and will cover different methods of ground application, best practices for reducing pesticide spray particle drift when using ground application equipment, and a discussion of the optimization of weed control. Registration is available online.
More information on other pesticide applicator issues, including the Worker Protection Standard, is available on our blog.
By Timothy D. Backstrom and Lisa M. Campbell
On June 14, 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it will soon publish in the Federal Register a Notice of Availability (NOA) stating that worker safety training materials, including the expanded subject matter required by the 2015 Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Worker Protection Standard (WPS) for agricultural workers and pesticide handlers, are available for use. The prepublication version of the NOA is available on EPA’s website. The NOA confirms that the publication “triggers the WPS requirement that training programs must include all of the topics specified in the 2015 revisions to the WPS.” Because the 2015 WPS rule is already in effect, employers must provide expanded training addressing these topics within 180 days of publication. The expanded training materials that are the subject of the NOA were developed through a cooperative agreement with the Pesticide Education Resources Collaborative (PERC), and are available on PERC’s website.
EPA previously issued a Federal Register notice on December 21, 2017, stating that it “expects to publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in FY 2018 to solicit public input on proposed revisions to the WPS requirements for minimum age, designated representative, and application exclusion zone.” In this 2017 notice, EPA stated that it did not expect to issue the NOA for training materials addressing the 2015 WPS rule until after completing a rulemaking concerning these proposed revisions. This deferral of the NOA would have significantly delayed the expanded training for handlers and agricultural workers contemplated by the 2015 rule. In the NOA, EPA states that it is still reconsidering the same three requirements, and that “if those requirements are changed through a final rulemaking, training materials may need to be amended to reflect such changes.”
On May 30, 2018, two complaints were filed against EPA in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York challenging EPA’s decision to defer publication of the NOA. More information on these lawsuits is available in our blog item "Lawsuits Filed in Federal District Court Regarding WPS Training Delay." Because publication of the new NOA will afford the plaintiffs in these cases all of the substantive relief they were seeking, it appears that these actions will now be moot other than any request for attorney’s fees and costs incurred by the plaintiffs.
More information on WPS issues is available on our blog under key words Worker Protection Standard, delay, guidance, and training.
By Timothy D. Backstrom
On May 30, 2018, two complaints were filed against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Both of these suits concern a decision by EPA to defer publication of a notice of availability (NOA) of training materials prepared pursuant to the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS), 40 C.F.R. Part 170. The WPS was originally promulgated in 1974, substantially amended in 1992, and then revised again in 2015. Although the 2015 revisions to the WPS are currently in effect, employers are not required to adopt new training programs for agricultural workers and handlers until 180 days after EPA publishes the NOA announcing the availability of the new training materials in the Federal Register.
On December 21, 2017, EPA issued a Federal Register notice indicating that it “expects to publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in FY 2018 to solicit public input on proposed revisions to the WPS requirements for minimum age, designated representative, and application exclusion zones.” In this 2017 notice, EPA acknowledged that the WPS provisions it will propose to revise are already in effect and that training materials consistent with the 2015 rule have already been prepared, but stated that EPA does not expect to issue the NOA for these new training materials until after it completes a rulemaking concerning the proposed revisions to the 2015 WPS rule. The plaintiffs in both of the new district court cases are challenging the decision of EPA to defer issuance of the NOA, which has delayed the timetable for expanded training for agricultural workers and handlers contemplated by the 2015 WPS rule.
The first of two complaints was filed by Rural & Migrant Ministry, et al. (RAM) v. EPA, Case No. 1:18-cv-04743. RAM’s complaint includes four causes of action based on EPA’s failure to issue the NOA. RAM alleges that this failure is “arbitrary and capricious,” constitutes “agency action unlawfully withheld and unreasonably delayed,” and violates the publication requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and the Federal Register Act. RAM requests a declaratory judgment that EPA has violated the APA and the Federal Register Act, and injunctive relief to require immediate publication of the NOA.
The second complaint was filed by the States of New York, California, and Maryland, New York v. Pruitt, Case No. 1:18-cv-04739. These State plaintiffs also contend that EPA’s failure to publish the NOA is “arbitrary and capricious,” and constitutes “action unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed.” Like RAM, the State plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment and an injunction requiring that EPA immediately publish the NOA for the expanded training materials. EPA will presumably seek consolidation of the two cases, which both challenge the same EPA actions and seek comparable relief.
The principal question presented by these two WPS cases is whether EPA can lawfully defer full implementation of the expanded training required by the 2015 WPS while it undertakes and completes a new rulemaking to revise certain provisions of the same rule. Although EPA acknowledges that it has prepared the written materials needed to effectuate the expanded training required by the 2015 WPS, EPA will likely argue that it is both more efficient and less confusing for employers and workers to use the existing training materials until after EPA has finished revising the WPS. In contrast, the plaintiffs in these two cases will argue that the 2015 WPS is already in effect, and that the protection for workers associated with the expanded training required by this rule has been improperly delayed by EPA without any prior notice and comment rulemaking.
The decision by EPA to defer full implementation of the 2015 WPS while EPA considers potential revisions to the WPS may be deemed analogous in some respects to other EPA actions that delayed the effective date for a rule expanding requirements for certified applicators who apply restricted use pesticides (RUP). In a decision issued by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on March 21, 2018, the court vacated several EPA actions that had delayed the effective date for the RUP rule, holding that EPA was required to provide notice and opportunity for comment before taking such actions and that EPA lacked “good cause” for acting without notice and comment. See Order Granting Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment, Pineros Y Campesinos Unidoa Del Noroeste v. Pruitt, Case No. 17-cv-03434-JSW.
The current cases may be distinguished from the actions EPA took to defer the effective date for the RUP rule because EPA has declined to take affirmative action to effectuate certain requirements in the 2015 WPS, rather than deferring the effective date for any of the requirements in that rule. It remains to be seen whether the district court will consider this procedural distinction to warrant a different outcome.
More information on WPS issues is available on our blog under key words Worker Protection Standard, delay, guidance, and training.
By Lisa M. Campbell and Susan M. Kirsch
On February 15, 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) added resources to its website regarding the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) and the Application Exclusion Zone (AEZ) requirements of the WPS. As of January 2, 2018, full compliance is required with all of the AEZ-related requirements in the WPS. The new EPA website resources include:
While many welcome EPA’s guidance on the many thorny issues presented by the WPS and AEZ requirements, some believe that in places, the newly issued guidance raises additional questions and leaves some significant questions unaddressed. Given the controversy over this rule, this new guidance should be reviewed closely.
More information on the WPS, including EPA’s December 2017 announcement of its intention to revise the AEZ and other WPS provisions, and current implementation deadlines can be found on our blog under key word WPS and key phrase Worker Protection Standard.
By Lisa M. Campbell and Lisa R. Burchi
On February 12, 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it has reached an agreement with Syngenta Seeds, LLC (Syngenta), a pesticide company in Hawaii, to resolve alleged violations of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) at its farm in Kekaha, Kauai. The settlement includes two penalty components: a $400,000 Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP) for worker protection standard (WPS) training; and $150,000 as a civil penalty.
The Consent Agreement and Final Order (CAFO), issued on February 7, 2018, states the parties are resolving alleged violations under FIFRA Section 12(a)(2)(G) from the use of the registered restricted-use pesticide Lorsban Advanced on an agricultural establishment in Kekaha, Hawaii, “in manners inconsistent with its labeling by not complying with applicable Worker Protection Standard regulations.” Syngenta neither admitted nor denied the allegations but consented to the assessment of the civil penalty and to the other conditions in the CAFO.
EPA’s Press Release states that under the settlement, Syngenta “will spend $400,000 on eleven worker protection training sessions for growers in Hawaii, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands.” Specifically, the SEP states it “is intended to assist and provide compliance tools to small-scale growers of agricultural plants that face compliance challenges based on cultural, literacy, or language considerations, and/or geographic isolation.” Further, Syngenta will “also develop compliance kits for use at these trainings and for wider distribution in the agricultural community in English and four other languages commonly spoken by growers and farmworkers in the training locations -- Mandarin, Korean, Tagalog, and Ilocano.” These compliance kits will include the following practical resources, among others:
- Summary documents with corresponding videos addressing the major compliance topic areas within the WPS;
- Worker training resources including, but not limited to, training outlines with materials, tailgate training toolkits, and sign-in sheets; and
- Sample WPS company policies and procedures.
This CAFO and in particular the SEP will be interesting to monitor considering EPA’s recent WPS revisions that became effective on January 2, 2017, and the additional proposed revisions for which comments are expected to be solicited.
More information on FIFRA enforcement issues is available on our blog under key word enforcement. Information on Syngenta’s 2016 CAFO regarding label violations is available in our blog item Syngenta Settles with EPA on Alleged Label Violations.
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Margaret R. Graham
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced, in two separate notices, that it is initiating a process to revise (1) certain requirements in the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS) (82 Fed. Reg. 60576 (Dec. 21. 2017)); and (2) to revise the minimum age requirements in the Certification of Pesticide Applicators (C&T) rule. 82 Fed. Reg. 60195 (Dec. 19. 2017).
For the WPS rulemaking, the provisions at issue were identified as part of the public comments received in response to Executive Order (EO) 13777, Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda. Three provisions in particular were the subject of public comment, and later consideration by the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) Pesticide Program Dialogue Committee (PPDC) at its November 2, 2017, meeting. The three provisions are: minimum age (the 2015 WPS specifies a minimum age of 18 years, with an exemption for owners of agricultural establishments and their immediate family members); designated representative (the 2015 WPS requires employers to provide pesticide application information and safety data sheets to a designated representative of a worker or handler under specified circumstances); and application exclusion zones (AEZ) (the 2015 WPS requires the establishment of AEZs with respect to outdoor production on farms, nurseries, and forests to reduce the number of incidents where workers or others are exposed to pesticides during agricultural pesticide applications).
EPA also announced that the compliance dates in the revised WPS remain in effect and that EPA has no intent to extend them. This means that most provisions in the revised WPS went into effect on January 2, 2017, and compliance with two additional requirements will begin on January 2, 2018. The two requirements include compliance with the display of pesticide safety information, and pesticide handlers must temporarily suspend applications if workers or others enter in the application zone during pesticide applications. The only requirements in the revised WPS that will not be in effect as of January 2, 2018, are the requirements that the worker and handler pesticide safety training material cover the expanded content at 40 C.F.R. §§ 170.401(c)(3) and 170.501(c)(3). The 2015 revised WPS provided that compliance with the expanded pesticide safety content in these sections was not required until 180 days after EPA publishes in the Federal Register a notice of availability of certain training materials. While there are training materials available that meet the expanded content requirement, EPA has not yet published such a Federal Register and apparently does not intend to do so until after the rulemaking announced on December 21 has concluded.
For the C&T rule, EPA expects to “publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to solicit public input on proposed revisions to the rule by the end of FY2018,” and it has no plans to change the implementation dates in the January 4, 2017, final rule. The C&T notice states that “EPA has determined that further consideration of the rule’s minimum age requirements is warranted through the rulemaking process” after it considered comments received pursuant to EO 13777, revisiting the record, and reviewing the applicable statutory.
More information on WPS issues is available on our blog under key phrase Worker Protection Standard.
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Margaret R. Graham
In June 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a draft Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP) National Program Manager Guidance for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018-2019, which sets forth the strategies and actions that EPA and its state and tribal partners will undertake to protect human health and the environment via six key programmatic activities. EPA uses an Annual Commitment System (ACS) to track annual regional performance information and results. Below is a listing of the six programmatic activities and their ACS measures, if applicable:
- Strengthening state and tribal partnerships through continued effective management of pesticide cooperative agreements. The guidance states that the “National Pesticide Program depends on cooperative agreements with states and tribes to implement many of the requirements of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and to help ensure [EPA’s] regulatory decisions and programs achieve intended protections. For the ACS measure, the commitment target is 100 percent of pesticide program required activities included in grantee work plans completed under pesticide program portion of the FIFRA Grant Guidance. More information on the activities is listed in the guidance.
- Assisting in national, regional, and local pollinator protection efforts. EPA states that “through risk assessment, mitigation, education, and outreach, EPA’s Office of Pesticides Programs’ goal for pollinator protection is to ensure all pollinators, including managed pollinators such as honey bees, and native pollinator including Monarch Butterflies, are protected from adverse effects of pesticide exposure.” More information on the activities is listed in the guidance. EPA is not proposing any ACS measures to be associated with this area of focus for FY2018-2019.
- Effectively implementing the revised pesticides worker protection standard rule. More information on this rule is available on our blog under key phrase Worker Protection Standard. EPA states that no ACS measure is proposed to be associated with this area of focus for FY2018-2019 to “allow regional offices the flexibility to direct their efforts where they are most needed, and to select the activities and level of effort appropriate for the needs of their region.”
- Effectively implementing the revised certification of pesticide applicators rule. Same as above, EPA states that no ACS measure is proposed to be associated with this area of focus for FY2018-2019 to “allow regional offices the flexibility to direct their efforts where they are most needed, and to select the activities and level of effort appropriate for the needs of their region.” More information on this rule is available on our blog under key phrase pesticide applicators.
- Focusing region-specific pesticide priorities on those areas of greatest need nationally. EPA states that region-specific pesticide priority areas “support the agency’s national pesticide program efforts. In addition, these projects support one or more of the agency’s Strategic Plan goals and strategies, and directly benefit states and/or tribes. The region-specific pesticide priority areas to choose from are: (1) promotion of state and tribal pesticide program coordination and communication; (2) bed bug outreach and assistance; (3) promotion, development or support of integrated pest management efforts; (4) support of water quality risk assessment and mitigation; (5) spray drift outreach and incident data collection; and (6) support of emerging public health pesticide issues. The ACS measure commitment target is one project or initiative contributing to the implementation and enhancement of the region-specific pesticide program priority areas.
- Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). For the TRI program, EPA includes three ACS measures on the number of TRI data quality checks:
- The TRI-1 measure allows EPA to track performance of the TRI program, and aid in improving the accuracy and reliability of environmental data. This measure will provide valuable information as more than 21,000 facilities report to the TRI program annually.
- For FY2018, TRI-1 is a non-commitment measure of data quality calls and emails to 600 facilities in total across all regional offices.
- For FY2019, TRI-1 will be a commitment measure of data quality calls and email to 600 facilities in total across all regional offices.