The Van Trump Report

What You Need to Know About EPA’s Sweeping New Ag Chemical Rule Proposals

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is raising alarms among the agriculture industry, including the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), as it proposes new guidance for agricultural chemicals. A new pilot program regulating pesticides is designed to bring the agency into better alignment with the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and would restrict ag chemical usage in parts of 29 US states. USDA officials have warned the rules could have “severe economic consequences for some farmers and rural communities in which they operate.”

EPA made its “Vulnerable Species Pilot” draft proposals available for public comment earlier this summer. The pesticide proposals include early mitigations for 27 listed “pilot” species to reduce potential impacts from the agricultural use of certain pesticides. The EPA’s proposes implementing the mitigations through geographic-specific restrictions, which relegates large areas in some states as “pesticide use limitation areas” (PULA). The full draft proposal is HERE.  There is also a draft Herbicide Strategy, available HERE, which proposes early mitigations for more than 900 species and critical habitats. The mitigation measures apply across a range of chemicals, not just specific active ingredients.

In the past, the EPA has evaluated chemicals on a case-by-case basis to meet ESA obligations. However, as Ya-Wei (Jake) Li, deputy assistant administrator for the EPA’s pesticides program explains, evaluating each pesticide on over 1,600 endangered species in the US is “slow and costly,” taking anywhere from 4 to 15 years to complete reviews and resulting in a massive backlog. The EPA’s inability to meet its requirements under the ESA and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act has resulted in more than 20 lawsuits concerning over 1,000 pesticide products.

The EPA’s new pesticide PULAs are established based on a species’ entire habitat range and include parts of Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin, among others. Depending on the species, PULAs have different restrictions. Pesticide applications in “Avoidance PULAs” would be completely prohibited without consulting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) three months before application and may need to cut pesticide use by as much as 40%. Other PULAs would be subject to various rules designed to minimize spray drift and runoff. Most mitigation measures would apply all year round. 

The EPA notes that the list of pilot species represents an initial set of listed species that are considered by FWS to have high or medium overall vulnerability. EPA says it is also considering expanding the pilot to include other species that may be considered vulnerable.

Aaron Hager, an associate professor who specializes in weed science at the University of Illinois’ College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, told FarmWeek, “What the EPA is proposing to do eventually will impact every pesticide application in the state of Illinois,” adding that there will be areas where pesticides can’t be applied at all.      

USDA’s pest management policy director Kimberly Nesci in a letter to EPA said her agency has serious concerns about several areas of the pesticide proposal. Nesci points out that in some cases, different mitigation is proposed for similar uses of different active ingredients. In another inconsistency, Nesci says the same proposed mitigation in some cases was applied to different active ingredients with fundamentally different modes of action.

Importantly, Nesci says some of the proposed restrictions are of concern to USDA due to the high likelihood of negative impacts to agricultural operations. Specifically in regard to rodenticides, Nesci says the loss of these tools during the growing season of registered crops and above-ground in pasture/rangeland would be devastating to U.S. agriculture resulting in potential loss of rodent control, crop damage, and crop contamination.

EPA has more information about both its pesticide and herbicide pilots HERE. The comment period on the herbicide mitigation proposals is open until September 20, 2023. The pesticide mitigation proposals, however, closed on August 6, and several stakeholders have criticized the lack of time available to submit feedback. (Sources: EPA, USDA, Agnet, Capital Press)

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