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Industry Advocate: We’ve still got a lot to learn about pesticide regulations

June 15, 2022 -  By
Bob Mann headshot

Bob Mann

With new presidential administrations come new political appointees with new priorities. While the Biden administration might not seem altogether new, it has taken a while to fill those appointments. This is true at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), where the new administrative staff at the Office of Pesticide Programs is steering the agency in a different direction, one that eventually will affect the green industry.

Before I became involved in the policy end of our industry, the EPA seemed to me to be an amorphous beast, an agency without a face, doing things I didn’t understand for mysterious reasons. Five years into my current job, I’ve learned a lot about pesticide regulations, but I am still a student of the topic.

One thing mentioned quite often when talking about the regulatory system is its pace — moving at the speed of government, as they say. The chief reason things move so slowly is stakeholder involvement. Interested individuals and groups are an integral part of policymaking, including associations such as the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP). We interact with the EPA in many ways. We provide written comments when the EPA publishes registration decisions and hold meetings to discuss issues important to our industry.

Focus on FIFRA

Until early this year, the EPA focused its regulatory efforts on the law that regulates all aspects of pesticides and their use, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). FIFRA has been amended several times to modernize and strengthen pesticide policy, and those amendments come to bear on our industry quite often without us realizing it.

For instance, the reason we no longer use the insecticide Dursban in the lawn care industry is due to the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA). FQPA introduced the concept of a “risk cup,” which looked at all the various ways you might encounter a pesticide in your daily life, either in food or pest control or landscaping. When evaluating the human and environmental risks associated with the active ingredient in Dursban, chlorpyrifos, the EPA determined that too much was entering the environment. In other words, the risk cup was overflowing. This led to residential uses of chlorpyrifos, including on lawns and landscapes, being removed from the label in 2000.

Another hurdle

Overall, this is a good thing. As advances in science bring newer, safer pesticides to market, the EPA retires older chemistries. The problem is Congress passes a lot of laws, and FIFRA isn’t the only hurdle pesticides must clear to be legally registered. Congress passed the Endangered Species Act (ESA) half a century ago, yet the EPA has not been meeting its obligations under this law.

As a result, environmental nonprofit groups, such as the Center for Biological Diversity and the Natural Resources Defense Council, have sued the agency repeatedly. The groups say the EPA failed to consult with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to determine if the use of a particular pesticide places endangered species in jeopardy.

The process used to determine if a pesticide poses jeopardy and adverse modification (J/AM ­— yet another acronym) is convoluted and conservative. For instance, if a pesticide affects a single member of an endangered species, the agency will take a much closer look at those effects to mitigate the risk. The agency announced in January that it was changing the order in which it evaluated pesticide products, placing the endangered species consultation process with Fish & Wildlife and NMFS ahead of the FIFRA-mandated risk assessment.

Future implications

We are not quite sure how this new procedure will impact the lawn and landscape industry. In April, the EPA released its ESA work plan for review and comment. This document is the first foray into this policy, offered up for stakeholder feedback and input.

Simultaneously with EPA’s January announcement on its ESA compliance efforts, the agency released label documents for two widely used agricultural pesticides using this new approach. Enlist One (2,4-D) and Enlist Duo (2,4-D and glyphosate) are commonly used herbicides on corn and soybeans. Being the curious type, I downloaded the two labels to see what differences I might find versus the old way of doing things. About halfway through, I discovered that one of the ways the EPA is mitigating risks to endangered species and their habitats is to prohibit the use of these two pesticides at the county level. A chart that broke states out at the county level showed banned use of the Enlist products.

Now, I live in Massachusetts; we don’t grow much corn or soybeans here. So, imagine my surprise to see the EPA banned both Enlist products from use on the island of Nantucket. Not only that, the Enlist products aren’t even registered for use in the state. As a good stakeholder should, I dropped an email to someone who knows just the right people, and the EPA amended the label almost immediately.

This leaves me wondering if the EPA doesn’t realize that corn and soy aren’t grown on Nantucket, what other erroneous assumptions is it making? Ever the skeptic, I’ll keep my eyes and ears open.

This article is tagged with , and posted in 0622, From the Magazine

About the Author:

Bob Mann, LIC, formerly the agronomist for Lawn Dawg, is the director of state and local government relations for the National Association of Landscape Professionals.

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