Federal Agriculture, Risk, and Reform Management Act
Key Development: House Agriculture Committee adopts a farm bill with a
provision to prohibit EPA from requiring discharge permits for pesticide
spraying on or near water bodies.
Potential Impact: The bill would reauthorize conservation, renewable
energy, and forestry programs for five years.
By Amena H. Saiyid and Patrick Ambrosio
The House Agriculture Committee adopted a farm bill July 12 that would
provide $57 billion for conservation programs over the next 10 years and
prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from requiring Clean Water Act
discharge permits for pesticide spraying on or near water bodies.
The Federal Agriculture, Risk, and Reform Management (FARRM) Act (H.R. 6083),
which was approved on a 35-11 committee vote, would reauthorize conservation,
renewable energy, and nutrition programs at the Agriculture Department, as well
as forestry and related activities at the U.S. Forest Service for fiscal years
In addition to the pesticide spraying language, the legislation includes
environmental provisions on pesticide registration, biotechnology in crop
production, pine beetle infestations in the West, research on bed bugs, and
procedures for forestry projects under the National Environmental Policy Act
The bill also would provide no mandatory funding for energy programs
administered by the Agriculture Department, including loan guarantees, grants,
and other support for biofuels, as well as other forms of renewable energy and
energy efficiency (see related story in this issue).
The bill, which replaces direct payments to farmers with a new safety net
based on revenue insurance, price protections and crop insurance, survived a
12-hour markup (see related story in this issue).
The final version of the 2012 farm bill, after the House and Senate have
reconciled their differences, would replace the Food, Conservation, and Energy
Act of 2008 (Pub. L. No. 110-234), which expires Sept. 30.
The House Agriculture Committee's action comes less than a month after the
Senate passed its version of the farm bill, which would provide $56.8 billion
for conservation programs (120 DER A-38, 6/22/12).
Both the House and Senate would cut at least $6 billion in conservation
spending between 2013-2022 through streamlining and consolidating existing
programs and by reducing the acreage enrolled in two USDA conservation programs
(133 DER A-32, 7/12/12).
Overall, the House bill would cut $35.1 billion in farm program spending over
the 10-year period, while the Senate's version would reduce spending by at least
$23 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
The bill's main policy provisions--replacing direct payment programs for
farmers with a mix of price-based and revenue-based insurance, as well as
increased crop insurance--remained intact from the draft version of the
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said July 12 that no schedule has been
set yet for taking up the farm bill on the floor.
The pesticide-spraying language, taken from a bill (H.R. 872) that passed by
the House in March 2011, would bar the agency from requiring National Pollutant
Discharge Elimination System permits for pesticides that already are registered
for use, sale, and distribution under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and
That bill was approved in June 2011 by the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and
Forestry Committee, but it stalled after Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and
Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) placed a hold on the legislation.
The NPDES permitting requirements took effect Oct. 31, 2011, after a 2009
decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit overturned a
regulation allowing permitting exemptions for farmers and public health
officials who apply pesticides on or near water (National Cotton Council v.
EPA, 553 F.3d 927, 68 ERC 1129 (6th Cir., 2009); (212 DER A-37,
In another environmental provision, Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) successfully
offered an amendment that would exempt the U.S. Forest Service from providing
public comment and environmental appeals of day-to-day “routine” activities in
Under NEPA, routine activities that do not have an environmental impact can
be grouped as categorical exclusions and are exempt from detailed environmental
impact analyses. However, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of
California ruled in March that the Forest Service is required to provide a
public comment and an environmental appeals process for what Thompson said was
“something as minor as repairing a power line.”
“Under this ruling, this decision will add at least 30 days, and up to 145
days, for all these noncontroversial, everyday activities,” Thompson said.
Thompson said there are 600 routine projects that are tied up at the Forest
Service because of this requirement.
Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) also was successful in amending the bill's forestry
title. Her measure would allow the Forest Service to designate 10,000 acres,
instead of the 1,000 acres allowed in the original draft bill, as a categorical
exclusion area to combat pine beetle infestation.
Noem said the larger acreage is needed because the infestation is widespread
in the West.
Noem's amendment was based on the National Forest Emergency Act (H.R. 4331
and S. 2277) that Noem and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) jointly introduced in
Another pesticide provision in the House bill would renew EPA's authority to
collect pesticide fees through fiscal year 2017. However, it would prohibit EPA
from modifying, canceling, or suspending a pesticide registration on the basis
of a biological opinion issued by NOAA Fisheries Service or the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service until the completion of an independent study on the opinions
(130 DER A-21, 7/9/12).
The bill would require USDA, EPA, and the Department of Health and Human
Services to report to Congress within one year of the bill's enactment on
proposed measures to reduce the regulatory burden on the research and
development of agricultural biotechnology products.
Further, the bill would outline requirements for the regulation of
plant-incorporated pesticidal substances by EPA. The agency would be required to
base those regulations on sound science, provide for regulatory exemptions for
certain products, and use the “least burdensome” requirements.
Also included in the bill is a provision that would require USDA's Animal and
Plant Health Inspection Service to make a determination on any petition for
“nonregulated” status within one year. APHIS conducts plant pest risk
assessments and environmental analyses on products to determine if they are
subject to regulation under Part 340 of the Plant Protection Act. The language
in the underlying bill also would clarify that the assessments conducted by
APHIS are the only requirements mandated or authorized by law with respect to
the review of petitions for nonregulated status.
Rep. Jeanne Schmidt (R-Ohio) was successful in her amendments to require the
USDA to prioritize research on bed bugs. She also was able to amend FIFRA's
definition to include bed bugs as vectors that cause disease and would require
EPA to establish efficacy requirements for pesticides to kill public health
pests, including bed bugs. That amendment also would prohibit EPA from approving
any product for sale unless the efficacy data support any public health pest
controls on the pesticide label.
Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), who supported Schmidt's
amendments, remarked that “bed bugs don't stand a chance when the congresswoman
is on the case.”
The American Farm Bureau Federation termed the bill a fiscally responsible
piece of legislation. Bob Stallman, the federation's president, said farmers
would not receive all the provisions they had hoped for, but he commended the
“bipartisan spirit” that went into crafting a bill.
The National Farmers Union, which is usually at odds with the farm bureau,
also praised the committee's bill.
“The House Agriculture Committee did well to preserve funding levels for
conservation programs, which a recent NFU poll found is a priority for farmers
across the country,” the union said.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the bill makes “misguided reductions”
to critical energy and conservation programs.
Franz Matzner, the Natural Resources Defense Council's associate director for
government affairs, told BNA the bill passed by the committee went from bad to
“It already included serious threats to public health with treatment of
pesticides, and now it includes additional provisions that threaten our water,
wildlife, and our children,” Matzner said.
He particularly decried the Forest Service amendment that would cut the
public out of decisionmaking.