EPA Gets Vote of Confidence as Pesticide Fee Bill Approved

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By Tiffany Stecker

The House’s swift approval of a bill to allow the EPA to levy fees to support its pesticide licensing work is a rare vote of confidence in the often-maligned agency from the GOP-controlled Congress.

Backers of the measure are now hoping congressional appropriators will provide the agency with enough in the next fiscal year to properly operate the Office of Pesticide Programs—funding which is linked to the fee program.

The House on March 20 passed the Pesticide Registration Enhancement Act (PREA) of 2017 (H.R. 1029) by voice vote after 10 minutes of debate.

The bill is the fourth iteration of the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act (PRIA), the 2003 law that provides the Environmental Protection Agency with the legal authority to collect fees from pesticide makers to approve the chemicals for sale and review their safety to humans and the environment. The current bill would allow the agency to raise up to $31 million from manufacturers.

“This important piece of legislation had strong bipartisan support, and it was also staunchly-backed by industry trade groups, environmental and farmworker groups, and state agricultural regulators,” Steve Caldeira, president and CEO of the Consumer Specialty Products Association, said in a statement.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where its path is undetermined. The Senate Agriculture Nutrition & Forestry Committee did not immediately say whether the legislation will receive a hearing or vote in the committee.

Providing Money

PREA backers are now urging congressional appropriators will provide the agency with enough resources for the Office of Pesticide Programs. If President Donald Trump’s blueprint for the agency is any indication, however, its prospects could be slim.

The White House’s preliminary budget—a spending proposal whose fate Congress ultimately decides—would cut the agency’s overall budget by 31 percent from fiscal 2017 continuing resolution levels and trim about 3,200 employees from the payroll.

Passing the PREA bill before the 2012 version of the legislation expires in September will be a big win for the industry, Beau Greenwood, executive vice president of government relations and public affairs for the pesticides trade organization CropLife America, told Bloomberg BNA.

“That’s only part of the job,” he added. He and other supporters of the legislation must now convince members in both chambers to fund the Office of Pesticide Programs at $128.3 million per year, the trigger level for assessing fees under PRIA.

Strange Bedfellows Alliance

The trigger level in the existing PRIA law has not prevented a slump in appropriations for the licensing office. Spending since fiscal year 2010 has dropped from about $143 million per year to about $120 million.

Congress has sidestepped this obligation by issuing waivers that allow EPA to collect the fees in spite of the lower spending. The office has also seen a 25 percent decrease in full-time employees in the last three years.

Opposing camps in the pesticides debate—agricultural chemical manufacturers and environmental groups—came together earlier this year to urge Congress to pass the bill.

The legislation offers both certainty to pesticide makers that their products will be licensed, and confidence to greens that the EPA will study the health and ecological effects of pesticides. The bill also provides money for farmworker safety training.

“This is a very narrow thing that we can all agree on,” Mae Wu, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council and member of the PRIA Coalition, told Bloomberg BNA.

Introduced last month by Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), the bill would allow the agency to raise roughly 12 percent more in industry fees than what was allowed in the last authorization to maintain the registrations of existing pesticides. For product-registration service fees, two scheduled 5 percent increases would occur—one in 2019 and the second in 2021.

The bill would also:

  •  provide a $500,000 set-aside to combat bedbugs and crawling and flying insects;
  •  set aside a percentage of maintenance fees up to $1 million for farmworker safety training; and
  •  require the EPA to track what changes pesticide companies make to product labels if such changes are required after a pesticide is reviewed for safety.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tiffany Stecker in Washington, D.C. at tstecker@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

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