Pesticide Agencies Tighten Belts as Budget Cuts Loom

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By Tiffany Stecker

Agriculture Department and EPA officials are pushing Congress to reauthorize a key law that keeps the agency’s pesticides office running, as expectations of tighter budgets threaten to curtail its work.

Officials at the agencies said they would work together to streamline the pesticide registration process, telling senators at a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing May 11 that the agencies are prepared to collaborate as cuts loom for the agencies.

The Environmental Protection Agency is meeting with interest groups as part of its effort to modify or eliminate regulations seen as duplicative or unnecessary under Administrator Scott Pruitt’s “Back to Basics” plan. The goal is to slim down the agency’s workload while still protecting health and the environment. This will include signing memorandums of understanding with other agencies, Rick Keigwin, acting director of EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, told the Senate panel.

These agreements are “opportunities to share our work and share our load, or rely on the work of another agency,” he said.

Keigwin said he would build on relationships with other agencies to further existing agreements and establish new ones.

The committee met to hear testimony on the Pesticide Registration Enhancement Act of 2017 (H.R. 1029). The bill is the latest iteration of the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act (PRIA), the 2003 law that provides the EPA with the authority to collect fees from pesticide makers to approve the chemicals for sale and review their safety to humans and the environment. The legislation passed the House on March 20 and is expected to easily clear the Senate and be signed into law.

President Donald Trump’s administration has proposed in its initial blueprint to shrink EPA’s budget by more than 30 percent, while calling for a 21-percent cut to USDA’s discretionary spending. Lawmakers in both parties, however, have criticized the proposed cuts as too steep.

‘We Will Adjust’ to Budget Cuts

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) asked Sheryl Kunickis, USDA’s Office of Pest Management Policy director, how her office would be affected by the proposed cuts, noting that Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has said he hoped the Senate would “fix” the president’s blueprint if the administration does not bump up proposed spending. Klobuchar questioned if the demand for pesticides would “outpace the additional increases” in PRIA fees.

“We just have to figure out the best way to go forward,” Kunickis told Klobuchar. “It’s happened in the past, and if it happens again, we will adjust.”

The current bill would allow the agency to raise fees from from $27.8 million to $31 million from manufacturers to maintain existing registrations, and implement two 5-percent increases over seven years to license new products. It would also set aside $500,000 to fight bedbugs and other insects; provide up to $1 million for farmworker safety training and require the EPA to keep track of revisions to product labels if such changes are required after a pesticide is reviewed for safety.

The current version of PRIA expires Sept. 30. It includes a provision that Congress must fund EPA’s pesticides office by at least $128.3 million to require pesticide manufacturers to pay the fees, which fund between 20 percent and 40 percent of the office’s budget. But Congress has sidestepped this obligation by issuing waivers that allow the fees to fund licensing despite the low appropriations. Spending since fiscal year 2010 has dropped from about $143 million per year to about $120 million.

The fee increases will “certainly help us get the work done,” Keigwin said, but congressional appropriations are needed to complement the work at the EPA.

“We cannot fully fund, we cannot fully do the work” without money from Congress, he said. Without that money, “we would have to figure out how to do things and look for additional efficiencies.”

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: Paul Connolly at PConnolly@bna.com

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