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Oct. 16 — A minor provision in a rule change recently proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency could close off a potential career path for some migrant farmworkers who work with pesticides.
The provision may prevent workers without U.S.-issued identification from obtaining a necessary certification permitting them to work with hazardous pesticides.
William Jordan, deputy director of the EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs, acknowledged that “the provision in the proposed rule is not totally clear” and said in an e-mail to Bloomberg BNA that his office intends to clarify this point in the final version of the rule.
The provision is part of an EPA proposal to tighten the minimum standards states must meet when they grant certifications to pesticide applicators. Applicators who use the most highly toxic pesticides must first obtain a certification from the states where they operate (80 Fed. Reg. 51,355).
On page 201 of the 279-page proposed rule (RIN 2070–AJ20) is a measure that would require anyone seeking a pesticide applicator certification to present a “valid, government-issued photo identification” before taking the certification exams.
The proposal doesn't clarify whether IDs issued by foreign governments would be acceptable.
Jordan said since his agency is still considering the rule, it's too soon to say whether the final version will state that foreign-issued IDs are or are not allowable.
If the EPA decides that foreign-issued IDs are not acceptable, it could become difficult for some migrant farmworkers to obtain applicator certifications—especially in the 38 states that won't grant driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants.
As a result, these farmworkers would be effectively disqualified from jobs that require them to handle hazardous pesticides.
Migrant workers are already at a disadvantage when it comes to obtaining a pesticide applicator certification because the majority of states offer certification exams in English only, according to Fred Whitford, a Purdue University agriculture professor who helps run Indiana's certification program.
Virginia Ruiz, director of occupational and environmental health at the advocacy group Farmworker Justice, said it's unclear how many migrant workers would be affected.
“There are a number of reasons why people who are here with a valid work authorization wouldn’t have a U.S.-issued ID,” Ruiz told Bloomberg BNA. “I would hope EPA would be flexible in the type of documentation they accept.”
The EPA included this provision in its proposed rule at the suggestion of the Certification and Training Assessment Group, a committee made up of federal and state officials who advise the agency on pesticide issues.
A CTAG survey of state agriculture departments showed that ID requirements vary widely across the country. The 2002 survey found that, at that time, between 21 states and 33 states didn't require an ID to apply for a pesticide applicator certification, depending on the type of certification requested.
CTAG was concerned that without ID requirements, there was no way of knowing if the person applying for a certification was the person taking the certification exam. Not checking an applicant's ID “calls into question the integrity of the entire certification system and provides opportunity for abuse,” according to a 2006 CTAG policy memo.
The group also said that because an applicator credential allows someone to handle toxic chemicals, a lack of ID requirements could pose a national security threat: “Terrorists may easily obtain credentials under false pretenses … to facilitate their attacks against this country.”
Beyond urging the EPA to step in and require all states to check applicants' IDs, CTAG went even further. It recommended that the EPA allow states to accept only IDs issued by the U.S. government. This should be limited to a driver's license, passport, military identification card or an immigration green card, the 2006 memo said.
In its e-mail to Bloomberg BNA, the EPA said it would clarify the rule based on the comments it receives from the public.
The public comment period on the proposed certification rule is currently under way. The EPA will accept comments on the proposal through Nov. 23 at http://www.regulations.gov under the Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OPP-2011-0183.
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A copy of the EPA's proposed pesticide applicator certification rule is available at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2015-08-24/pdf/2015-19988.pdf.
A copy of the CTAG's 2006 policy memo on the need for photo ID requirements is available at http://www.ctaginfo.org/pdf-documents/PositiveID_Exam_Adopted_July_14_2006.pdf.
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