EPA’s Ag Plate Fills -From Atrazine to Nutrient Runoff, Agency Has Ag Issues in Sights

Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Source: Greg D. Horstmeier DTN Production Editor

COLUMBIA, Mo. (DTN) — Agriculture is becoming a common subject in the halls of the Environmental Protection Agency.

EPA rulings could cast a long shadow over agriculture in the coming year. The agency has a number of regulation reviews and other activities that could affect farming, and some ag leaders are becoming concerned about what they deem an “activist-led agency.”

“We have a whole new administration that’s built on activism,” said Rick Tolman, chief executive officer of the National Corn Growers Association. “So there is a component of the Obama constituent base that feels more empowered, so there’s more opportunity for those voices to be heard than in the past. Whether that’s right or wrong, you can decide. It’s just a reality.”

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, speaking before the National Press Club recently, noted that the agency’s more aggressive stance was partially based on the fact that chemical safety laws in the U.S. “are 30 years old, and the fact that (those laws) are widely perceived as being toothless, I think we owe it to the American people to answer their concerns and pleas for help.”

Here’s a look at some of the subjects EPA is looking at this year that could have an impact on how you farm.

ATRAZINE

The popular corn herbicide is going through agency review for human and environmental impacts. EPA spokespersons say this new review, falling on the heels of a 2006 review that essentially gave the herbicide a clean bill of health, was already being planned, then was stepped up to be part of the discussion of how EPA uses epidemiological and other human health studies to evaluate pesticide safety. Pesticide supporters have called foul, intimating that current EPA leadership is forcing agency employees to look at specific health and environmental studies that never got a glance before, due to questionable science.

New rules, if any, on atrazine use should be finalized by the end of 2010.

In the meantime, water districts from 16 states have joined a federal lawsuit against atrazine manufacturers, asking for compensation for water filtration systems needed to remove atrazine from drinking water.

PESTICIDE APPLICATION PERMITS

Known inside Washington Beltway ag circles as the “Sixth Circuit Court decision,” the issue is based on Clean Water Act regulations that state an entity that could be a “point source” of pesticides or other pollutants that have the potential to run off into water must have a permit for “discharging.” In the past, EPA has said agricultural pesticide applicators, when abiding by pesticide labels, don’t fall under discharge rules, and don’t need a permit. The Sixth Circuit Court disagreed, saying its reading of the Clean Water Act makes any pesticide discharge, whether from an industrial waste pipe or a sprayer nozzle, a potential point “source.”

EPA Administrator Jackson, asked a question on the subject at her National Press Club speech, said creating a proper permitting scheme “is a huge undertaking.” Essentially, every farmer or commercial applicator applying pesticides that have any chance of running off into waterways will have to be permitted. She promised that permits will “be done in a way that I think shows we’re building on programs that are already out there as we comply with the court ruling.” Several state regulators said they likely would handle such permits in a “class” format, in which the state creates one broad permit, and applicators could make a simple application to fall within that permit. Permit rules are expected mid-year.

INERT INGREDIENTS

The agency has proposed that pesticide manufacturers reveal the contents of so-called “inert” ingredients on the product label. Inerts typically include surfactants and other chemicals that can enhance the pesticide’s activity or make it easier to mix and apply.

DRIFT REGULATIONS

EPA presented a draft of new pesticide drift regulations late in 2009. Comments on those rules drew fire from state regulators and farm groups alike, as the draft said applicators would be violating regulations any time drift occurred with a pesticide that “could cause” damage to property, wildlife or humans. Critics said it is impossible to achieve zero drift during a season, and also said the phrasing “could cause” was too open-ended and superseded current pesticide law. EPA is reviewing comments on the draft rules.

INDIRECT LAND USE CHANGE

EPA is expected to release a proposed rule that could include an indirect land use change penalty for biofuels. The penalty is based on the theory that growth in biofuels will spread land use change around the world away from native vegetation and toward biofuel crops. “It’s a flawed piece of policy that has tremendous negative implications for farmers right now,” Tolman said.

NUTRIENT MANAGEMENT

There is concern among many farm groups that the failure of voluntary nutrient management plans to clean up the Chesapeake Bay will create mandatory maximum runoff and nitrogen and phosphorus loading levels. Such maximums could then become the template for controlling nutrient runoff for the rest of the country. Last month, the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, part of the Mississippi River Collaborative, called for more consistency in state fertilizer application regulations, increased crop set-backs from waterways, mandatory fencing to keep livestock out of streams, and more teeth in clean water regulations for agriculture.

Read the rest of this article here.

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