Uncertain Outlook for EPA Pesticide Budget
Time is running out on the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act (PRIA), and it could die a natural death on January 19, 2018, absent Congressional action. Congress enacted PRIA in 2003 and in so doing established a fee schedule for pesticide registration and amendment applications and critically important specified decision time periods within which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must make a regulatory decision. PRIA has been reauthorized twice, and was scheduled to expire at the end of the 2017 federal fiscal year, on September 30, 2017. A short term funding measure saved the day, but it expires on January 19.
As was the case for PRIA and its prior reauthorizations, a coalition of registrants, labor, and environmental advocates were working with Congress relatively smoothly to pass what will be “PRIA 4” before the expiration date. In May 2017, however, EPA announced that as part of its regulatory review efforts, there would be delays in implementing recent regulations making changes to worker protection standard (WPS) regulations and requirements of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) certification and training (C&T) programs run by the states — all Obama initiatives. Some farm advocacy groups, the American Farm Bureau in particular, raised concerns about a few elements of the WPS regulations, and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) also raised concerns about some elements of the WPS and C&T programs. More information regarding the status of the WPS and C&T rulemakings is available in our blog item “EPA Signals New Rulemakings On Worker Protection Standard and Certification of Pesticide Applicators.”
When EPA announced plans to review and possibly change these regulations, farmworker advocacy groups withdrew their support for the draft PRIA legislation. Along with concerns about possible regulatory changes and delays, environmental groups also expressed concerns with the Administration’s decisions allowing the continued use of chlorpyrifos as part of a petition response announced in March 2017. The tumult fractured the PRIA coalition and a group of Democratic Senators supporting the environmental and labor advocates’ position blocked the PRIA legislation preventing changes to the current WPS regulations, and separately introduced legislation that would effectively end the use of chlorpyrifos (S. 1624).
The PRIA reauthorization has already been approved by the House of Representatives, but now there is a sufficient number of Senate Democrats to block movement of the legislation. As a result, there is currently an impasse, with discussions reportedly ongoing but with no clear path towards resolution.
As the deadline nears, it is expected that a temporary PRIA renewal will be part of any additional short extension, with a less certain outlook about the chances of being included in any comprehensive, year-long legislation to fund government operations. The expectation is that some kind of resolution will be found, but the specific parameters of any solution have not yet been identified.
PRIA has also included the authorization for the “maintenance fee” provisions first included in the 1988 amendments to FIFRA, designed as general support for the EPA pesticide program budget. Taken together, PRIA reauthorization has become a major contributor to the program budget.
Should PRIA not be reauthorized, then the current law allows for a phase-down of the current submissions which include PRIA fees and are subject to decision deadlines. The larger issue would be the potential for the elimination of approximately 200 positions from the pesticide program workforce, which is about one-third of the current staff (and is in line with the share of program costs supported by fees).
Stay tuned — we will monitor this important topic. More information on PRIA issues is available on our blog under key word PRIA.