Comprehensive Rewrite of Pesticide Regulations Introduced in Congress

Opponents say bill could limit controls available for invasive pests.

On August 4, 2020, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representative Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) introduced companion legislation that would fundamentally rewrite and amend the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) – the law governing pesticide use in the United States.

S.B. 4406 and H.B. 7940, the Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act (PACTPA), would amend FIFRA to ban the use of organophosphate and neonicotinoid pesticides along with the agricultural herbicide paraquat. Additionally, the bill would require the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – the agency tasked with administering FIFRA – to suspend the registration of any pesticide product that is banned in the European Union and/or Canada, pending a two-year expedited review of the justification and rationale for the ban. Furthermore, the legislation would allow individual citizens to petition the EPA to remove pesticides from the market and allow localities to regulate the sale or use of any federally registered pesticides and remove the uniformity requirements for labeling or packaging from FIFRA.

Background

The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) requires the EPA to regulate the sale and use of pesticides in the United States through registration and labeling. Registration approval depends on a finding that the pesticide will not pose “unreasonable adverse effects on the environment” when used in conformance with labeling directions.

Originally passed in 1947, FIFRA underwent a complete revision in 1972 following congressional concerns about the long- and short-term toxic effects of pesticide exposure on applicators, food consumers and wildlife and insects not targeted by the pesticide. Substantial changes to FIFRA have been made since 1972 to, among other changes, streamline the reregistration process, authorize registration fees and, in 1996, with the passage of the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA), require special protection for children, establish more stringent safety standards for regulation of pesticide residues on food and require periodic review for pesticide registrations.

The EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) implements FIFRA by overseeing the registration of pesticide products and establishing maximum levels for pesticide residues in food. Registration is based on evaluation of scientific data and assessment of risks and benefits of a product’s use. For instance, when a manufacturer applies to register a pesticide, the EPA requires them to submit data on toxicity and can require the manufacturer to submit data from a combination of more than 100 different tests. Based on the data submitted, the EPA determines whether and under what conditions the proposed pesticide use would present an unreasonable risk to human health or the environment.

Supporters of PACTPA vs. supporters of FIFRA

Despite the extensive process the EPA goes through to ensure the safety of pesticide registration, proponents of the Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act cite studies of organophosphate and neonicotinoid insecticides linking their use to neurodevelopmental damage in children, contributing to pollinator collapse, and citing these as reasons for ending their use. Proponents of PACTPA argue that the EPA continues to approve pesticides with “ingredients widely considered to be dangerous [that] often remain on the market for decades, even when scientific evidence overwhelmingly shows a pesticide is causing harm to people or the environment.”

Those who oppose the recently introduced legislation and support the existing FIFRA framework argue that the bill is trying to fix a process that is not broken. While the EPA rarely revokes the registration of a pesticide, supporters of the current regulatory scheme highlight the EPA’s common changes to label instructions, including limits on where and how pesticides may be used, as effective. The EPA has taken that approach with neonicotinoids to lessen the risks to bees – such as prohibiting the use of certain neonicotinoid pesticides when bees are present – and with chlorpyrifos, which is no longer allowed for household use.

Opponents of PACTPA argue that the provisions within the bill targeting specific pesticide groups would make it increasingly difficult to protect green spaces from invasive pests such as the emerald ash borer, the hemlock woolly adelgid and the Asian longhorned beetle. Furthermore, they argue that allowing localities to restrict pesticide products in defiance of state preemption laws would create a confusing patchwork of pesticide regulations not based on science, as most local governments do not have the scientific experts or the resources to make informed decisions about the safety of pesticide products.

While it is not expected that the Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act will move in this Congress, the bill is a blueprint of how anti-pesticide groups will seek to amend pesticide laws. Depending on the November election outcomes, this bill could gain traction in the upcoming 117th Congress.

What’s next?

Basil Thomson is a senior associate at Ulman Public Policy, TCIA’s Washington, D.C.-based advocacy and lobbying partner.

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