By Mark Lange
The National Cotton Council remains fully engaged in ever evolving regulations that can challenge producers’ ability to compete in the world marketplace.
What about environmental issues?
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is the pit bull of environmental laws. It has no provisions for cost-benefit analyses and provides the authority to protect listed species at any cost regardless of economic harm. A major threat to U.S. agriculture is a federal court ruling that favored a complaint alleging EPA failed to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service regarding pesticide registrations as required under the ESA. The revised complaint now is focused on the effects of 50 pesticide groups on 216 endangered species. Seventeen of the listed pesticides are the most commonly used agricultural pesticides. Because EPA continues to face lawsuits and must find a way to reach “no effect” determinations for pesticide products, the agency is now proposing “proximity tests” whereby a pesticide basically would be banned near critical habitat.
Another concern the NCC is monitoring involves public pressure, mainly by some anti-pesticide groups and a few vocal beekeepers, on EPA to address Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). They say pesticides, neonicitinoids in particular, are the culprit behind declining honeybee populations. Even though pesticides are just one of many factors in CCD, EPA was compelled to develop new label language that will apply to all products containing four of the most common neonicitinoids. The goal is having the language on as many products as possible by 2014. As a more practical approach for effectively addressing CCD, the NCC is surveying farmers and beekeepers to determine the cooperative management practices to utilize in protecting bees.
Are there any other major regulatory issues?
While the NCC remains active on many environmental regulatory fronts ranging from Clean Water Act permitting and oil spill prevention compliance, we also are focused on federal approval of new biotech crops. The NCC and many other commodity groups submitted comments to USDA emphasizing farmers’ need for new traits to fight resistant weeds. Dicamba and 2,4-D tolerant crops are the furthest along in development. USDA, though, has been reluctant to deregulate the 2,4-D traits and has proposed a comprehensive evaluation, which would further delay a deregulation decision for at least another 18 months.
On another front, the NCC plans to comment by year’s end on EPA’s yet to be released proposed rule to strengthen worker protection standards, particularly pesticide exposure prevention. EPA says it is focusing on: a minimum age for pesticide handlers, training on preventing take-home exposures, notification of treated areas, decontamination requirements, personal protective equipment, hazard communication, emergency assistance and improved enforcement capability.
The regulatory maze continues to grow. One example is President Obama’s recently-issued executive order to strengthen safety at chemical plants – a move that likely will affect farmers’ involvement with ammonium nitrate. The Agricultural Retailers Association and The Fertilizer Institute already are establishing what’s called a Fertilizer Code of Practice Initiatives – setting up 1) their own uniform safety guidelines for handling, storing and distributing fertilizer products; and 2) third-party inspections to ensure compliance.
Mark Lange is the president and chief executive officer for the National Cotton Council of America. He and other NCC leaders contribute columns on this Cotton Farming page.