The pesticide industry is applying extra doses of lobbying in an effort to eradicate federal requirements it considers harmful.
CropLife America -- the trade group for Dow Chemical Co., DuPont, Monsanto Co. and other pesticide makers -- aims to influence dozens of measures, from safe food and drinking water rules to toxic chemical regulations and antiterrorism laws.
The organization in the last three months of 2010 significantly ramped up persuasion efforts. CropLife America in that period spent nearly $751,000 on lobbying, a 58 percent increase from a year earlier.
The spending came as the industry saw signals that regulation could increase, analysts said.
"In the first two years of the Obama administration, you had a lot of saber rattling by political appointees" who appeared to favor the European approach to broader regulation, said Jon Entine, editor of the book "Crop Chemophobia: Will Precaution Kill the Green Revolution?" That, he said, "seemed to signal to chemical industry, agricultural and otherwise, that they were going to push for more precautionary oversight of chemicals."
The trade group's efforts continue this year with what many now see as a friendlier Congress and a U.S. EPA likely to feel new pressure from Capitol Hill. While pesticide makers have had bipartisan support, the Republican-led Congress last week showed its distaste for regulations, passing a spending bill with hundreds of amendments that would strip away existing rules.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, earlier this month asked industry to tell him which regulations blocked job creation. CropLife America cited parts of the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act and EPA rules on "spray drift," or when pesticides move from their targets.
CropLife America said that those three issues "if left unattended will have serious negative impacts on our economy and on food and fiber production in the United States."
Some regulations are duplicative and not science-based, the trade group said.
"These regulations, oftentimes compounded by activist court decisions, unnecessarily cost farmers time, money and liability, and significantly impact U.S. agriculture and the economy," said CropLife America CEO Jay Vroom in a statement.
Environmentalists said CropLife America is moving to eliminate regulations that are needed to protect human health and wildlife and could have more success with the current Congress.
"They see their chance to try to get rid of pretty much any regulation of pesticides," said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. "They sense an opening to either neuter the EPA or cut their funding."
Environmental groups worry that EPA will moderate its actions in light of the pesticide industry's growing numbers of allies in Congress.
"They seem to have quite a bit of influence with EPA," Miller said. "The EPA has been really careful to not do anything that would really step on the toes of the pesticide industry."
Aiming at key rules
CropLife America, formerly the American Crop Protection Association, last year lobbied on three-dozen different pieces of legislation, according to data from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. During the year, the group spent nearly $2.3 million on influence efforts, up 22 percent from a year earlier.
In addition to Congress and EPA, the trade group lobbied the White House, the Interior, Commerce and Homeland Security departments and the Council on Environmental Quality.
Bills the group worked to change included H.R. 5820, a bid to modernize the 34-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), and H.R. 4678, a measure that sought to reduce legal obstacles for Americans injured by products manufactured outside the United States. It also advocated on H.R. 4190, the bill from Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) that called on the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to research the effects of chemicals on the human endocrine system, particularly among children.
All of those bills stalled. Environmental advocates said that was partially because of the opposition of industry and partly because of a crowded calendar and November's election.
CropLife America has often aligned with farmers, which has meant support from both Democrats and Republicans.
"They have a lot of power," said Charlie Tebbutt, an attorney who has represented environmental groups in lawsuits where pesticide groups sought exemption from Clean Water Act rules. "The public needs to know what they're doing behind the scenes here. What they're doing is against the public interest."
CropLife America declined repeated interview requests but provided some information about its priorities.
The group earlier this month in its letter to Issa sought help with measures it said are particularly burdensome.
One of those already appears to have gotten some traction with Congress, with some members indicating they want to overrule a recent court decision.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in January 2009 in National Cotton Council v. EPA that requirements under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) were not sufficient for pesticides sprayed over water sources. It ordered EPA under the Clean Water Act to roll out a new permitting program by April 9.
The ruling reversed the George W. Bush administration's EPA rule that said such permits were not necessary. The court's verdict was widely applauded by environmental groups. The Supreme Court has decided not to hear an appeal of the case.
If enforced, CropLife America said in its letter to Issa, the new requirement would annually cost $65 million and ensnare 5 million applications of pesticides.
"Both regulators and pesticide users agree that the net environmental benefits of this costly and burdensome requirement would be negligible at best," CropLife America wrote.
At a hearing last week, the House Agriculture Committee's Subcommittee on Nutrition and Horticulture circulated draft legislation that would declare that in certain cases the permits would not be needed (E&E Daily, Feb. 17).
Subcommittee Chairwoman Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) indicated at the hearing that passing the legislation is a top priority for the panel. She said the additional permitting would create an unnecessary economic strain on both EPA and businesses.
"This order," Schmidt said, "will impose a burden on the EPA, state regulatory agencies and pesticide applicators that will cost our economy dearly in terms of jobs as well as severely threaten the already critical budgetary situation facing government at all levels."
States will have to bear enforcement costs, and the ruling could also endanger programs to kill pests like mosquitoes, gypsy moths and bark beetles, said former Rep. John Salazar (D-Colo.), a farmer who now works as a Colorado Department of Agriculture commissioner.
"A very real concern is whether states will continue to have the flexibility and resources to manage these pests appropriately," Salazar testified at the hearing. "The public health consequences of this cannot be emphasized enough. West Nile virus, dengue fever and encephalitis are all very real public health concerns, the mitigation of which depends on the use of pesticides to control mosquito populations."
Environmental groups say that the new permit process is needed to protect water supplies. If a pesticide enters water, the Clean Water Act provides a mechanism for analyzing and regulating at a local level, Tebbutt said, while FIFRA does not.
Additionally, Tebbutt said, the Clean Water Act would require an evaluation of whether the pesticides should be used or if there are better alternatives.
"The Clean Water Act is a technology forcing statute -- without such forward-looking provisions, industries would still be discharging pollutants at the same rates as in the 1960s, when some of our nation's rivers spontaneously combusted from being used as industrial sewers," Tebbutt said. "The act requires constant revisiting of the best means to address point-source pollution."
'Spray drift,' other priorities
The other two items on CropLife America's priority list for Issa are Endangered Species Act regulation and the "spray drift" issue.
EPA regulation of pesticides under the Endangered Species Act duplicates rules under FIFRA, CropLife America told Issa. EPA when it is issuing permits for pesticide use must consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service and Fish and Wildlife Service if the chemical could affect species.
"NMFS has issued flawed biological opinions that ignore scientific data and rely on outdated and irrelevant studies, resulting in the imposition of severe and unwarranted limitations on agriculture and timber production in California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho," the trade group wrote. "Unless action is taken to remedy this ... these impacts, mostly in the West, will spread to all agricultural operations in every state."
Pesticide makers want to be regulated under FIFRA instead of the Endangered Species Act because "FIFRA's pretty weak by comparison," said Karl Tupper, staff scientist at Pesticide Action Network North America. "They know how to deal with FIFRA."
The Endangered Species Act is a "pretty tough law," Tupper said.
"They're shaking in their boots that pesticide use might fall under the purview of the Endangered Species Act," Tupper said.
FIFRA, said Miller with Center for Biological Diversity, only requires the agency to look at human-health effects. It does not require consultations on species impacts.
"The pesticide industry is grossly underregulated," Miller said.
In its third issue, CropLife America told Issa that completely eliminating "off target" spray of pesticides is impossible.
"Nevertheless, anti-pesticide litigation is driving EPA and state governments to consider zero-drift policies," CropLife America said. EPA has proposed a label statement on drift "that would create a new risk standard that is not authorized" under FIFRA, the trade group said.
"The recent proposed label language creates uncertainty and legal vulnerability for applicators," CropLife America said in its letter. "We believe that EPA must immediately, officially withdraw its spray drift policy proposal."
Drifting sprays affect people, particularly children, environmental groups argue. People should not be affected without knowing about it and having a chance to object, Tupper said.
"Fundamentally, they're selling poison," Tupper said of pesticide makers. "Pesticides work, do what they're supposed to do, because they're toxic. That needs to be regulated."