Some are calling another delay in the implementation of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Certification of Pesticide Applicators (CPA) rule a victory, while others are calling multiple delays in a rule that would "protect farm workers" an injustice.
Regardless of your take on the issue, the latest 12 month delay in the Certification rule allows more time for farmers and ranchers to prepare for implementation of the certification program, an issue some had criticized because of the burden of what they termed "unlawful" government regulations.
Putting aside personal opinion, like most agricultural regulations, good arguments exist on both sides of the issue. But before comparing the pros and cons of the certification program, a review of the rule may be appropriate.
The Certification of Applicators of pesticides became law in 1974. While undergoing amendments and changes through the years, a new change in the rule was proposed for commercial and private applicators in 2015. Specifically, the rule change included limitation of certification to individuals who were at least 18 years of age or older; required that applicators be able to read and write; increased the frequency of applicator safety training; and improved the quality of information that workers receive about the pesticides that they apply in agricultural, commercial and residential settings.
At the time of the proposed changes EPA cited worker safety as the primary reason for the rule amendment. Safety officials with the Federal Agency pointed to multiple and what they called tragic incidents where children died or were seriously injured when poorly trained applicators misused highly toxic pesticides.
While environmental groups, like Earthjustice, applauded the rule changes as necessary to protect farm workers and underage applicators of toxic chemicals, many farmers and farm support groups called the proposed changes burdensome and brought into question the legality of the new requirements.
The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) petitioned EPA to delay the proposed rule changes to allow time for further review on the impact the rule would create, not only for farmers and ranchers, but also for commercial and residential applicators.
According to the joint petition to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, the two groups argued the new rule was issued in violation of federal law. Farm Bureau and NASDA told McCarthy, “The rule changes fail to advance the purpose of furthering the safety of farm workers.” They claimed the rule’s rapidly approaching implementation also posed “a serious problem for administration of the rule’s requirements” by state departments of agriculture as well as farmers and ranchers who must comply with its terms.
But attorney Eve C. Gartner of Earthjustice, a San Francisco-based environmental group, said any delay in the rule further puts farm workers at risk and worse, "fails to protect underage applicators.
"We are outraged that EPA has ordered a lengthy suspension of a rule that would provide life-saving information and training for the workers who handle the most toxic pesticides in the country. This is an abuse of the legal process that will jeopardize the health and safety of workers and families," she said.
Gartner said this was the third time in only four months the rule change has been delayed.
"When workers aren’t trained about the proper handling of Restricted Use Pesticides (RUPs) tragedies occur. To make matters worse, EPA violated the legal requirement that it provide a meaningful opportunity for the public to comment on the proposed suspension of the effective date before the delay is finalized," she added. She was referring to only a four-day comment period allowed by the EPA for the latest delay.
Other environmentalists claim the 12-month delay in the implementation of the rule changes "puts children, workers and families—in farms and residential settings—in harm’s way and at risk of pesticide misuse, injury, illness and death."
AFBF says the latest delay will allow agricultural producers the opportunity to prepare for coming changes.