If farmers and chemical company representatives think they will see an automatic extension of the registration for the new dicamba herbicide formulations from a “kinder, gentler” EPA this fall, they may be in for surprise.
That was the message Rick Keigwin, the director of the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, seemed to be sending when he spoke at the annual meeting of The Pesticide Stewardship Alliance in Memphis, Tenn., in February.
“One of my colleagues was attending a function in Washington and saw that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was there,” said Keigwin. “He went over to introduce himself and explained he worked on pesticide registrations. Administrator Pruitt told him, ‘I hope you don’t work on dicamba.’”
Pruitt, who like other members of the president’s cabinet has a reputation for being pro-business and anti-regulation, apparently got quite an earful when complaints about the herbicide formulations began to build last summer.
“Mr. Pruitt really got an introduction to dicamba last summer,” said Keigwin. “He spent a lot of time traveling the country to discuss the Waters of the U.S. rules, and virtually every place he went they wanted to talk about dicamba first.”
In 2017, state regulatory agencies received 2,700 formal complaints of off-target injury from dicamba on soybeans alone, according to figures compiled by Dr. Kevin Bradley, Extension weed scientist at the University of Missouri.
Keigwin displayed a slide of the information prepared by Bradley, which showed nearly 1,000 complaints just in the state of Arkansas. He also discussed regulatory changes that make the formulations restricted use pesticides. That means applicators must undergo extensive training before farmers can use the herbicides in 2018.
EPA granted a two-year registration for the three formulations — Xtendimax, Engenia and FeXapan — when it approved their use in the winter of 2016. That means the registrations expire this fall.
“I’m not sure what success means,” Keigwin said of the review process that will take place at the end of the 2018 season. “But I know what it’s not. I don’t say this in jest, but 2018 cannot look like 2017.”
Farmers also shouldn’t expect the herbicides will be available just because seed of dicamba-tolerant crops can be sold in 2019.
Keigwin said he was asked at an earlier meeting if the EPA wouldn’t have to register the herbicide products because the seed will be available in 2019. If the herbicides aren’t available, Keigwin said he was told, farmers would just the unregistered products.
“That really gets to the crux of how we regulate pesticides,” said Keigwin. “If it’s not available, any application would be a misuse, and we really don’t want that to happen.”
He said he expects his office will take a recommendation on whether the registrations should be extended to EPA Director Pruitt in September. “We want to do that in time for farmers to make decisions about which crops to plant in 2019.”
Besides dealing with dicamba and a number of other issues such as the Endangered Species Act consultations with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, EPA must also review all of the pesticide registrations it has granted over the years by 2022.
That means the agency’s Office of Pesticide Programs has to conduct exhaustive studies of 725 cases or uses of more than 1,000 pesticides, and they’re having to do while facing increasing uncertainty over funding.
Keigwin said his office has made a good start on the EPA portion of the reviews. The problem may come with consultations with the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service over the Endangered Species Act portion of the reviews.
A portion of the funding issues concerns Congress’ failure to pass the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act, which would provide funding for about one-third of the OPP’s operations. PRIA had passed the House but was being held up by several senators when Keigwin spoke in Memphis on Feb. 7.
“The thing that probably keeps me up at night more than anything else from a working standpoint is where we are on the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act,” he said. “PRIA was scheduled to expire on Sept. 30 of last year, but through the miracle of continuing resolutions had been extended through tomorrow night.” (Keigwin spoke on Feb. 7. Congress later passed another bill extending the government’s operation for a few more weeks.)
The PRIA 4 legislation pending in the Senate would extend the authority to collect maintenance fees of $31 million a year through fiscal 2020. That legislation passed the House unanimously last March, but is being held up in the Senate by senators who are protesting several issues, including the EPA’s denial of a request to ban the use of the chlopyrifos insecticides from the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Pesticide Action Network of the U.S.
President Trump’s budget proposals have also included reduced funding for EPA.