After years of being verbally critical of the regulatory program charged with overseeing the aerial application of pesticides in Mississippi, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is imposing its heavy hand on the state's aviation board.
In a letter to the Mississippi Agricultural Aviation Board, the EPA essentially says it believes the state board is not sufficiently doing its job of enforcing federal pesticide use regulations. Due to the agency's concerns, the EPA says it will be taking a more active role in enforcing cases of alleged pesticide misuse by aerial applicators in Mississippi.
That means the federal agency will likely review cases that come before the board, including drift complaints, and could choose to take additional action against the aerial applicators involved. The EPA could also overrule decisions made by the aviation board and, sometime in the future, could choose to further increase its involvement in the business of the aerial applicator board.
Officials with EPA say the agency has been concerned since 1995 that the Mississippi board is not fairly and equitably enforcing the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) in cases of “aerial misuse of pesticides.”
In the letter to the Mississippi Agricultural Aviation Board, EPA Region 4 Director Winston A. Smith, says, “This increased involvement is necessary to abate the potential for harm to human health or the environment, and to ensure that deterrent, fair and equitable enforcement is sought for violations of FIFRA resulting from aerial application of pesticides.”
Due to the EPA's history of criticism of the state aviation board, the agency contends it has maintained ongoing correspondence with the board since 1995, including documenting possible problem areas twice each year and meeting with members of the board on at least two separate occasions.
“To date, the board has not adequately addressed the concerns raised by EPA,” Smith says. “EPA has found the board's enforcement actions to be inconsistent with some penalties so small that little or no deterrence is derived from the actions. In fact, in calendar year 2000, incidents of aerial misuse of pesticides increased, particularly for those applications involving glyphosate.”
The letter also refers to penalties doled out by the board providing “small or no deterrence” to any reoccurrence of similar action by pilots involved in alleged cases of pesticide misuse.
Just what does the EPA considers a “small” penalty? Jeaneanne Gettle, chief of the Pesticides Section of EPA Region 4 in Atlanta, Ga., says, “I think what we do is evaluate each case on its own merit. We compare the penalties given in cases to what the penalties could potentially be in Mississippi, under state law. We look at the authority the board has within itself, and what penalties it has the authority to impose. Then we decide if they are following their own penalty authority, is it consistent, and is it providing a deterrent.”
The case involving the Mississippi Agricultural Aviation Board is likely an anomaly, because in most states the state agency in charge of all pesticide related regulations also handles cases involving the aerial application of pesticides. In Mississippi, however, the state legislature created the Mississippi Agricultural Aviation Board, which in essence, oversees its members.
According to the Mississippi Code of 1972, which expires Dec. 31, 2004, the board has the authority to adopt any rules and regulations necessary to regulate the application of chemicals and pesticides, as well as set professional standards for applicators and pilots.
The Mississippi Agricultural Aviation Board is made up of the chief of the state Bureau of Plant Industry and four licensed pilots, who are nominated by the Mississippi Agricultural Aviation Association and appointed by the governor.
Gettle says Mississippi is the only state in the Southeast, and maybe in the country, where aerial applicators regulate themselves under such a system.
That may or may not be the case in the future. The letter to the Mississippi Agricultural Aviation Board says, “If EPA determines that the board has not taken appropriate enforcement action for any case tracked as significant, EPA may after notice to the board initiate federal enforcement.”
When asked if such federal enforcement by the EPA, or any additional letter to the board notifying them of further action by the EPA, was imminent, Gettle declined comment.