Members of Congress and the Bush administration have some difficult decisions to make between now and the end of the year as they contemplate what stance the U.S. government should take on the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.
The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), which went into effect in May, bans or severely restricts 12 crop protection chemicals, nine of which are not available in the United States. (The latter includes organochlorine compounds such as DDT.)
The U.S. crop protection industry supports the Stockholm Convention but is concerned that efforts by environmental groups to label currently registered pesticides as new POPs could result in restrictions or bans on pesticide use in the United States.
“The proposed legislation allows us to opt in or specifically accept the convention's individual amendments adding a new chemical on a case-by-case basis,” says Dawn DeBerry Stump, a staff member of the Senate Agriculture Committee who met with members of the Southern Crop Production Association during a visit to Capitol Hill.
“But all the work on the agreement has to be done soon or our representatives can't go to the table when the first meeting of the countries that have ratified the convention is held early next year.”
The Senate Agriculture Committee doesn't work on international treaties, as a rule, but it is charged with rewriting the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), which must be amended before the United States can fully participate in the Stockholm Convention on POPs. Separately, the Senate must ratify the treaty.
The U.S. crop protection industry and CropLife America, its organization in Washington, understand that FIFRA must be amended to comply with treaty obligations, but believe the United States already has a formidable cancellation process for pesticides that are determined to be unsafe.
But environmental organizations favor allowing members of the convention to determine the cancellation procedures, ostensibly because of the “green” bent of many of the European Union members that have signed on to the agreement.
Sixteen groups have written to Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and the chairman and ranking members of the House and Senate ag committees, urging them to adopt legislation that would give EPA “new authority to control chemicals with POPs characteristics that are added to the treaty.”
Signers of the letter include Environmental Defense, the Environmental Working Group, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club and the World Wildlife Fund.
Stump, who specializes in environmental issues for the Ag Committee, said, “Our position is that we don't need to reinvent the wheel for product cancellation.”
She said that while the environmental community may favor an international approach to banning chemicals listed as POPs by the convention, she doesn't believe that they want to prevent the United States from participating in the new organization.
“We think we need to be at the table when the issues are debated,” she said. “The United States does not want to be left out of the decision-making process.”
The situation is further complicated by the fact that there are fewer than 50 working days left on the legislative calendar before Congress takes a recess so members can campaign for the November elections.
“We're having many meetings to try to decide the best course of action,” said Stump. “We will be talking to committee members during the next two weeks. After that, we will be sharing our plans with the stakeholders.”
“Our position is that Congress should insist that existing law, FIFRA and current product registrations should prevail in determining EPA actions on a POP-listed pesticide,” said Dave Rhylander, president of the Southern Crop Production Association, who visited with Stump, along with Dan Alexander of the Agri Business Group in Indianapolis.
“Otherwise, we could find products banned for use in the United States simply because some country in Europe bans their use.”
Rhylander and Alexander were among 35 representatives of the Southern Crop Production Association and the Southern Seed Association who traveled to Washington last month.
Besides the Persistent Organic Pollutants issue, team members briefed members of Congress and their staffs on a wide range of topics including:
- Pesticide registration fees. Team members thanked the congressmen and senators for helping pass “fee for service” legislation that was signed by President Bush in January. They also urged members and their staffs to plan for oversight of EPA's implementation of the legislation to assure its goals of improved pesticide registration decision-making are met.
- Interpretation of the “navigable waters” provision of the Clean Water Act. They asked members to support an “amicus” brief filed by Rep. John Duncan, R-Tenn., opposing legal efforts to overturn an earlier court decision limiting interpretations of the Clean Water Act to truly navigable waters.
- The Alternative Consultation Agreement for implementing provisions of the Endangered Species Act. Members were asked to communicate their strong desire that the Interior, Commerce and Agriculture departments and EPA work together to finalize the counterpart regulation as expeditiously as possible and that the regulation carefully balance the needs of agriculture and pest control with the protection of endangered species.
- Special exemptions for crop varieties protected by the Plant Variety Protection Act. Southern Seed Association representatives asked members to oppose any legislation creating special exemptions for a single variety under PVP.
Representatives of both the Southern Crop Production Association and Southern Seed Association also asked members of Congress and their staffs to work to preserve the 2002 farm bill in its present form.