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Fed Budget Cuts: Ag-Related Agencies Look for Alternative Funds – DTN

Ernst Undesser
By Todd Neeley, DTN Staff Reporter May 12, 2017

Fed Budget Cuts: Ag-Related Agencies Look for Alternative Funds – DTN

Zea Moth, Bollworm.

Staff from two federal agencies that want to see increased funding to the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act, or PRIA, but are also preparing for budget cuts.

Agency representatives explained the impact of proposed cuts Thursday at a hearing before the Senate Agriculture Committee. The committee held a hearing to consider a bill to renew funding for the PRIA program.

President Donald Trump’s administration has proposed cuts of 21% and 31% to the USDA and EPA, respectively, meaning the industry fees under the PRIA could have to be increased to help make up for any cuts. Fees collected from the pesticides industry are used to speed up the regulatory process for moving new products to market.

Rick Keigwin, acting director of EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, said the agency cannot “fully do the work” expected in the PRIA program without adequate federal funding.

“We would have to figure out how to do things and look for additional efficiencies,” Keigwin said.

Sheryl Kunickis, director of USDA’s Office of Pest Management Policy, told the committee her agency would compensate for any cuts.

“Any cuts that would come, we’d have to figure out the best way to go forward,” she said.

“If cuts come, it will make it a little more challenging,” Kunickis said. “We’ll adjust. We always have. Certainly we hope that won’t happen.”

The 2004 law created a registration service-fee system for 90 different categories of pesticide registration, amended registration, and associated tolerance actions that set maximum residue levels for food and feed. PRIA also provides funding for worker protection activities. The industry has agreed to pay millions in fees to support PRIA.

The full House measure passed HR 1029 by voice vote on March 20 to authorize the PRIA for seven years and increase fees on the industry. The Senate is working to pass its version of the bill. The PRIA expires on Sept. 30.

The new legislation would allow the EPA to collect up to $31 million in registration fees per year from 2017 to 2023. Currently that amount is $27.8 million.

Though the Trump administration’s official budget proposal is due for release sometime in May, a recent EPA memo suggests the agency may be looking to fund pesticide programs increasingly through user fees and use fewer taxpayer dollars.

BUDGET PRESSURE

Jay Vroom, president and chief executive officer of CropLife America, told senators the PRIA program has faced budget pressure since its formation.

Over the past four years, he said, Congress missed its funding obligations for the program by about $29 million. In addition, since 2004 the EPA’s Office of Pesticide programs’ full-time employee count has dropped by more than 21%, from 625 to 491.

“Clearly, EPA has done much to offset the resource constraints through efficiency improvements,” Vroom said, “but we all need Congressional appropriators to restore adequate resources to meet the statutory requirements of FIFRA.”

Since 2004, industry fees to the program have topped $521 million. “It has been a very good investment,” Vroom said. “PRIA 4 will extend that record and be even better when PRIA appropriation targets are met.

Vroom said the single biggest regulatory challenge to EPA is implementing the Endangered Species Act and the harmonizing with the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, or FIFRA, for pesticide registrations.

When it comes to moving new pesticide active ingredients through the approval process, Vroom said the PRIA program has started to bog down.

For example, PRIA actions completed between 2012 and 2014, took between 946 days and 1,137 days, on average, for new active ingredients to complete the process. The PRIA target for such approvals is 730 days, Vroom said.

“In other words, about one half of the timeline gains have eroded since the start of PRIA,” Vroom said.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chairman of the Senate ag committee, said the goal is to maintain federal funding for PRIA.

“We know that many rely heavily upon timely and predictable registration decisions,” Roberts said in his opening statement.

“It is important that we get PRIA across the finish line, not only to provide certainty to the industry, but also to provide new products to growers for crop protection and to consumers to protect public health.”

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @toddneeleyDTN

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Ernst Undesser
By Todd Neeley, DTN Staff Reporter May 12, 2017