Proposed pesticide ban eased; Washington farmers still warn of pitfalls

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Washington state Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, listens to testimony Jan. 30 in Olympia on a bill she introduced to partially ban chlorpyrifos, a widely used pesticide.

 

OLYMPIA — A bill to partially prohibit chlorpyrifos has been loosened to allow more Washington growers to use the pesticide, drawing criticism from advocates of a total ban, while failing to win over farm groups.

At the request of the state Department of Agriculture, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Brainbridge Island, agreed to exempt more crops from the proposed ban. The agriculture department said the expanded list includes crops for which there are few or no alternatives to chlorpyrifos.

“This proposal does not completely protect the public, but it does minimize the public’s overall exposure while the chemical manufacturers work on alternatives,” Rolfes said Jan. 30 at a hearing before the Senate agriculture committee.

Chlorpyrifos, widely used in U.S. agriculture since 1965, has been targeted by environmental, farmworker and anti-pesticide groups. The Environmental Protection Agency has resisted petitions and lawsuits to ban the chemical, saying it will complete a review of chlorpyrifos’ uses in 2022.

Rather than wait, California, New York and Hawaii have moved to phase out chlorpyrifos. The European Commission in January ordered its members to withdraw plant-protection products containing chlorpyrifos.

Rolfes’ original bill exempted sweet corn, mint and onions — three crops the state agriculture department identified as reliant on chlorpyrifos. The revised bill adds Christmas trees, alfalfa, asparagus, brassicas for seed and food production and non-food uses.

Rolfes also agreed to push back the partial ban by one year to Jan. 1, 2022. The agriculture department said that would give farmers more time to find alternatives and use up stocks of chlorpyrifos.

Under the bill, growers could apply to the agriculture department for emergency permits to spray chlorpyrifos when there are no practical alternatives. Agriculture department policy adviser Kelly McLain suggested lawmakers give the department authority to write a rule detailing the standards for getting a permit.

“Right now the state has potentially thousands of users of this material, and WSDA will need to strictly limit the ability for users to seek emergency permits, except for when a true emergency exists,” she said.

McLain said the agency was not endorsing a ban, but said chlorpyrifos warrants more scrutiny and possibly restrictions.

The agriculture department also didn’t oppose the bill, rankling the Washington Farm Bureau. In a weekly update to its members, the Farm Bureau said the department departed from its tradition of working with farmers and ranchers before starting an initiative that might harm the industry.

Earthjustice lawyer Patti Goldman, the lead attorney in a federal lawsuit to force EPA to ban chlorpyrifos, criticized the exemption for some crops.

“We want a comprehensive ban. It’s a dangerous precedent to have exceptions,” she said.

David Epstein, vice president for scientific affairs for the Northwest Horticultural Association, said the Legislature lacks the expertise to ban pesticides and should defer to the EPA.

He noted that it is wrong to say the Trump EPA overturned a ban. Instead, the Obama EPA never finalized one. “They left town without making a decision, so there was nothing to overturn,” Epstein said.

Kittitas County alfalfa farmer Brad Haberman, vice president of the Washington Farm Bureau, said he opposed a partial ban, even if alfalfa was exempted.

“Once you start banning it from one farmer and one crop, you get on a slippery slope that makes it easy to take it away from the rest of us,” he said.

April Clayton, a tree fruit grower near Lake Chelan, said waiting for an emergency permit could be disastrous. “Waiting two or three days in an orchard is like waiting for years for a bug to multiply and spread,” she said.

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation initiated proceedings in August to ban chlorpyrifos. Rather than fight the ban, pesticide manufacturers agreed to end sales in California on Feb. 6. California growers will not be able to use or possess chlorpyrifos after Dec. 31. The state has set aside $5 million to help develop alternative pesticides.

“No advocacy group has asked me to introduce this bill,” Rolfes said. “I am here because angry and concerned constituents asked me why the Legislature isn’t doing something to protect them after seeing what is happening in other states, specifically California.”

 

Posted By: Capital Press

Posted On: 2/3/20