Rod Snyder, Environmental Protection Agency agricultural adviser, offered important updates on how the agency plans to address issues impacting the ag sector including pesticide reviews, the waters of the U.S. rule and making decisions based on science while speaking to the North American Agricultural Journalists on April 25.
Snyder, who hasn’t previously worked in the government but rather representing farmers and commodity groups, explains it’s been an interesting experience being on the other side giving farmers a voice. In the past year, pesticide issues have taken up a considerable amount of his attention.
“Pesticide issues far and away have taken up the most time,” Snyder says which makes sense for the many different active ingredients that are under review at any given time. He adds in a year such as 2022 when farmers are faced with supply chain issues, farmers are not only concerned about whether they can get supplies, but whether regulations will impact their ability to utilize crucial tools.
EPA recently announced a new pesticide review policy which hopes to help avoid lawsuits and offer certainty as the agency tries to comply with the Endangered Species Act as it registers and reviews pesticides. The workplan was mandated by Congress in the 2018 Farm Bill. Snyder calls this a “leadership moment for the agency” to step up and find a way to address a process that has extended the time of review for pesticides and created a backlog.
“Despite the fact that it’s going to take years to get everything up to speed, we think over time this will bring greater stability and predictability to the pesticide process so that farmers have consistent access and that decisions don’t threaten to perhaps remove active ingredients from the marketplace through court orders and settlements,” he says.
Dicamba label restrictions
As it relates to dicamba labeling changes, Snyder explains the agency late last year did release an incident report evaluating off-target incidents that occurred in 2021 and found that across a number of states incident occurrences did not improve after new restrictions were put into place.
“I think the challenge there is that in many places, despite the new 2020 label that was intended to address off-market movement and particularly volatilization, in many states there was an increase or similar level of incidents,” Snyder says. He explains the agency worked with a couple of different state departments of agriculture, namely Iowa and Minnesota, to introduce earlier cutoff dates in those states to help reduce those incidents.
Snyder says the agency in 2022 is committed to preventing action on a national scale, but instead working with state departments of agriculture or state agencies to help address concerns.
“I do think it’s fair to say that from a broader perspective there are still concerns about whether or not the current national label is sufficiently protected,” he says of the dicamba label, noting that in 2023 conversations may be warranted for additional changes. However, he says EPA understands changes can’t be made now for the 2022 season.
“Knowing that seed is going in the ground right now, I can’t imagine that we’d see any more changes for the season, including even at the state level,” he says.
Snyder says EPA continues to work on updating the definition of waters of the U.S. despite an important decision by the U.S. Supreme Court expected to be heard later this year which also could have implications of how wetlands are defined and regulated by the government. EPA is conducting regional roundtable discussions mainly focused on implementation issues in May and June, and five of those are hosted by agricultural organizations.
“Our goal continues to be to try to find a durable definition for waters of the United States after really a number of years of ping ponging back and forth due to federal court decisions,” Snyder says which has led to three different federal rulemakings in the last eight years. “We really want to try to find a solution here that stands the test of time.”
Snyder says the proposal on WOTUS that came out in December 2021 received over 120,000 comments. The agency continues to evaluate those public comments seriously, but it will be a number of months before the next concrete step on the rule. He does believe there’s interest in trying to get this rule finalized this calendar year.
He recognized there’s interest in the Sackett case that will come before the U.S. Supreme Court this fall which will provide significant insight on what is a significant nexus or a standard test for wetlands, but there are many other issues as you look deeper at many concerns being expressed by farmers. These include issues farmers face as they go into the Army Corps of Engineers or real-life examples of what’s happening on the ground and looking at whether there are things the agency can do to help make the implementation process more efficient to address these concerns.
“That extends well beyond the scope of what the Supreme Court is going to be focused on,” Snyder says. “We don’t need to see a WOTUS rulemaking every two years. That’s not good for the environment. It’s not good for farmers.”
Working with ag community
Action taken earlier this year with quickly updating restrictions on Enlist use was a perfect example of hearing concerns after 134 counties were restricted from using the product. But then after new data and information was available, EPA moved quickly to update changes and quickly issued changes within 60 days. Snyder says he communicated that if EPA was to move quickly, it could make a real difference in terms of putting a tool back into the toolbox for farmers in these areas.
“The administrator wanted us to move as fast as we could, and we did before the planting season,” Snyder says. “It seems like a small thing but making sure that every decision is rooted in the science and rooted in the law, but where you can make a difference in timing or sort of leaning into the grower concerns, we want to do that.”
Snyder also says he has had many conversations with EPA Administrator Michael Regan on climate change and how EPA can play a supporting role with USDA and farmers. In restarting a farmer, rancher and rural community advisory committee, Reagan issued a new two-year charge to that committee to explore how EPA can support agriculture’s climate goals looking at both adaptation and mitigation efforts to support policies into the future.
Snyder says some of the topics the committee might explore include methane issues, biofuels, water reuse, pest management, nutrient management issues, food loss and food waste. “Our goal is to have the committee bring forward some recommendations for how the agency can be most supportive in this space with our programs moving forward,” he explains.