Johnson Calls on EPA to Explain Proposed Harmful Restrictions on Wisconsin Farmers

WASHINGTON — Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, sought information from Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy about the EPA’s recent draft risk assessment that recommended increasing restrictions on the commonly used herbicide atrazine.

“In its most risk recent assessment, the EPA reportedly recommended significantly reducing atrazine levels compared to what is currently deemed as acceptable,” Johnson wrote in the letter. “The EPA must conduct transparent and objective scientific studies when reviewing herbicides and pesticides.  Farmers in Wisconsin and across the country deserve to know what factors the EPA considers when deciding whether to restrict farmers’ access to vital agricultural tools.

“In addition, Wisconsin agriculture groups have expressed concerns about the costs associated with the EPA’s recommendations on atrazine.  According to [one stakeholder], ‘[s]tudies suggest farming without atrazine could cost corn farmers up to $30-59 per acre in yield loss and added tillage, while negatively impacting water and nutrient management, which are key concerns of our state’s pork producers.’”

The letter is available here and below:

 

September 23, 2016

The Honorable Gina McCarthy
Administrator
Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20460

Dear Administrator McCarthy:

            The Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs is examining the effects of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulations on farmers and ranchers.  The EPA recently released a draft risk assessment that recommended increasing restrictions on atrazine, a commonly used herbicide.  Many farmers are concerned that if the EPA reduces the allowable levels of atrazine, farming costs will increase and crop yields will decrease.  With these concerns in mind, I write to request information about the EPA’s registration process for herbicides and pesticides.

According to the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), all pesticides to be sold or distributed in the U.S. must be registered with the EPA, which regulates the level of appropriate pesticide use to prevent undue consequences on the environment.  According to FIFRA and federal regulations for Registration Review, the EPA conducts registration reviews of herbicides and pesticides, such as atrazine, every 15 years.  In order to maintain its registration, “the pesticide product must perform its intended function without unreasonable adverse effects on the environment.”  In its most risk recent assessment, the EPA reportedly recommended significantly reducing atrazine levels compared to what is currently deemed as acceptable.  Many stakeholders believe that this reduction will “effectively ban the use of atrazine.”

On August 17, 2016, I convened a field hearing of the Committee in Dubuque, Iowa, to discuss the effect of federal regulations on the agriculture industry.  At the hearing I heard from Jim Zimmerman, a Wisconsin farmer who grows corn, soybeans, and wheat on 2,700 acres.  Mr. Zimmerman raised concerns about the EPA’s potential restriction on atrazine and the effects that this restriction will have on the farming industry.  He testified that “[a]trazine is the most widely used herbicide in conservation tillage systems.  Without atrazine, farmers would have to use higher quantities of other herbicides that are less effective while increasing tillage and threatening soil health and nutrients.”

Mr. Zimmerman also questioned the EPA’s most recent assessment of atrazine and stated that “more than 7,000 scientific studies have been conducted on the safety of [atrazine] to both the environment and to humans.  The evidence overwhelmingly confirms atrazine is safe.”  Other Wisconsin agricultural stakeholders support these sentiments.  Bill Gnatzig, the president of the Wisconsin Pork Association, argued that the “EPA has arbitrarily discounted 7,000 rigorous, high-quality scientific studies while compromising its own high standards.”

In addition, Wisconsin agriculture groups have expressed concerns about the costs associated with the EPA’s recommendations on atrazine.  According to Mr. Gnatzig, “[s]tudies suggest farming without atrazine could cost corn farmers up to $30-59 per acre in yield loss and added tillage, while negatively impacting water and nutrient management, which are key concerns of our state’s pork producers.”

The EPA must conduct transparent and objective scientific studies when reviewing herbicides and pesticides.  Farmers in Wisconsin and across the country deserve to know what factors the EPA considers when deciding whether to restrict farmers’ access to vital agricultural tools.  In order to assist the Committee in better understanding the EPA’s registration of herbicides and pesticides, I ask that you please provide the following information and materials:

1. When conducting a registration review, how does the EPA determine which studies and/or risk assessments it will use to base its own draft risk assessment for herbicides including, but not limited to, atrazine?

2. FIFRA defines unreasonable adverse effects on the environment as “any unreasonable risk to man or the environment, taking into account the economic, social and environmental costs and benefits of the use of any pesticide . . . .”  Did the EPA conduct such an analysis taking into account the economic, social, and environmental costs and benefits when drafting its assessment for atrazine?  If so, please produce this analysis.

3. Is the EPA concerned that increased restrictions on atrazine will result in “higher quantities of other herbicides that are less effective while increasing tillage and threatening soil health and nutrients”?  Please explain.

4. Is the EPA concerned that increased restrictions on atrazine will have an adverse effect on water and nutrient management?  Please explain.

5. Has the EPA convened any stakeholders meetings or conducted any similar outreach to the affected community as a part of its assessment regarding atrazine?  If so, please provide a detailed list with dates and locations of those meetings.

6. According to recent reports, the EPA is currently in the process of reviewing another commonly used herbicide, glyphosate.  On April 29, 2016, the EPA reportedly posted a risk analysis of glyphosate on its website prepared by the EPA’s Cancer Assessment Review Committee (CARC).  The report found that glyphosate was “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”   Just days later, the EPA apparently deleted the report from its website because the EPA claimed the assessment was “preliminary” and published “inadvertently”—although the word “FINAL” was printed on each page of the report.  Then, on September 16, 2016, the EPA released a report from its Pesticide Programs that found that “[t]he available data at this time do not support a carcinogenic process for glyphosate.” 

    1. How will the EPA’s findings in the CARC report and the Pesticides Programs report inform the Registration Review for Glyphosate?  Please explain.
    2. When will the EPA complete its Registration Review of Glyphosate? 

Please provide this material as soon as possible but no later than 5:00 p.m. on October 7, 2016.  When delivering production sets, please produce to Majority staff in room 340 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building and to Minority staff in room 613 of the Hart Senate Office Building. 

The Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs is authorized by Rule XXV of the Standing Rules of the Senate to investigate “the efficiency and economy of operations of all branches of the Government.”  Additionally, S. Res. 73 (114th Congress) authorize the Committee to examine “the efficiency and economy of all branches and functions of Government with particular references to the operations and management of Federal regulatory policies and programs.”  For purposes of responding to this request, please refer to the definitions and instructions in the enclosure. 

If you have any questions about this request, please contact me or have your staff contact Scott Wittmann of the Committee staff at (202) 224-4751.  Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Ron Johnson                                                              

Chairman                                     

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