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KFB/KDA submit comments on EPA Pesticide Certification

KFB/KDA submit comments on EPA Pesticide Certification

KDA comments are below KFB letter

December 21, 2015

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP)
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20460

COMMENTS FOR SUBMISSION
DOCKET ID NO. EPA-HQ-OPP-2011-0183

I am writing to convey Kansas Farm Bureau (KFB) comments regarding the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) proposed rule for the Certification of Pesticide Applicators.  Kansas Farm Bureau is the largest farm organization in Kansas, representing 40,000 farmer and rancher members, many of whom are certified applicators of pesticides regulated under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).

KFB acknowledges EPA's responsibility to assure that restricted use pesticides (RUP's) are handled safely and our policy supports "periodic upgrading of EPA/state pesticide applicator training to ensure a sound and effective source of training, information and certification on the proper handling and safe use of pesticides."  We believe, however, that the agency's goals of increasing applicator competence and reducing undesirable pesticide exposures can best be accomplished through a collaborative effort involving EPA, farmers, certified applicators, state departments of agriculture and the extension service.  As a result, we cannot support the rule as proposed and urge EPA to withdraw the proposal and commit to a substantive process of engagement with stakeholders.

Both EPA and pesticide stakeholders have a clear obligation to assure that registered pesticides are used without unreasonable adverse effects to human health or the environment; we are concerned, however, that while clearly imposing tremendous burdens on farmers, state departments of agriculture and the extension service, the rule as proposed will have only a small impact on pesticide safety.  By its own admission, the agency is hindered in quantifying benefits because it states that pesticide exposures too often go unreported and, when health effects are present, they can often be ascribed to other conditions.  Contrastingly, the regulatory burden will clearly be increased because the rule:

* Propses extensive continuing education requirements (CEU's).  The proposed rule required six CEU's covering the general private applicator certification requirements and three CEU's per category of certification, thus totaling anywhere from nine CEU's to as many as fifteen for a farmer applying pesticides on their own property.  Costs will be borne by state regulatory agencies maintaining the database of CEU's, industry and extension which will be needed to provide the additional training, and ultimately the farmer, who will spend additional time off the farm and pay additional "fees" to trainers and state regulatory agencies.

* Codifies the period of certification.  Mandating a federal 3-year recertification period will clearly increase the burden on states, put a strain on educators and trainers and increase costs to the farmer applicator.  We suggest that EPA not mandate a recertification period and allow states to continue to determine the best recertification period for the certified applicators in the state.

* Demands changes in state laws and regulations relating to state certification programs.  In Kansas, many pesticide rules are codified in statute and will require a long and costly process of law changes in order to comply.

Kansas farmers and ranchers are committed to the safe and proper application of registered pesticides along with minimizing any potential adverse effects to human health or the environment; KFB is very concerned, however, that the proposed rule will impose tremendous burdens on stakeholders with little measurable impact on pesticide safety.  Again, we cannot support the rule as proposed and urge EPA to withdraw the proposal and commit to a substantive process of engagement with stakeholders.

Below, we respond to specific questions posed by the agency in the proposal.

Should EPA consider adding points to or deleting points from the proposed private applicator competency standards?  If so, what points and why? (Section VI of the proposal)

In short, KFB believes that the existing regulation adequately covers private applicators and suggests that EPA eliminate the proposed private applicator competency standards, leaving that responsibility to the states.  The Pesticide Policy Coalition (PPC), which is a coalition of food, agriculture, pest management, and industry related organizations that support transparent, fair and science-based regulation of pest management (and of which the American Farm Bureau Federation is a member) also objects to this provision and we strongly support the PPC's comments.

Are the competencies necessary to protect pollinators adequately covered in the propose competency standards for private applicators? (Section VI)

Protections for specific species are best dealt with in label instructions which are part of existing regulation.  We do not believe pollinator-specific concerns need to be covered in pesticide applicator competency standards and support EPA's efforts to establish and promote state managed pollinator protection plans.

Please comment on the proposed structure of the non-exam option for private applicator certification. (Section VI)

KFB believes the training option for private applicators should be through but not overly burdensome or time-consuming because many of these farmers will be taking away time from their operations in order to participate.  This is particularly the case for private applicators seeking recertification who are already familiar with the topics to be covered.  We encourage EPA not to adopt overly stringent requirements that will do little more than inconvenience agricultural producers without resulting in any measurable benefit to applicators, workers or the environment.

Requirements to ensure security and effectiveness of exam and training administration (Section IX)

EPA "proposes to require that applicator certification exams for initial certification and recertification be closed book, proctored, and that the identity of each test taker be verified."  KFB wholeheartedly supports efforts to protect the integrity of the training and exam taking process and properly identifying test takers is a vital step.  We suggest though, that open book tests remain an option for both initial certification and recertification.  It can be argued that knowing where to find the answer is more important that memorizing answers in order to pass a test.  Additionally, Agarwal found no real differences in retention a week after administering either an open or closed-book exam.  As a result, Kansas Farm Bureau strongly suggests that EPA withdraw its proposal to mandate closed book exams and leave it up to the states to decide the best testing procedures.

Minimum Age (Section XII)

EPA has proposed setting a minimum age of 18 for certified applicators, as well as for noncertified applicators working under the direct supervision of certified applicators.  For some farm operations, this age limit may posed a significant burden.  For example, under the proposed rule a 17 year old would be prohibited from treating tree stumps with a pesticide mixed by their "certified applicator" parent as the parent was nearby cutting/clearing trees from a pasture.  Additionally, it should be noted that in the docket, EPA readily admits that it "cannot quantify the benefits associated with this proposal" regarding age 18 as a minimum aged for noncertified applicators working under the supervision of a certified applicator.  Kansas Farm Bureau supports the rights of states to decide this question and suggests that EPA withdraw the mandated minimum age level from their proposal.

Should EPA consider a different maximum recertification period?  If so, what period and why? (Section XIV)

KFB strongly objects to an EPA-imposed national mandate on recertification periods for certified applicators; we believe this is an area best left to the states.  Mandating a federal 3-year recertification period will clearly increase burdens on the states and put a strain on educators and trainers.  We urge EPA not to mandate a recertification period and to allow states to continue operating in this sphere as they currently do.

Is the proposed number of recertification CEU's too low or too high? (Section XIV)

The agency is proposing to require that private applicator CEU programs require instruction in the general competency standards as well as each relevant application method-specific category.  For private applicators, this will entail a demanding schedule of 6 CEU's of instruction to maintain core certification every 3 years and an additional 3 CEU's in the application-method specific categories every 3 years as well, totaling anywhere from nine to as many as fifteen CEU's for a farmer applying pesticides on their own property. Costs will be borne by state regulatory agencies maintaining the database of CEU's, industry and extension which will be needed to provide the additional training, and ultimately the farmer, who will spend additional time off the farm and through additional "fees" paid to trainers and state regulatory agencies.

Kansas Farm Bureau agrees that training and updates regarding changes in labels, application rates, environmental impacts, rules and regulations are vital but suggests that requiring CEU's in general competencies every three years is excessive.  Initial training is a must but beyond that , general competencies are best learned and reinforced through occasional review and on-the-farm practice.  We strongly recommend that EPA not move forward with this proposal.

Mandating a 3-year certification cycle, and then coupling that with CEU requirements that must be accomplished within 18 months of recertification imposes a harsh, inflexible regulatory burden not just on the private applicators but also state regulatory agencies tasked with maintaining the database of CEU's earned and their timing, and the industry and extension professionals, whose job it will be to provide the additional and nearly constant training.

We strongly urge the agency to drop these requirements from the propose rule.

Kansas Farm Bureau appreciates the opportunity to provide comments regarding EPA's proposed rule for the Certification of Pesticide Applicators and asks for your thoughtful consideration.  We understand the importance of ensuring the safe handling of restricted use pesticides but believe that the goals of increasing applicator competence and reducing undesirable pesticide exposures can best b e accomplished through a collaborative effort between EPA and pesticide applicator stakeholders working collectively.  As a result, we cannot support the rule a proposed and urge EPA to withdraw the proposal and commit to a substantive process of engagement with stakeholders.

Sincerely,

Richard Felts, President
Kansas Farm Bureau

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Agarwal PK, Karpicke JD, Kang SHK, Roediger HL, McDermott KB. Examining the testing effect with open an closed-book tests.  Applied Cognitive Psychology 2008;22(7):861-876.
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The Kansas Department of Agriculture appreciates the opportunity to submit the following comments, suggestions and concerns related to the Certification of Pesticide Applicators Rule Revision (40 CFR 171). Within the Kansas Department of Agriculture, the Pesticide and Fertilizer program is responsible for the laws governing pesticides and their use. The program strives to achieve its mission through compliance assistance and outreach education, complaint investigation, and monitoring inspections. 

The Kansas Department of Agriculture is responsible for certifying private and commercial applicators to use pesticides. To qualify for certification, a commercial pesticide applicator must show adequate knowledge of the type of pesticide application that he or she intends to perform. Through education and outreach, training, and certification of those who apply certain pesticides, we have demonstrated a history of assuring consumers that the person applying pesticides to their lawn, home or workplace is knowledgeable and qualified.  

In general, the proposed revisions to the rule will place an unnecessary burden on the university extension service, the Kansas Department of Agriculture, the industry and the applicators in Kansas. The proposed changes will result in increased costs to the state and industry without an equivalent improvement in the competency of certified applicators or enhanced safety. The changes proposed to the EPA Pesticide Applicator Rule will not improve, and will likely, detract our ability to assure environmental and consumer safety.

Specifically:

The reporting requirements of continuing education, especially that at least half the hours be completed within 18 months of the preceding expiration of the applicator’s certification, will be difficult to track and unnecessarily burdensome on the applicator. ?

In 2003, Kansas reformatted the recertification program to focus on emerging issues and specific topics because applicators reported the core topic training was too generic and repetitive. The increased requirement for core hours of continuing education will lead to generalization of training instead of focusing on specific and new topics, which are more valuable for recertification.   ?

The hours of required training should not be uniform for all categories/subcategories. Required hours should be based on the training needs in in specific categories, which are in turn based on the application complexity, risk involved and observed enforcement issues.  ?

The definition of use in Section 171.3 should NOT include arranging for the application of the pesticide. The use of restricted pesticides should be limited to the specialized activities of certified applicators under their supervision. Business personnel, farmers, homeowners and other noncertified individuals should be able to make arrangements for the application.

   
If approved, the proposed revisions to the Federal Pesticide Applicators Rule will require extensive changes to the Kansas Pesticide Application Statute, associated rules and regulations and the state certification plan. Upon approval of a final rule, we request a reasonable amount of time to adopt the necessary state changes prior to full implementation and enforcement of the revised federal rule.