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By Brad Harbison

As members of the pest control industry make plans to head to this year’s National Pest Management Association Legislative Day — scheduled for March 18-20 in Washington, D.C. — they do so with very real prospects of impacting change. Factors in the pest control industry’s favor right now include an industry-friendly White House and Congress and a need-to-be-renewed Farm Bill.

For these reasons, Andrew Bray, vice president of public policy, NPMA, said attendees “will be on the offensive” at Legislative Day this year.

“Republicans have control of the trifecta — both houses of Congress and the Executive office — so you have to strike while the iron is hot.”

By most accounts, the general public is concerned about the way government is functioning, a sentiment shared by many pest management professionals, according to new research from PCT. Forty-four percent of those who responded to a recent PCT survey said the “ability of politicians to get things done” is the greatest problem facing the nation” (see chart).

While President Donald Trump has had a somewhat tumultuous 14 months in office (with an average approval rating of 38.4 percent for 2017, according to the Gallup Poll), one group that has largely approved of the current administration’s performance — particularly when it comes to economic and regulatory issues — is pest management professionals.

“With the stock market up over 26,000 for the first time and a new tax plan that is going to remove some burdensome restrictions, there is good news there,” Bray said. “And we’ve seen an EPA that seems much more willing to work and listen to industry. I believe that our members are generally pretty happy with what they’ve seen from this administration.”

PCT research supports Bray’s observations. More than half of those surveyed by PCT said they approve of the Trump administration’s handling of (1) the economy; (2) government regulations; (3) tax reform; and (4) foreign affairs (see chart).

The relatively robust economy has, however, made employee recruitment more challenging. Thirty-nine percent of those surveyed said the ability to recruit quality employees is the “greatest problem currently facing their company.” However, issues more directly related to politics were less of a concern; 20 percent answered that the economy was the “greatest problem currently facing their company” followed by health care policy (15%); government regulations (11%); Washington, D.C. gridlock (5%); and foreign affairs (1%).

In addition to a favorable political climate, the Farm Bill is up for re-authorization in 2018. This is important because it presents the pest control industry with a vehicle to insert needed legislation to protect and promote the structural pest management industry.

With these factors in the pest control industry’s favor, Legislative Day attendees will seek to have their voices heard on the following issues.

COOPERATIVE FEDERALISM. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has said on several occasions he plans to use the EPA to regulate through “cooperative federalism.” This presents the pest control industry and other stakeholders with opportunities regarding the regulation of pesticides. NPMA has partnered with the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) on a joint proposal to ensure the relationship between EPA and state lead agencies regarding pesticide regulation. When EPA promulgates a rule, before it goes public the agency is required to submit that rule to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). USDA then has an opportunity to work with EPA on the rule before it goes public; once the rule goes public it comes under greater scrutiny. Bray said, “So what NASDA is saying is, ‘We think that you also should provide all of the state agencies that regulate the sale and use of pesticides the opportunity to see these rules. We want to fix the problem before it’s out there in the public.’” In that same vein, NPMA and NASDA want to ensure that only the state lead agency can regulate the sale and use of pesticides. “We rely on our state lead agencies as co-regulators and partners. When you usurp a state lead agency through a locality, it’s generally done for a political reason — not a real science-based reason,” Bray said. “We think any decision on how and when and where to use a pesticide needs to be based on sound science research pursuant to FIFRA (the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act).”

NPDES PERMITS. Despite the fact that pesticides applied in accordance with FIFRA have already undergone a thorough review during the EPA registration and reregistration processes, National Pollutant Discharge and Elimination System (NPDES) permits are required under the Clean Water Act any time chemical pesticides are used in, over or near Waters of the United States (WOTUS). The pest control industry has long been of the belief that these permits place an unnecessary and costly burden on them. Additionally, under the Obama administration a rule was added that expanded the definition of a waterway to include everything from a simple drainage ditch to streams and rivers (that rule has been held up in court and not yet enacted). There are two pieces of legislation in Congress to address this duplicative regulation. In the Senate, the Sensible Environmental Protection Act of 2017 (S. 340) which has been assigned to the Committee on Environment and Public Works and is awaiting further action. In the House of Representatives, the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2017 (H. 953) has passed the Committee on Agriculture with bipartisan support and is now in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT. NPMA and others believe the Endangered Species Act (ESA), as currently drafted, is broken. The Department of Interior, specifically the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service (collectively the Services), are tasked with implementing the ESA. This group can slow down the registration (or reregistration) review of products they determine may affect a listed endangered species by engaging in a slow-moving consultative process — involving scientific assessments with different standards and expertise — with EPA. NPMA believes this collaborative consultation process is broken and unnecessarily bureaucratic. “Right now, the system isn’t working, and we want to be part of a solution for fixing it. We want to be able to maintain the ability to use pesticides in a smart, responsible manner to protect public health.” Currently there is no pending legislation in Congress to address the ESA; the goal at Legislative Day is for attendees to raise awareness should legislation be introduced, perhaps in the Farm Bill.

In addition to Capitol Hill visits, Legislative Day attendees will be treated to sessions on important technical and business-related topics. On March 19, PCT Publisher Dan Moreland will review findings from the recent PCT/NPMA Industry Recruitment Survey that was sponsored by BASF. This session will provide insights on how your company stacks up on hiring, retention, turnover rates and more. Learn more about this year’s program at http://ow.ly/uKUK30i1wRL or call NPMA at 800/678-6722.

The author is internet editor and managing editor of PCT magazine. He can be contacted via email at bharbison@gie.net.