States Dispute Buffers
by Mitch Lies
Capital Press, March 25, 2010
Directors say New Pesticide Restrictions are Unworkable
Northwest state agriculture directors are calling for the Environmental Protection Agency to revise its methods for establishing no-spray buffers along Western state waterways.
In setting buffers for the first group of pesticides being reviewed under a court order, EPA failed to consider the economic impacts on growers, used outdated science and failed to clearly define which waters should be protected, the directors said.
Further, the directors said, EPA's restrictions are unworkable.
Under a court order, EPA has proposed pesticide-protected areas around salmon-bearing streams and waters connected to those streams for the first three of 37 pesticides it is reviewing with the National Marine Fisheries Service.
The buffers threaten production practices in Oregon, Washington, California and Idaho.
In a letter obtained this week by the Capital Press, Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba aired several concerns to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.
Coba wrote that NMFS used a risk model that "relied upon inputs that were not reflective of real-life scenarios in Oregon waters" in assessing a pesticide's risk to salmon.
Further, Coba wrote, the buffers "will effectively eliminate the use of (the) pesticides (under review) in many areas of Oregon. ... ODA strongly requests EPA to reconsider the impacts of these mitigation measures."
Washington State Department of Agriculture Director Dan Newhouse, in a similarly harshly worded letter to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, wrote that the EPA did not use the best available science in determining the need for buffers and buffer sizes.
"The buffer widths ... effectively ban the use of the (impacted) pesticides in western Washington," Newhouse wrote.
Coba also wrote that the ODA is concerned over the complexity involved in determining the size of buffers.
Under EPA's plan, growers would log on to EPA's Web site to input droplet size, wind speed and other factors to determine buffer widths when applying certain pesticides. Under the proposal, buffers would range from 100 to 1,000 feet.
Coba wrote that the department is unable to determine whether certain waterways are subject to the buffers.
"Do man-made ditches under 4-feet deep require buffers?" Coba asked in the letter.
Coba and Newhouse in their letters also questioned whether EPA adequately considered the buffers' economic impacts on farmers and state agencies assigned to regulate the law. The Endangered Species Act calls for agencies to consider the economic impacts on industries when restricting activities, they noted.
In a related development, the Washington State Department of Agriculture last week released findings from a multi-year study showing concentrations of pesticides found in five salmon-bearing watersheds are low and not expected to harm fish.
The study can be accessed at www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/eap/toxics/pesticides.htm
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