A federal appeals court has ruled that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration didn't follow the proper procedures when it imposed stricter regulations on farm fertilizer dealers, meaning the policy change won't go into effect as originally scheduled.
The OSHA policy change announced last year would have regulated retail fertilizer dealers under the same standards as manufacturers, meaning dealers of fertilizers, including anhydrous ammonia, would have to instigate changes such as installing new storage tanks. The policy change came after a 2013 explosion at a fertilizer facility in West, Texas, which killed 15 people and leveled part of the town. President Barack Obama issued an executive order calling for steps aimed at preventing such incidents.
The Agricultural Retailers Association and The Fertilizer Institute sued a year ago, saying the proposed changes would impose a more than $100 million burden on 3,800 fertilizer retailers nationwide.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled last Friday that the change amounted to the creation of a new standard that requires a formal rulemaking process, which would give the industry an opportunity to have a say.
"This administration has broadly and unjustly avoided proper procedure to construct and reinterpret myriad federal regulations without public input," says Daren Coppock, president and CEO of the Agricultural Retailers Association. "The court's decision in this case affirms the importance of regulatory agencies following proper notice and comment rulemaking procedure."
However, the three-judge panel also noted that "nothing in our decision necessarily calls into question the substance of OSHA's decision."
The Associated Press requested comment from OSHA Monday.
The ruling "sends OSHA back to square one to ensure that producers are heard," said U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D. "That's essential not only because the regulation would be a hardship for farmers, but also because consumers will ultimately foot the bill paying higher food prices."
Hoeven said legislation in Congress would prevent any changes in fiscal 2017, which runs through next September. Congress weighed in once before, including a provision in a year-end funding bill late last year that suspended the change until this Oct. 1.