With half of 2018 in the rearview mirror, the Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA) has continued to see positive changes within key federal agencies that directly impact agricultural retailers’ and distributors’ day-to-day operations. The Trump administration has continued its shift from heavy regulatory enforcement to focusing on compliance assistance for regulated industries, and ARA continues to represent its membership as these important decisions are made.
All Eyes on the Farm Bill
For the past few months, the agriculture industry and its allies have been focused on the 2018 farm bill process. As of press time, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives each passed versions of the legislation, with the conference committee process on the horizon.
ARA was generally supportive of both chambers’
bills, though in a side-by-side comparison the House bill included important regulatory reforms such as National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit relief, improvements to the Endangered Species Act as it relates to pesticide registration reviews, and state preemption over county and local governments regarding pesticide regulations. The House bill also included the repeal of the Waters of the United State (WOTUS) rule.
ARA worked closely with Rep. David Kustoff, R-Tenn., to include the retail exemption definition to OSHA’s Process Safety Management (PSM) standard, which establishes requirements for preventing or minimizing explosion hazards related to chemicals and are grateful it remained in the House bill.
“Agriculture is a huge driver of the economy in West Tennessee, which is why I worked hard to ensure the Farm Bill included a provision to clarify the definition for retail exemptions under the ‘fifty percent’ rule,” Kustoff says. “The prior administration went after agricultural retailers by unlawfully mandating a Process Safety Management Standard. This decision would have had devastating effects on many small businesses around the country, and with the passage of H.R. 2, we rolled back this harmful bureaucratic overreach.”
The dramatic and continuing technological advancement of production agriculture requires us to expand how we think of rural connectivity. Internet connectivity cannot end with anchor institutions, such as schools, libraries and hospitals. It is increasingly important for farmers and ranchers to have wireless broadband connections to operate advanced machinery and manage livestock. The ability for producers to seamlessly transfer data generated by field operations is quickly becoming a key factor in the overall economic health of rural America.
The Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act, S. 2343 / H.R. 4881, is an important step in reimagining the way we think of this challenge. It was introduced by Senators Wicker, R-Miss., and Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Representatives Latta, R-Ohio and Loebsack, D-Iowa. This legislation was included in both House and Senate farm bills, but changes will need to be made in conference to rectify differences in scope.
In addition to a permanent repeal being included in the House farm bill, other movement has been occurring on WOTUS. Following the 2017 executive order to review, rescind and revise the 2015 rule, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) recently released a statement that it and the Department of the Army have sent a proposed rule that would redefine WOTUS to the Office of Management and Budget for interagency review, with a public comment period to follow. The EPA and Corps have also issued a supplemental proposal requesting comments on the legal basis of the 2015 WOTUS rule, which the agencies believe has led to uncertainty and confusion. The agencies made it clear they want to permanently and completely repeal the 2015 WOTUS rule and keep the pre-2015 framework in place as they work on the new improved definition.
EPA Pesticide Registration Reviews
A wide range of pesticide products continue to be under registration review at the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs. Very few alternative and effective products would be available if chlorpyrifos, glyphosate, neonicotiniods, pyrethroids and sulfonylureas were removed from the marketplace. ARA continues to work with industry stakeholders and the EPA to ensure these safe and effective crop protection tools remain available.
EPA Risk Management Program
On May 17, EPA issued a proposed rule (docket number EPA-HQ-OEM-2015-0725) requesting public comment on several rescissions and changes to the final Risk Management Program (RMP) Amendments issued on Jan. 13, 2017. ARA provided comments in support of the revisions on June 14, 2018 at a public listening session held at EPA headquarters. ARA believes current RMP regulations are working well but does support increased coordination with local emergency responders to ensure the facility, emergency responders, and the community are well prepared to deal with any potential chemical accident.
Hours of Service Relief Legislation
ARA has worked tirelessly to seek changes and exemptions from the Hours of Service (HOS) regulations for transporters of farm supplies, especially as this year’s weather substantially delayed fertilizer applications for most regions. While some states issued waivers for the transport of fertilizer, seed and pesticides, ARA continues to seek a national solution.
On June 21, Reps. Crawford, R-Ark., Westerman, R-Ark., and Bishop, D-Ga., introduced H.R. 6178, The Honest Operators Undertake Road Safety (HOURS) Act which provides the trucking industry with flexibility to accommodate their unique situations while maintaining safety on the roads. ARA is in support of the bill. It offers changes providing more flexibility to the short haul exemption rules, proposes clarity for certain agricultural and livestock drivers and carriers, and removes the planting and harvesting seasons requirement to ensure a year-round season for all states. ARA continues its work to ensure a long-term solution to HOS regulations, including building support to expand the air mile radius from 150 to 300 air miles to better reflect the needs of a changing industry.
FMCSA Announces New Regulatory Guidance
On May 31, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced new regulatory guidance clarifying the long-standing 150 air-miles hours-of-service agricultural commodity exemption as well as providing additional explanatory detail of the “personal conveyance” provision.
FMCSA published Federal Register notices proposing regulatory guidance for the transportation of agricultural commodities and the use of personal conveyance in December 2017 and requested public comment. FMCSA is providing clarity on the use of the agricultural exemption and personal conveyance to both industry and law enforcement along with providing as much flexibility as possible for the industry, while maintaining safety.
Need for Young Driver Workforce Development Program
Over the past several years, ARA has requested FMCSA and Congress address an increasing driver shortfall as freight transportation needs grow. In May 2018, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., introduced the DRIVE-SAFE Act, designed to provide opportunities for younger truck drivers to enter in the workforce. This legislation, referred to as the Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy Act (HR 5358), amends federal regulations preventing truck drivers under the age of 21 from crossing state lines. The proposal establishes a mentor-apprenticeship program and intensive training for qualified drivers under the age of 21. Specifically, the program includes two sequential probationary periods where the apprentice must complete at least 400 hours of on-duty time with at least 240 hours driving accompanied by a qualified mentor driver.
Both the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee and House Transportation & Infrastructure Committees passed their versions of the 2018 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) reauthorization bills, which provide authorization for improvements to the nation’s ports, inland waterways, locks, dams and other water resources infrastructure projects.
CFATS Reauthorization Gains Momentum
The Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) is set to expire in January 2019. The House Committee on Homeland Security held a hearing in February, and Pete Mutschler of ARA member CHS, testified on behalf of agricultural retailers.
ARA is urging the recognition of ResponsibleAg as a part of the reauthorization. In addition, the inclusion of clear and ubiquitous definitions of ammonium nitrate and ammonium nitrate mixtures; maintaining the notice-and-comment rule-making requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act for any changes to the Chemicals of Interest found in CFATS Appendix A; and a reauthorization of not more than six years remain priorities in the process.
The Supreme Court recently handed down a decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc., closing a loophole that barred states from imposing sales taxes on most purchases their residents make from out-of-state retailers. While the precise implications are yet to be seen, this will undoubtedly have a great impact on ARA’s members that conduct online sales.
The Work Continues
Our mission states, “ARA advocates, influences, educates and provides services to support sellers of seeds, nutrients, crop protection products, farm equipment, precision technology and agronomic services.” We work each day on the aforementioned policies and other outreach, programming and opportunities.