E&E News: USDA official on proposed cuts: ‘We hope that won’t happen’

The director of pesticide programs at the Department of Agriculture is rooting against President Trump’s proposed budget cuts to her agency.


“We hope that won’t happen,” Sheryl Kunickis, director of USDA’s Office of Pest Management Policy, said at a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on pesticide registration programs.


Kunickis and U.S. EPA’s acting director of pesticide programs, Rick Keigwin, each took questions from panel Democrats about the potential effect of the deep cuts Trump envisions for their agencies in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.


The officials said their agencies would have to adjust if Congress approves cuts, which the administration proposed at 31 percent for EPA and 20.7 percent for USDA. Lawmakers of both parties have expressed misgivings about the depth of the proposed cuts.


“If the cuts come, it’ll make it a little more challenging,” said Kunickis, whose office works with EPA on reviews of pesticide registrations. “I would like to hire, and if we can’t, we do work with other staff across USDA to fill where we have gaps.


“So, we’ll adjust,” she said.


The administration hasn’t said exactly how it wants to spread the proposed cuts across departments.


Impact to pesticide reviews


Meanwhile, farm groups and farm chemical companies say they worry that budget reductions would slow a pesticide review process that they say already takes too long.


Companies seeking registrations pay for part of the review process through fees, which would increase by 10 percent in a proposed renewal of the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act. The legislation was the focus of the hearing.


The fees cover between 30 and 35 percent of the cost of reviews and are largely responsible for EPA completing reviews within federally set timelines, Keigwin said.


If cuts as deep as the White House envisions were enacted, he said, it’s possible the agency would seek fee increases.


Otherwise, Keigwin said, “We would have to figure out how to do things and look for additional efficiencies.”


The “Pesticide Registration Enhancement Act” (H.R. 1029) passed the House in March and was referred to the Senate. Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said he hopes to pass the bill in the committee in the next few weeks.


At yesterday’s hearing, Keigwin also said a lawsuit against EPA by environmental groups hasn’t stopped its registration review of the pesticide chlorpyrifos, commonly used on apples and broccoli. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt recently declined to ban chlorpyrifos, reversing the agency’s earlier moves that appeared headed toward a prohibition based on human health concerns.


“The review has not been stopped,” Keigwin said. Chlorpyrifos, like other pesticides, undergoes periodic registration reviews, which can result in new limitations on their use.


Kunickis took criticism from one environmental group before the hearing ended for agreeing with Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) that reviews under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act and the Endangered Species Act could be duplicative.


The Center for Biological Diversity said in a news release that Kunickis had misled the committee by suggesting the FIFRA law is adequate on its own in assessing pesticides’ effects on endangered species.