Farms.com Home   News

Dicamba’s Future is Uncertain, Again

By Peggy Kirk Hall

A federal district court in Arizona has vacated the registrations for dicamba products XtendiMax, Enginia, and Tavium, finding that the U.S. EPA violated pesticide registration procedures when it approved the product registrations in 2020.  As a result of the decision in Center for Biological Diversity v. EPA, the dicamba products are no longer legally authorized for use and application in the U.S.  Although there will likely be appeal of the decision, the new ruling creates uncertainty over the use of dicamba products for the upcoming crop season.

History of the case

If the court’s ruling feels familiar, that’s because it is a repeat of a 2020 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in National Family Farm Coalition v. EPA (Monsanto).  In that case, the court vacated the first “conditional” dicamba product registrations granted by the EPA in 2018.  The court found that the EPA had “substantially understated” and failed to acknowledge the risks of dicamba’s volatility and its effects on non-users.  The EPA then cancelled the product registrations in June of 2020, but allowed producers to use “existing stocks” of already purchased products to apply the products until July 31, 2020.  The Ohio Department of Agriculture shortened that timeline in Ohio due to growing conditions within the state, prohibiting applications of dicamba after June 30, 2020.

Bayer, BASF, and Syngenta immediately revised the label application instructions and restrictions for their dicamba products and resubmitted their registration requests to the EPA. In October of 2020, the EPA granted the applications and issued “unconditional” five-year registrations for over-the-top applications (OTT) of the products on cotton and soybean crops.  The EPA did not provide a notice and opportunity for the public to submit comments before it made the registration decision. The National Family Farm Coalition, Pesticide Action Network, Center for Food Safety, and Center for Biological Diversity filed the current lawsuit, claiming that the EPA violated federal law by granting the unconditional registrations without a notice and comment period.

The court’s reasoning in this case

EPA’s error.  The primary basis for the court’s decision is the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), Section 136a(c)(4), which contains the notice and comment requirement for registration of a “new use” of a pesticide or herbicide.  It states that the EPA:

“. . . shall publish in the Federal Register. . . a notice of each application for registration of any pesticide that contains any new active ingredient or if it would entail a changed use pattern. The notice shall provide for a period of 30 days in which any Federal agency or any other interested person may comment.”

FIFRA further states that a “new use” of a product means, in part, “any additional use pattern that would result in a significant increase in the level of exposure, or a change in the route of exposure, to the active ingredient of man or other organisms.”

The EPA took the position that it did not have to provide the FIFRA notice and a comment period because the 2020 registration requests were not applications for a “new use” since EPA had previously approved the products.  The court strongly disagreed, however, emphasizing the previous court decision that had vacated those registrations because the EPA had failed to fully consider the risks of the products.  The EPA’s conclusion that the 2020 registrations were not for a new use “is so implausible that the Court cannot ascribe it to be a mere difference in view,” the court stated.  Stakeholders who would be affected by the dicamba registrations should have had an opportunity to “meaningfully weigh in during the decision-making process before EPA concluded whether OTT dicamba has unreasonable adverse effects on the environment,” said the court.

Remedy for the error.  The court explained that upon finding an agency has violated federal law, the presumed remedy a court must grant is to vacate the agency’s action.  The law requires that only in limited circumstances, when equity requires it, should a court remand without vacating an agency decision.  There are two factors the law requires a court to review in determining the remedy:  the seriousness of the agency’s error and the disruptive consequences of vacating the agency’s decision.  The court’s next step was to review those two factors and determine whether it should remand the issue with or without vacating the dicamba registrations.

Examining the first factor, the court concluded that the EPA’s error was “very serious” because it was likely that, had the agency considered field studies, data, and other information that would have been submitted during the comment period, the EPA’s registration decision likely would have differed from the decision it made to grant the five-year unconditional registration.  The history of the dicamba registrations were important to the court, and the judge noted that there had not been a notice and comment period for stakeholders who were opposed to approving dicamba products since 2016, when the EPA considered the original registration.  The court reiterated a long list of field studies, incident reports, and data generated since 2016 that the agency could have considered had it provided a comment period.  Noting that the EPA was “highly confident that control measures would eliminate dicamba offsite movement to only a minimal effect,” the court pointed to years of incident reports on dicamba offsite movement and concluded:

“This Court believes hearing from all stakeholders is likely to change the OTT dicamba registrations at least from unconditional to conditional, with data gathering requirements reinstated. Hearing from non-users of OTT dicamba may change the EPA’s circular approach to assessing costs for risks from OTT dicamba offsite movement. Instead of simply concluding there is no risk and, therefore, no costs to these stakeholders, EPA is likely to include the costs to these stakeholders when balancing the risks and benefits for OTT dicamba. Accordingly, the Court finds the EPA’s procedural error to unconditionally issue the “new use” 2020 dicamba registration, without notice and comment, was serious.”

The court then examined the second factor, the disruptive consequences of vacating the agency’s decision. The court recognized the benefits of dicamba products to the agricultural industry and that growers, through no fault of their own, would be in the difficult position of finding legal herbicides to protect their crops if the dicamba registrations were vacated.  Nevertheless, the court agreed with the reasoning in the previous dicamba case, National Family Farm Coalition v. EPA (Monsanto), that the seriousness of the EPA’s failure to assess the risks and costs for non-users of dicamba warranted vacating the registration despite the disruptive consequences.

What happens next?

There are two issues to watch now in the wake of the court’s decision. First is whether the EPA and the dicamba manufacturers will appeal the federal district court’s decision.  The appeal would go the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the same appellate court that reviewed the decision in the first dicamba appeal, National Family Farm Coalition v. EPA (Monsanto).  An appeal would put the federal district court’s decision on hold.

If there is not an appeal, the second issue to watch for is how the EPA and state agencies will direct the use of existing stocks of dicamba products.  The EPA could use its authority to allow continued use of existing stocks of dicamba products until a certain date, as it did in the previous case.  If the EPA does issue an existing stocks order, states could also address the extent of existing stocks use within their borders, as Ohio did in the previous case.

Source : osu.edu

Trending Video

Market Plus With Ross Baldwin and Jeff French

Video: Market Plus With Ross Baldwin and Jeff French

Ross Baldwin and Jeff French discuss the commodity markets in a special web-only feature.