Environment, Health & Safety, Pesticides, Regulations & Compliance

Farmers to Farr and Issa: The EPA is Kind of a Pain in the Ass

From MontereyCountyWeekly.com, Mary Duan, 21 Apr 2011.

Mark Murai is understandably irritated with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And at the most unusual hearing that took place Tuesday in the council chambers at Salinas City hall, he let that frustration fly.

Murai is a third-generation, Oceanside-based California strawberry grower and president of the California Strawberry Commission. The industry group represents all of California’s strawberry shippers and processors, and the more than 500 family farmers who collectively grow more than 88 percent of the nation’s strawberries and create over 70,000 on-farm jobs.

Murai, along with five other powerful ag industry cohorts (including Mike Jarrad, president and CEO of Mann Packing, and Rich Smith, founder of Paraiso Vineyards), gathered at the council chambers for a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, convened by Rep. Darrell Issa and attended by Rep. Sam Farr, the ranking member on the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee.

The subject: “Regulatory Impediments to Job Creation.”

Based on the testimony, there are a lot of impediments. Case in point: For a farmer to clear weeds and blockages in the Salinas River along riverbanks they themselves own, there are a half-dozen different agencies they have to beg for a permit. It’s one reason the river flooded during the recent heavy rains and all but destroyed 1,500 acres of fertile growing fields.

One impediment Murai discussed was activist lawsuits and the EPA’s tendency to dangle what seems a viable tool in front of farmers, only to threaten to yank that tool when lawsuits are filed.

One specific example: methyl iodide, the strawberry fumigant hammered by a group of Nobel Prize-winning scientists, approved anyway by the EPA, registered for use by the state Department of Pesticide Control last December, decried by the DPR’s own hired scientist as unsafe at any level – and now the subject of lawsuits filed by California Rural Legal Assistance and farmworkers.

The international treaty known as the Montreal Protocol took the fumigant methyl bromide away from farmers; now the EPA is considering reopening commentary on methyl iodide.

As Murai said, the EPA promised there would be alternatives to methyl bromide, and now the agency might cancel those alternatives without giving farmers the exemptions they need to put methyl bromide back in action.

“We are coming to a point of an unfair and uneven playing field, and it’s very discouraging to think where our industry will be if we have infected soils and no way to clean them up,” Murai says. “As a farmer, you sit in your pickup and pound on your steering wheel and you can’t believe the process is happening.”

Here’s the thing: Had the EPA paid attention, methyl iodide may never have become an alternative in the first place.

The EPA will take comments until April 30 on whether it should reopen the case for approving methyl iodide. Among those calling for that are state Rep. Bill Monning and 37 of his cohorts in the California Assembly.

Monning penned a letter, signed by the 37, calling on the EPA to suspend and cancel all uses of methyl iodide in the U.S., pending review of the scientific evidence. That, Monning says, includes a potential for groundwater contamination.

The first permit for a methyl iodide application was submitted last week in Ventura County, and then denied because the field was a half-mile away from a school.

By the way, the methyl iodide folks are coming to town on Monday, April 25. Arysta LifeSciences, the Cary, N.C.-based manufacturer of the product trademarked as MIDAS, is renting a conference room at the Courtyard by Marriott on El Rancho Way in Salinas and holding a meeting, starting at 10:30am. They say on the flyer their next-generation soil fumigant “raises the standard,” provides the same level of control as methyl bromide and provides “the right foundation for today, tomorrow and the future.”

Not if Monning has anything to do with it.

The Courtyard by Marriott is conveniently located near the Orchard Supply Hardware store, which is chock full of materials for making picket signs. You have to RSVP to a guy named Bernard Olsen to attend the meeting – his number is 760-419-5880. But there’s no reason someone like, say, United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta or folks from CRLA can’t gather outside the hotel with signs and let Arysta know, not in our fields, not with our workers and not on the Central Coast.

MARY DUAN is the editor of the Weekly. Reach her at mary@mcweekly.com

Source: MontereyCountyWeekly.com, “Farmers to Farr and Issa: The EPA is kind of a pain in the ass” by Mary Duan, 21 Apr 2011.

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