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Court issues stay of EPA rule limiting farmers’ responsibility for protecting workers from pesticides

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New York — The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York has halted until at least Aug. 22 an Environmental Protection Agency final rule that revises the pesticide application exclusion zone requirement in the agency’s standard on agricultural worker protection.

EPA classifies the application exclusion zone as “the area surrounding the application that must be free of all persons, other than appropriately trained and equipped handlers, during pesticide applications.”

Under the rule, the agency will:

  • Make exclusion requirements applicable and enforceable only within farm owners’ property, amending current provisions that extend the boundary to areas outside a farm in which workers and others may be exposed to pesticide processes.
  • Exempt farm owners’ immediate family members from the requirement.
  • Establish clarifying language stating that pesticide applications suspended as a result of individuals entering an exclusion zone may be resumed after the individuals have left the area.
  • Simplify criteria for determining whether pesticide applications are subject to a 25- or 100-foot exclusion zone.

According to a notice published in the May 16 Federal Register, the court on Feb. 15 issued an additional stay of the rulemaking in response to a lawsuit filed against the agency by the state of New York. The court granted an initial stay on Dec. 28, 2020 – the day before the final rule, published on Oct. 30 of that year in the Federal Register, was to have taken effect.

 

EPA says it intends to publish another document in the Federal Register that updates the rulemaking status if the stay expires or is lifted, “but the agency does not intend to publish additional Federal Register documents to announce any additional court orders entered to further stay the effectiveness of the 2020 rule.”

According to the notice, EPA has initiated a new rulemaking effort to address the application exclusion zone and anticipates issuing a proposal in the coming months. As part of this effort, the agency says it intends to thoroughly review the 2020 rule to determine the extent to which it’s consistent with the policies established in Executive Order 13990. Any final rule that results from this rulemaking process may modify the standard on agricultural worker protection, the 2020 rule or both.

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