The chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry have introduced legislation that would put the United States “at the table” where decisions on persistent organic pollutants or POPs are being made.

The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants or POPs, which went into effect in May 2004, bans or severely restricts 12 crop protection chemicals, nine of which are not available in the United States. (The latter includes organo-chlorine compounds such as DDT.)

Until the new legislation is passed, the United States can only argue issues surrounding the 12 compounds, which also include PCBs and dioxins, from a distance. POPs are generally defined as chemicals that are toxic, remain in the environment for an extended period of time and can bio-accumulate in the food chain.

“This measure is one step toward putting the United States at the table where decisions on these chemicals are made,” said Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “Currently, our nation only has observer status. This weak position hampers the ability of our technical experts and negotiators to protect our leadership role in international pesticide policy and regulation.

“Our observer-only status also limits our ability to participate in the critical decisions that affect American businesses and economic interests and our environment and public health. Delay in ratifying the conventions marginalizes us.

May 2006 meet

Noting that the next meeting of the parties is scheduled for May 2006, Chambliss urged senators to ratify the treaties and pass implementing legislation so that the “United States can reclaim its rightful place as a world leader in the safe management of hazardous chemicals.”

“The legislation Chairman Chambliss and I introduced is critical for controlling and eliminating the use of chemicals that have the greatest potential for long-term environmental damage,” said Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, the committee’s ranking Democrat.

“It is important that the positions of the United States in the international regulation of chemicals takes into account the views of all parties – pesticide manufacturers, farmers, environmental scientists, state regulators – and everyone who has a stake in the process.”

Before the United States takes a position for or against banning or restricting a chemical in international discussions, Harkin said the U.S. government should seek advice and comment from affected and concerned parties.

“Through the federal notice and comment process this legislation requires, we ensure all parties can provide input before new chemicals are listed under the POPs treaty,” he noted.

The implementation legislation would prohibit the sale, distribution, use, production or disposal of persistent organic pesticides, which are toxic, remain in the environment for an extended period of time and can bio-accumulate in the food chain. It would establish notice and reporting procedures to ensure the American public is aware of potential actions and decisions made by the parties to the conventions.

The bill also would add new export reporting and labeling requirements to ensure compliance with U.S. obligations under the Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade (PIC) Convention. Specifically, the convention requires all signatory nations to stop the production and use of 12 listed POPs.

Handling, disposal

Parties to the convention also agree to control sources of POPs by-products to reduce releases and provide for the safe handling and disposal of POPs in an environmentally sound manner. The convention includes a science-based procedure to allow other POPs to be added and provides technical and financial assistance to help developing countries manage and control POPs.

This bill would amend the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) to implement the United States' pesticide-related obligations under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, the Aarhus Protocol on Persistent Organic Pollutants to the Geneva Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP POPs Protocol) and the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade (PIC Convention).

The U.S. crop protection industry supports the Stockholm Convention but has been concerned that efforts by environmental groups to label currently registered pesticides as new POPs could result in restrictions or bans on pesticide use in the United States.

“The proposed legislation allows us to opt in or specifically accept the convention’s individual amendments adding a new chemical on a case-by-case basis,” says a staff member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

“But all the work on the agreement has to be done soon or our representatives can’t go to the table when a meeting of the countries that have ratified the convention is held next May.”

Amend FIFRA

The Senate Agriculture Committee doesn’t work on international treaties, as a rule, but it is charged with rewriting the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act or FIFRA, which must be amended before the United States can fully participate in the Stockholm Convention on POPs. Separately, the Senate must ratify the treaty.

The U.S. crop protection industry and CropLife America, its organization in Washington, understand that FIFRA must be amended to comply without treaty obligations, but believe the United States already has a formidable cancellation process for pesticides that are determined to be unsafe.

But environmental organizations favor allowing members of the Convention to determine the cancellation procedures, ostensibly because of the “green” bent of many of the European Union members that have signed on to the agreement.

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