EPA Reverses Trump on Ag Worker Rule

EPA Proposal Returns to 2015 Rules on Application Exclusion Zones on Pesticides

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
Connect with Todd:
The Biden administration has proposed changes to the Worker Protection Standard rules. (DTN file photo)

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- The EPA on Thursday reversed course on yet another Trump-era regulatory change, proposing to return to 2015 requirements for application exclusion zones, or AEZ, for applying pesticides. The Worker Protection Standard regulations are designed to protect ag workers from exposure to pesticides.

In 2020, the Trump administration published a rule that reduced the size of AEZ on agricultural employers' property from 100 feet to 25 feet for some ground-based spray applications.

Prior to the effective date of the 2020 AEZ rule, petitions were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit challenging the 2020 rule. The federal court in New York issued a temporary restraining order against the rule that never took effect. As a result, the AEZ provisions in the 2015 rule remain in effect.

In a newly proposed rule released on Thursday for a 30-day public comment period, the EPA is calling for returning to several 2015 provisions as well as maintaining some aspects of the 2020 rule.

Pesticide applicators are required to shut down spraying when someone enters exclusion zones.

The EPA proposal would return to 2015 provisions, including applying an AEZ beyond an ag establishment's boundaries and when individuals are within easements, including those for utility workers to access telephone lines.

In addition, AEZ distances would be set for ground-based spray applications of 25 feet for medium or larger sprays when sprayed from a height of more than 12 inches from the soil surface or planting medium, as well as 100 feet for fine sprays.

The EPA proposes retaining a clarification that suspended pesticide applications can resume after people leave the AEZ. Also, the agency plans to leave in place an "immediate family" exemption that allows only farm owners and their immediate family to remain inside enclosed structures or homes during pesticide applications.

"EPA's top priority is to protect public health and the environment, and today's proposal is a significant step forward to further protect the farmworkers, farmers and pesticide handlers who deliver the fuel, fiber and food that runs America," EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement.

"Farmworker justice is environmental justice, and we're continuing to take action to make sure these communities are protected equally under the law from pesticide exposure."

Speaking of the 2015 rule, in March 2018, a federal court in California declared the 2015 rule went into effect on March 6, 2017, and that EPA violated the Administrative Procedure Act by failing to provide notice and opportunity to comment before delaying the rule.

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @DTNeeley

Todd Neeley

Todd Neeley
Connect with Todd: