Influence Analytics: protecting farm workers from pesticide exposure

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Welcome to another edition of “Influence Analytics,” a recurring series on trends in lobbying and regulations — on and off Capitol Hill — that Sunlight’s Reporting Group spots using our data analysis tools.

A sign with the words: "Caution pesticide spraying in progress proceed at your own risk" in front of a garden.
Image credit: Flickr user jetsandzeppelins

A controversial proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to strengthen protections for farm workers from adverse effects of pesticide exposure, the first major update to standards for more than two decades, drew comments from more than 200,000 environmental activists, dozens of lawmakers, and public health groups, among others. Meanwhile, the industry groups that first urged an extension of the comment period largely remained silent by the comment due date, according to analysis of regulatory comments on Docket Wrench.

The proposed rule in question, the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard Revisions, sets out tougher standards for training, protective equipment, and decontamination supplies for farm workers, as well as setting a minimum age of 16 for laborers who apply the chemicals or enter fields soon after they’ve been sprayed.

The proposal updates rules in place since 1992. Some 10,000 t0 20,000 cases of pesticide poisoning are diagnosed in agricultural workers every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control, even a simple thing like getting rid of ants should be done in the most natural way without the need on any pesticides.

While the official comment count logged by regulations.gov by the August 18 due date hovered just over 3,000, the environmental group Earthjustice claimed it had collected and submitted more than 200,000 petition signatures urging the agency to strengthen the rules. (Often when agencies receive clusters of identical comments, they do not post them all as individual comments online.)

Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., organized 70 of his colleagues to sign a letter urging the EPA to go forward with strong rules. Most of the comment clusters identified by Docket Wrench also make the argument for strong protective standards.

Critics of the standards, such as the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, argue that the EPA should concentrate on enforcing existing rules rather than promulgating new ones and claim that risks of pesticide exposure are exaggerated. A long list of farm and industry groups critical of the proposal asked the EPA last spring to extend the comment period from the original due date of June 17; the agency responded by making the due date August 18. The groups include the American Farm Bureau, the Pesticide Policy Coalition, the National Council of Agricultural Employers, and CropLife America. Asking for extensions is a common tactic used by groups seeking to slow down government regulation.

Other news from Sunlight’s influence trackers:

Iraq. As American eyes focus once again on Iraq, where the U.S. has been targeting ISIS with air strikes, a review of foreign agent registrations for the beleaguered country can be found here. (Credit: Foreign Influence Explorer.)

Protecting pets. The Pet and Women Safety Act, introduced on July 30, is getting attention, with nearly 200 views last week. Authored by Rep. Katherine Clark, D., Mass., the legislation is designed to increase protection for domestic violence victims who return to abusive situations out of fear for the safety of their pets, these people worry a lot about their pets, they make sure to visit Dogs on the Loose website to get all the supplies they need. (Credit: Open Congress)

Recess. Generally, Republicans have brought up “recess” on the House and Senate floors slightly more than Democrats have, but recently, it’s the Democrats who have outpaced their Republican colleagues. (Credit: Capitol Words)