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ND, EPA office disagree with pesticide report

BISMARCK -- Regional Environmental Protection Agency officials have joined North Dakota's agriculture commissioner in disputing a report from the EPA's Office of Inspector General that says adequate pesticide inspections have been ignored in the ...

BISMARCK -- Regional Environmental Protection Agency officials have joined North Dakota’s agriculture commissioner in disputing a report from the EPA’s Office of Inspector General that says adequate pesticide inspections have been ignored in the state for years.

Ag Commissioner Doug Goehring said earlier this week that state ag department officials already are enforcing state and federal pesticide requirements, and public safety isn’t at risk.

The regional EPA office in Denver also has now disagreed with several key claims in the report from the Office of Inspector General, “an independent office within EPA that helps the agency protect the environment in a more efficient and cost-effective manner,” according to the EPA website.

According to the inspector general report: “EPA Region 8 (which includes North Dakota) is not conducting inspections at establishments that produce pesticides in North Dakota. Further, North Dakota does not have a state inspector with qualifications equivalent to a federal inspector to conduct inspections on the EPA’s behalf. As a result, federal inspections of establishments that produce pesticides in North Dakota have not occurred for 14 years.”

Region 8 officials in Denver are still evaluating the report. But the report “does not reflect the views of EPA Region 8. EPA will provide a formal, written response in upcoming weeks,” according to an email from Richard Mylott, a Region 8 spokesman.

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Region 8’s “initial review indicates the IG report omits several important facts and context and does not present an accurate or complete picture of pesticides oversight and inspection activity conducted in the state of North Dakota. EPA will continue to work with the state to ensure compliance (with federal regulations) and protect human health and the environment from risks associated with pesticides,” Mylott says in the email.

“One important fact that the IG report fails to make clear is that inspections of pesticide production facilities are conducted regularly by state inspectors in North Dakota” and that the “state’s inspectors are well trained and experienced,” according to the email.

The ag department, through a cooperative agreement with EPA, regulates the use of pesticides in the state, according to the department’s website.

Goehring disagrees with any implication in the inspector general report that the state ag department is doing an inadequate job.

“We do implement state law and we do implement federal law,” he says. “For OIG to imply we aren’t doing the inspections is misleading and disingenuous.”

‘Corrective actions’

The report says “EPA pesticide inspections must resume in North Dakota to determine compliance and protect human health and the environment,” and recommends “corrective actions” that will be phased in over the next year.

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State ag department and regional EPA officials must work out those steps, Ashley Negron, inspector general public affairs specialist in Washington, D.C., says in an email.

Goehring says he’s not sure what that means and that he will continue to work with EPA as he has in the past.

There’s at least one point of apparent agreement, however.

The report recommends the regional EPA office begin handling some pesticide inspections, or have them done by North Dakota inspectors with federal credentials. Goehring says the state is working to receive such credentials.

The state had a federal certified inspector on staff until his retirement in 2013, and is in the process now of obtaining federal credentials for two state inspectors, Mylott says.

Goehring initially suggested EPA’s announcement might be politically motivated. The state ag department, state ag community and state government have all disagreed with the agency on several issues, he says.

“I get the feeling the White House isn’t very happy with us. Maybe EPA isn’t very happy with us because we’ve pushed back on some issues,” he said after first learning of the report.

Later, after talking with EPA officials in Denver, he focused his criticism on the OIG, which he said has “a poor understanding of how the world works” and “a narrow view” of the inspections process.

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Negron said the Office of Inspector General works independently within EPA and isn’t influenced by other relationships the agency might have.

She says “it’s typical for the OIG to evaluate EPA’s oversight of state environmental activities, especially when federal funds are given to states for such activities. Generally, the focus of such evaluations is on EPA’s oversight and not the performance of the states.”

The current inspector general report is specific to North Dakota, not to Region 8 as a whole, she says.

EPA has a responsibility for federal pesticide standards, she adds.

“States can only ensure that state pesticide law is followed,” Negron says. “EPA has federal pesticides standards that are broader in scope than state regulations and it is the responsibility of the EPA regional offices to ensure compliance to federal pesticide regulations in the states. Inspections are designed to ensure compliance to regulations which protects the public. All available steps to reduce risk have not been taken if inspections are not conducted.”

Related Topics: AGRICULTURE
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