Pesticide manufacturers joined 41 environmental, labor and consumer groups yesterday in an effort to break a 14-year impasse and rewrite the nation's basic pesticide law.
At a Capitol Hill news conference, the two groups unveiled details of legislation that would speed safety reviews of chemicals, broaden labeling requirements and levy new fees on industry to pay for reviews of its products.
The proposal caps more than a year of negotiations between the National Agricultural Chemicals Association and an umbrella group called the Campaign for Pesticide Reform, representing most major environmental groups, consumer organizations and unions of farm and mill workers.
"It is rare that such opponents agree on anything," said Nancy Drabble, head of Congress Watch, a Ralph Nader-founded lobbying group active in the talks. "Now the question is whether Congress will pass this compromise bill."
Jack Early, president of the agricultural chemicals association, said the bill has the "full support" of his members and will directly benefit farmers.
"Growers want to be assured that the agrichemicals they use are safe to themselves and will not harm their land or the environment," he said.
Congressional aides and Environmental Protection Agency officials said yesterday that the compromise offers the best hope in years for a major restructuring of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). The law is widely regarded, even within the EPA, as cumbersome, complex and inadequate to regulate farm chemicals.
John A. Moore, head of EPA's pesticide division, agreed that the agency needs to accelerate reviews of chemicals marketed without adequate safety tests. "We certainly think that it isn't working, that it has got to go faster," he said.
But he was skeptical that the agency could complete its reviews by 1992, as the new legislation envisions. "Their proposal just suggests making it run faster," he said. "You're going to have to retool a little bit."
The compromise does not have farm groups' blessing, and one of the bill's new sponsors warned yesterday that the proposal "still has many hurdles to jump."
"I'm not trying to be a wet blanket here, but any FIFRA bill is going to be very controversial," said Rep. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who has agreed to introduce the bill this week with Rep. Berkley W. Bedell (D-Iowa). "My concern is that in this time of farm adversity, you don't throw a high, hard curve ball to some producer who was counting on that chemical product."
The proposal is likely to face opposition from the American Farm Bureau Federation, which has expressed concern about potential provisions on ground water contamination and farmers' liability for pesticide contamination.
Major chemical manufacturers, however, have said they consider a new pesticides law the price they must pay for a bill to lengthen patent terms on chemical products. That bill is being held hostage in Congress by advocates of a new pesticide law, who say it will not move until a new FIFRA is enacted.