Early in 2015, National Cotton Council (NCC) Chairman Sledge Taylor told the House Agriculture Committee's Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee that a rule proposed by the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to define "Waters of the United States" (WOTUS) under the Clean Water Act (CWA) would require costly federal permits for many commonplace and essential farming practices.
In advance of House Members approval of the Regulatory Protection Integrity Act of 2015 (H.R. 1732), the NCC urged their support of the bill, which would require EPA to withdraw its proposed WOTUS rule and work with stakeholders to introduce a new rule. The NCC also joined a broad coalition of industries on a letter asking House Members to oppose any weakening amendment to that legislation.
After a bipartisan group of Senators introduced the Federal Water Quality Protection Act (S. 1140), which would require EPA to withdraw its proposed WOTUS rule and rewrite the rule after consultation with stakeholders, the NCC joined on to two letters in support of the legislation. The NCC, along with other members of the Waters Advocacy Coalition, also sent a letter to all Senators urging them to support S. 1140, which included specific definitions of what can and cannot constitute covered waters.
Later in the year, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay of the WOTUS rule, thereby preventing EPA from implementing or enforcing the rule pending further action by the court. This action made the stay nationwide following the earlier court ruling that provided a stay for only 13 states. Simultaneously, the NCC joined other agricultural organizations on a letter to the EPA Administrator and the Secretary of the Army seeking clarification on the final rule's practical implications.
The NCC joined nearly 100 organizations on a letter to House Agriculture Committee members urging support for the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2015 (H.R. 897). The important legislation clarified Congressional intent regarding pesticide regulation in or near waters of the United States. The NCC also supported a companion bill in the Senate – the Sensible Environmental Protection Act (S. 1500) – which was approved by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
With a broad coalition of other agricultural groups, the NCC also supported legislation (H.R. 897) introduced by Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH) that would prevent EPA from requiring National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits for any pesticides that already are authorized for sale, distribution and use under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). The NCC also filed comments to EPA's proposed stronger standards for pesticide applicators who apply "restricted-use" pesticides.
Allen McLaurin, a Laurel Hill, N.C., cotton producer, represented the NCC on the Pesticide Policy Dialogue Committee. That federal advisory panel met to provide feedback on a variety of pesticide regulatory, policy and program implementation issues.
As part of the Waters Advocacy Coalition, the NCC urged Senators to support the Federal Water Quality Protection Act, which included specific definitions of what can and cannot constitute covered waters under the "waters of the U.S." rule.
On other regulatory matters, the NCC:
- filed extensive comments to EPA's proposed rule after the agency announced the revisions to its Worker Protection Standards -- which had not been revised since 1992 and were aimed at tightening pesticide safety rules.
- joined with 386 other groups from various industries on a letter to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee leadership applauding the introduction of the Regulatory Accountability Act of 2015 (S. 2006). That legislation was aimed at improving the 1) process by which federal agencies promulgate regulations and 2) rulemaking process' accountability and integrity.
- submitted comments on EPA's proposed plan to reduce the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone. Among NCC concerns noted was the need for EPA to consider issues around prescribed burning practices on forest, range and crop lands.
The NCC joined with other agricultural groups in communicating with appropriate agencies on multiple biotechnology issues.
Along with other members of the Agriculture Biotech Alliance, the NCC signed onto two separate letters regarding genetically engineered crops and products. A letter to European Commission head Vytenis Andriukaitis called on the European Union to act without delay on drafting decisions authorizing importation for food and feed processing of 13 new biotechnology products. The second letter to the National Academies of Sciences (NAS) noted that NAS' Genetically Engineered Crops Study Committee had not reached out to more stakeholders who actually utilize the technology -- to obtain more comprehensive and balanced input.
In response to a House Agriculture Committee hearing to discuss how food labeling and various aspects of biotechnology affect the agriculture industry, the NCC showed their support for agricultural innovation and biotechnology by signing two separate letters. The first, sent to all Senators, explained the importance of technology to the agriculture industry and urged them to oppose any budget or appropriations amendments that would deny agriculture producers access to modern technology. The second was sent to Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN) thanking them for advancing public examination of the biotechnology labeling debate.
Later, the Coalition for Safe and Affordable Food sent a letter, signed by the NCC and several other cotton interest organizations, to House Members urging them to co-sponsor and support the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act (H.R. 1599). That bipartisan bill would prevent state-level labeling mandates and ensure food labeling in the United States is uniform and science-based. The NCC also 1) conveyed support for amendments to that legislation including one that called for reorganizing the role of the Food & Drug Administration and USDA in approving new genetically modified plants and 2) continued to work for Congressional approval of the legislation, which eventually was approved by the House.
The NCC participated in a USDA stakeholder workshop on coexistence that was the result of recommendations submitted to Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack by the Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture. The workshop was conducted to advance an understanding of the concurrent production of organic, identity preserved, conventional and genetically modified crops consistent with farmer choices and consumer preferences. Later, the NCC co-signed a letter in which it emphasized that all crop production methods are important in meeting the needs of consumers and their demands, and efforts should continue to find ways of improving working relationships and developing practical solutions so that various agricultural systems can produce high quality seed, grain and fiber.
The NCC co-signed another letter in response to the EPA's request for public input on the agency's regulatory review process. The letter focused on the importance of biotechnology and plant-incorporated protectants and how, in spite of their significant contributions to consumers and producers, genetically engineered crops continue to be subjected to burdensome regulations.
Later, the NCC, along with other agricultural groups, expressed their appreciation to the Administration for its initiative to review and assess the framework for regulating biotechnology products to ensure it is as efficient and effective as possible. The letter was sent to the White House prior to a Senate Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry Committee hearing to look at federal regulation and stakeholder perspectives on biotechnology in response to H.R. 1599 as well as Vermont's state labeling law set to go into effect in July 2016.
The NCC submitted comments to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) in response to its stakeholder message which announced the withdrawal of the 2008 proposed rule that would have amended the regulations for certain genetically engineered organisms. The NCC stated it believed that APHIS should continue its regulations on biotechnology products based on the plant pest risk posed by the product, and not the technology used to produce it.
The NCC submitted comments in support of EPA's Federal Register notice on analysis of the greenhouse gas emissions attributable to production and transport of cottonseed oil for use in biofuel production. The notice allows for individual biofuel producers to petition EPA to use cottonseed oil as an approved feedstock and be eligible for a Renewable Identification Number in their biofuel blends.
The NCC continued to point out the lack of scientific evidence to support claims against neonicotinoid insecticides linked to honey bee health decline and emphasized that scientific reports acknowledge multiple factors involved in honey bee health decline. The NCC noted that the unjustified focus on pesticides by anti-pesticide advocates detracts attention from more relevant concerns such as the parasitic mite, Varroa destructor, and the many diseases vectored by the mite. The NCC continued to support state plans and believes the collaboration and cooperation of involved stakeholders allows better protection for managed bees because they allow for identification of local needs and enhanced communication between parties.
The NCC continued to point out the lack of scientific evidence to support claims against neonicotinoid insecticides linked to honey bee health decline and conveyed concerns about a U.S. Court of Appeals decision that potentially set a precedent jeopardizing the availability of sulfoxaflor and other crop protection products.
Following the release of a study published in PLOS ONE which concluded that neonicotinoid insecticides are "to be an unlikely sole cause of colony declines," the NCC again urged that local solutions be developed through state pollinator plans with all stakeholders as a means to mitigate potential risk from agricultural pesticides.
The NCC reviewed the Pollinator Health Task Force report, "National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees," released in mid-2015. The NCC was encouraged 1) with the plan's recognition of the multiple factors affecting pollinator health as reported by scientific studies, 2) plans to develop habitat through various conservation programs and 3) the recognition that state pollinator plans can mitigate risk at local level.
The NCC submitted comments to the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) opposing the petition to list the Monarch butterfly as an endangered species. The NCC reminded FWS of President Obama's memo seeking public/private partnerships to enhance pollinator health and encouraged the FWS to recognize such partnerships -- without imposing restrictions by listing the Monarch as an endangered species. The NCC also filed two sets of comments to EPA in response to the agency's proposals to address pollinator health and mitigating bee exposure to pesticides. The comments, which included a response to EPA's request to identify risk management options to protect Monarch butterflies, noted that the NCC is "committed to working together with the EPA and public and private organizations to develop viable solutions that do not limit producers' use of current and future agricultural technologies necessary for human food and fiber production.
Later in the year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a verdict to vacate EPA's unconditional registration of the insecticide sulfoxaflor and remanded the registration to the EPA to "obtain further studies and data regarding the effects of sulfoxaflor on bees, as required by EPA regulations." The NCC conveyed concerns that the court's judgment – while reflecting more of a precautionary principle of protection – omitted consideration of the benefits component of FIFRA and potentially set a precedent jeopardizing crop protection products' availability.
The NCC continued to be closely involved in activities focused on Old World Bollworm (Helicoverpa Armigera) invasion prevention. That included meeting with USDA's APHIS to emphasize the cotton industry's major concerns and urge APHIS to enhance efforts to prevent an Old World Bollworm invasion. The NCC encouraged APHIS to provide information to Extension entomologists to help prepare for possible Old World Bollworm infestations – which may change pest management strategies. Later, USDA approved $461,119 in funding to conduct surveys to determine the scope of the Old World Bollworm infestation in Puerto Rico and collect and study samples of the pest, as well as $117,921 to survey for the Old World Bollworm in high-risk areas in Florida.
In a letter submitted to EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) regarding the agency's "Human Health Risk Assessment Revision for Chlorpyrifos Registration Review," the NCC asked EPA to consider all submitted studies and continue reliance on credible scientific data before making any risk assessment and regulatory decisions regarding chlorpyrifos. That product is used on cotton (predominantly in the Far West) to control aphids, lygus and whiteflies, and is one of the few remaining crop protection products that provides a broad spectrum of control for these pests. Late in the year, the NCC submitted comments on EPA's proposal to revoke the tolerances for chlorpyrifos explaining how it is used to prevent yield and quality loss by controlling multiple insect pests that can contaminate cotton lint with a sticky secretion that interferes with textile processing.
Simultaneously, the NCC submitted comments on EPA's draft human health and ecological risk assessments for the registration review of a group of 35 different pesticides known as sulfonylureas and other identified chemicals. The comments were specific to four chemicals, which each have a significant impact on cotton production: thifensulfuron-methyl, trifloxysulfuron-sodium, tribenuron-methyl and rimsulfuron. The NCC urged EPA to include in its review the weed resistance management benefits for each of these chemicals.
The NCC also submitted a letter to EPA's OPP asking the agency to consider the weight of scientific evidence for retaining the registration of flubendiamide (Belt) for use on cotton – an insecticide that provides highly effective control of the caterpillar pest without flaring mite outbreaks.
The NCC and producer interest organizations provided comments to APHIS in support of a deregulation decision regarding Dow AgroSciences' genetically engineered cotton that is resistant to the herbicides known as 2,4-D and glufosinate.
A letter from the NCC and other agricultural organizations to EPA asked the agency to provide a separate comment period to determine if justification exists to include a Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) 10X Safety Factor in the human health risk assessments of all organophosphate chemicals. The letter stated the belief that EPA's plan to use the FQPA 10X Safety Factor in human health risk assessments for all organophosphate chemicals was unnecessary, unreasonable and unwarranted.
The NCC mailed "Contamination-Free Cotton" flyers to its producer, gin and warehouse leadership – to ensure that growers and all gin employees were aware of their responsibilities in preventing contamination.
USDA approved for Commodity Credit Corporation loan program purposes the Joint Cotton Industry Bale Packaging Committee (JCIBPC) Specifications for Cotton Bale Packaging Materials for packaging 2015-crop cotton. Revisions to the Specifications included 1) a modified construction for one category of polypropylene bags and 2) the addition of new suppliers to the JCIBPC List of Approved Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) Plastic Strapping Manufacturers. Included in the Specifications for burlap are the details of a JCIBPC Executive Committee action directing NCC staff to review spiral-sewn burlap bagging's status as an approved material and report those findings to the full JCIBPC during its 2016 meeting. This report will help determine whether or not spiral-sewn burlap bags continue to be listed as an approved packaging material in the JCIBPC Specs.
The NCC reminded warehousers who have a Commodity Credit Corporation Cotton Storage Agreement that the final rule amending specific reporting requirements for "not picked up bales" had been in effect since the first reporting period of 2015. In the rule, the Farm Service Agency clarified that bales made available, but not picked up by the shipper, can only be reported by the warehouse operator as bales made available for shipment for no longer than the first two weeks that such bales have been made available for delivery but have not yet been picked up.
NCC President/CEO Gary Adams sent a Batch 23 educational bulletin to the leadership of certified interest organizations representing cotton shippers, marketing cooperatives, warehousemen and ginners urging them to distribute the bulletin to their membership. The bulletin reviewed aggregated Batch 23 data through mid-June 2015 and provided reminders about the importance of Batch 23 use.
The NCC joined more than 90 other organizations representing a wide range of industries on a letter commending the Federal Maritime Commission for releasing "Rules, Rates, and Practices Relating to Detention, Demurrage, and Free Time for Containerized Imports and Exports Moving Through Selected United States Ports." The groups stated that the report highlighted the significant concerns of shippers, receivers, ocean freight forwarders and motor carriers who were assessed demurrage or detention charges during periods of peak congestion at our nation's ports, even though they were not responsible for the delays that triggered the assessment of the charges.
The NCC mailed "Contamination-Free Cotton" flyers to its producer, gin and warehouse leadership – to ensure that growers and all gin employees were aware of their responsibilities in preventing contamination. The NCC also re-established its Quality Task Force not only to monitor ongoing quality issues but to stay abreast of contamination incident reports.
As part of its continued support of the Cotton LEADS™ program, the NCC helped keep program partners – now exceeding 300 from across the global cotton textile supply chain – informed of program activities. That included support of refinement of the Fieldprint® Calculator, an online tool developed by Field to Market® for U.S. cotton producers to assess how production decisions affect their farming operation's overall environmental footprint. Specifically, the Calculator enables producers to compare an individual field's sustainability performance to the state and national agriculture data contained in the "National Indicators Report" in the areas of: land use, soil conservation, soil carbon, water use, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.
The NCC-coordinated Beltwide Cotton Conferences (BWCC) continued its focus on research of new and existing products/technology and the extending of it to producers through consultants, Extension, allied industry and others directly involved in the decision-making process. Compact disks containing the 2010-15 BWCC proceedings were mailed to the BWCC attendees who ordered them. In addition to the published proceedings, the NCC made many of the 2015 BWCC reports - gleaned from the Confex Podium presentation management/recording service - available online.
On other technical issues, the NCC:
- co-signed a letter with other agricultural organizations that was sent to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) commenting on the Operation and Certification of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems proposed rule. The letter expressed the organizations' support for unmanned aircraft systems' use to help farmers and ranchers manage their crops and livestock and make more informed business decisions. The letter also urged the FAA to seek input from the agriculture industry as it is one of the few industries that offers a low risk, high reward potential when using this technology.
- cooperated with the National Cotton Ginners Association on the three 2015 Ginner Schools – the Western Ginners School in Las Cruces, N.M.; the Stoneville Ginners School in Stoneville, Miss.; and the Southwest Ginners School in Lubbock.
- filed comments on EPA's proposal to change corn rootworm resistance management provisions. The comments stated that the agency has proposed a mandate for resistance management without recognizing its detriment to the farming industry.