Senate Considering Revival of Pesticide Reporting System
SALEM, Ore. Six years after the Legislature voted for a system to report on the use of pesticides in Oregon, no such program exists, except on paper.
But a Senate committee opened hearings on a bill to revive and make permanent Oregon's Pesticide Use Reporting System by doubling the fees paid by manufacturers. And despite opposition from the farming and chemical production industries, Senate Environment and Land Use Committee Chairman Charlie Ringo vowed to make it a priority of the Legislature.
"This will be a take-home deal," Ringo said after his panel's two-hour hearing on the bill he sponsored, Senate Bill 290. "We are not going to adjourn until this bill passes in some form."
Although the 1999 Legislature passed the original bill to create the reporting system with broad bipartisan support, the program has never been fully implemented. Pesticide use data were collected only in 2002 from farmers and other users. That data have never been available to researchers and others to determine whether pesticide runoff into watersheds can be linked to specific health and environmental problems.
With the Legislature holding off on appropriating the state's portion of funding to match the pesticide industry's fees for the program, the program was in limbo for the past few years. So, the Department of Agriculture stopped collecting the $40 fee paid per pesticide product registered to fund the reporting program.
Ringo's bill, which is backed by several environmental and public health groups, would end the use of state general fund dollars to fund the program.
Instead, the program would fund data collection and other costs entirely through fees, which would be doubled to $80 per product registered with the state. The bill also would make the program permanent by removing language in state law that allows the program to expire in 2009 unless the Legislature acts to extend it.
An alternative proposal, which was made by Gov. Ted Kulongoski, would revive the program by reimposing the $40 fee and matching the $951,000 in resulting revenue with $960,000 in money from the state general fund. Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba testified on behalf of this option, saying it would provide more money than Ringo's proposal.
But environmentalists said they preferred SB 290 because it would finally put the pesticide reporting program on stable, long-term footing, while Kulongoski's proposal would keep the program going for just two years.
How to pay for the program was a contentious issue at Wednesday's hearing.
Terry Witt, director of a group that lobbies on behalf of pesticide users and manufacturers, said the Legislature's adoption of a funding scheme that split the program's cost between the state general fund and the industry was meant to balance the financial burden between the general public and those who use pesticides. He said that made sense, because environmentalists and public health advocates argued for the program's creation as a way to serve the public's interest when it comes to better research on pesticide use.
"The public needs to have a cost share in this matter," he said.
Laura Weiss, program director with the Oregon Environmental Council, said the notion of splitting costs between the industry and the general fund was a compromise necessary to get the 1999 legislation passed, but has since been used by the agriculture industry as a way to starve the program of funding, since general fund dollars have become more scarce in recent years because of Oregon's economic downturn.
"Opponents have told us that we can't afford this program because of the state's budget problems," she told lawmakers. "The amendments to SB 290 provide the obvious solution to this problem."
Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News