Concerned professionals in the green industry gathered on Capitol Hill bright and early Tuesday morning to have face-to-face meetings with their state senators and congressmen.
The National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) hosted a pre-meeting breakfast and briefed attendees on three hot-button topics facing the landscaping industry today: the H-2B program, the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and pesticide registration funding.
“Unfortunately, the use of these beneficial EPA approved products is threatened due to burdensome administrative requirements under the Clean Water Act (CWA) and Endangered Species Act (ESA),” NALP says. “Before a pesticide can be used by a licensed lawn care applicator, the EPA must register the product. EPA’s vigorous scientific review under the FIFRA thoroughly accounts for the potential impact of pesticide products on water quality, endangered species and their habitat. Regulation under other statuses is unnecessary.”
Due to a 6th Circuit decision in 2011, some uses of pesticides require Clean Water Act National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, which are, according to NALP, typically used to regulate pollutants from factories and other point sources and are not appropriate for applications of EPA-approved pesticides.
“NALP members are concerned about the liability the permits create, leaving them vulnerable to lawsuits under the CWA,” NALP said. “In addition, the permit requirements vary from state to state, causing confusion for lawn care providers that operate in multiple states.”
On May 24, the House passed the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act (H.R. 953), but the Senate has not yet acted on the Sensible Environmental Protection Act of 2017 (S. 340).
Since the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act (PRIA) is set to expire in October, NALP says that agriculture, industry, environmental groups and the EPA have negotiated a proposal to reauthorize the bill.
On March 20, the House passed the Pesticide Registration Enhancement Act (HR 1029), but it has not been passed by the Senate. According to NALP, this bill would allow new and innovative pest control solutions to be brought to the market, and it would also provide funding for pesticide applicator training activities.
Joy Diaz, owner of Land Care, Inc., in Las Vegas, Nevada, attended meetings with her senators and representatives Tuesday morning, accompanied by her son Joshua. Joy has been in the landscape industry for 20 years and has seen the participation in Legislative Days grow tremendously.
During the talks of the day, the main concern she had for her business and others in Nevada revolved around pesticide regulations and usage.
“When the Clean Water Act and that type of thing come in and try to regulate us and tell us, ‘No, we want to put a label on that restricts,’ they’re basically telling us that we don’t know how to use our own product,” Diaz said. “There’s a big difference between a homeowner and me, who gets an MSD sheet. There has to be accountability, there has to be proper usage. And in any industry, you’re going to have those that ruin it for the others, but I don’t need a government agency to tell me how to use my product.”
Along with discussing the issue of pesticide regulations, Diaz spoke to her representatives on the importance of the H-2B program to the landscaping industry.
Diaz pointed out a couple of myths surrounding the H-2B program, such as it is a form of immigration and that it takes jobs from Americans. According to statistics provided by NALP, each H-2B visa supports 4.64 American jobs, and when the seasonal jobs are filled by H-2B workers, the full-time supervisory and support roles are then open for Americans who want them.
As for the topic of immigration, NALP says that once the seasonal H-2B workers have completed their time on the job, they return home. H-2B workers are able to work up to 10 months before returning home, and the workers are legally able to work in the United States, according to NALP.
“I think a lot of the fake news out there has tried to paint it as we’re stealing from Americans, and that it’s non-American,” Diaz says. “In actuality, it’s the opposite. If you can’t support your labor, then you can’t grow as a company. If you can’t take on those contracts that are being given to you during those months, you can’t grow. We’re not taking, we’re trying to fill.”
Even with the Department of Homeland Security’s recent authorization for 15,000 additional H-2B workers to be included in the 2017 cap, company owners like Diaz say while they are thankful for the change, the help is too little, too late.
To obtain one of these additional worker visas, petitioners must show that their business is facing irreversible damage if they cannot hire H-2B workers during the fiscal year of 2017.
“This is our busy season and you still have to go through the entire process,” Diaz says. “We’re at the end of July and with all the paperwork, we’ll be lucky to get it finished by October. That’s snow season. We needed it to be consistent every single year. It’s a real struggle when these contractors are counting on this program to support their labor force and then nobody got what they thought they were going to.”