Wednesday, April 30, 2014

TDA told more enforcement needed

Structural Pest Control Advisory Committee meets in
conference room with a great view of the State capitol.
The spring meeting of the Structural Pest Control Advisory Committee took place last Thursday at the Austin offices of the Texas Department of Agriculture.  If you've never been to the hub of regulatory activity for pest control in the state, it's a massive square building with a great view, from upstairs, of the "sunset red" granite of the state capitol building.  This quarter's lively meeting focused on enforcement actions--or what some in the industry feel is not enough enforcement action.

The discussion started with a report from Assistant General counsel AJ Wilson and her staff. They reported that the percent of cases referred to the enforcement team that resulted in enforcement action has seen a slight increase.  Last year 54.4% of complaints resulted in some sort of enforcement action, such as a fine.  This was up from 43% and 44% in 2010 and 2011.  Warren Remmey, industry member from  San Antonio, expressed concerns about a need for more investigators, especially for checking up on illegal fumigations. He shared an example of a case from 2013, concerning an unmarked vehicle allegedly carrying fumigation equipment that has still not resulted in any enforcement action.

Later in the meeting, during the public comment period, Debbie Aguirre, of Elite Exterminating in Corpus Christi, expressed concern about what she termed "lax oversight" of illegal operators. "And no place is enforcement more important than fumigations," she said. Harvey West with Coastal Fumigators in Houston, echoed her concerns, expressing his belief that there was benefit to the whole industry and regulators in making examples of people who were blatantly in violation of the law with respect to fumigations. Dale Burnett, former regulator, spoke on behalf of Worldwide Pest Control in San Antonio, noted that administrative penalties during the latter years of the Structural Pest Control Board averaged $100,000 to $200,000 annually. According to a recent Open Records Act request, last year the TDA collected only $20,087 in penalties, though penalties have been increasing, with a more than 230% increase since 2011.

If it seems unusual for industry members to ask a regulatory agency for more fines and enforcement actions, it probably is. But the pest control industry in Texas is not just any industry.  It is sensitive to its reputation, and leading business owners are often split on the need for more, or less, enforcement. Only a few years ago, industry voices were heard in Austin about perceived overly-zealous enforcement, which ultimately led  to the closing of the Structural Pest Control Board and its blending into the Department of Agriculture. Most industry leaders are especially sensitive to the issue of unlicensed operators, however, and few reputable pest control operators seem to begrudge quick and decisive action against businesses that threaten public health and the reputation of the industry. For it's part, the TDA team listened respectfully. Policy dictates that they not comment on ongoing investigations, so there was no opportunity for them to respond to critical comments, only listen.

In other business, Randy Rivera reported on upcoming changes to regulations affecting pesticide applicators holding Agriculture (3A) licenses. Most of the proposed changes will be administrative updates, and designed to harmonize TDA and Structural pest control regulations.  Definitions for Lawn and Ornamental (formerly Plant and Turf), Nursery Plant Production (formerly Greenhouse Plant Production) and Landscape Maintenance (formerly Plant Pest and Weed Control) categories have been added to the rules.  There will also be a new proposed rule requiring TDA decals (not numbers) on vehicles being used by non-commercial applicators, including those who use non-restricted use insecticides.  If you carry a TDA applicator's license, you should expect to see publication of these proposed regulation changes in the Texas Register by mid-May.

The status of continuing education regulations for school IPM coordinators was requested, and the committee was informed that the proposed rules outlining CEU requirements should come out as a package in May with the other proposed (3A) regulation changes.  State law mandates that school IPM coordinators begin obtaining 6 CEUs every three years, but enforcement of the law cannot take place until actual rules are in place.  Janet Hurley, my colleague at Texas AgriLife Extension who works with school IPM programs, also offered a comment on the need to waive the 48 hour posting requirement for insecticide baits and gels. This would take the regulations back to an earlier standard, under the rationale that baits and gels, unlike sprays, pose little or no drift hazard to passersby.

The next meeting will be held July 24 at TDA headquarters in Austin. Anybody with an interest in pest control is welcome to attend.

1 comment:

Mike Merchant, PhD said...

I neglected to mention that there was a new member on the Advisory Committee this month. Mr. C. Byron Behrens, of Duncanville, TX is the new member representing the public interest. His term extends to February, 2017. A warm welcome to Byron.