Many of you know that for more than 15 years many committed people in our state have worked very hard to bring meaningful change to the way we conduct pest control programs in Texas public schools. In 1990 the Texas legislature passed a school integrated pest management (IPM) law requiring all schools to practice IPM by allowing pesticides to be applied only by certified applicators, appointing a trained IPM coordinators in each school district to oversee pest control, and set up a system for encouraging the use of less-hazardous pesticides. Since then, the law has succeeded, in my opinion, through diligent attention to careful and wise rule-making (aided by lots of public and professional input), daily enforcement activity by our structural pest control regulatory agency and lots (and lots) of training.
Today Texas has one of the best records in the country at getting schools to change the way they do pest control. The result has been not only reducing reliance on scheduled pesticide applications and encouraging the use of safer pesticides in schools, but also better pest control. All of these things work together to make schools safer, more pleasant places to work and study.
The process of change has been painful at times, and there have been mistakes made along the way, but it has been satisfying watching people pull together in the spirit of wanting to do the right thing for kids and schools. Part of the satisfaction many of us feel about school IPM in Texas is that we made it work, it is our program, and it works for us in our state with all its glorious fire ants, giant waterbugs and other unique pest challenges.
Meanwhile, other states around the country have struggled to bring an IPM approach to public school programs with varying levels of success. Progress has been slow enough that some have called for a national school IPM program. I agree that some form of federal legislation could be useful in encouraging school IPM implementation--after all state legislation has been the driving force for change in Texas. Such legislation, if passed, should require schools to follow IPM principles, establish training and certification criteria for those who conduct pest control and apply pesticides on school facilities, and let the states figure out the rest.
But that's not what H.R. 4159 the School Environmental Protection Act (SEPA) of 2009, introduced by U.S. Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) looks like at all. This bill provides an object lesson in the old warning to be careful what you wish for. The bill is a modified version of bills that have been repeatedly introduced over the past several congresses, and which have never made it out of committee... for good reason. Among other things, the bill bypasses the regulatory label approval process used today by the U.S. EPA. It will essentially eliminate the right of schools to use most (I would guess more than 95% of) registered pesticides that are currently in use. It requires schools to notify parents every time a pesticide is used that is not on the (highly restrictive) list of "least toxic pesticides". It will essentially eliminate the ability of schools to use herbicides on grounds or sports fields. It (inexplicably) prohibits schools from using synthetic fertilizer, forcing them to use only more expensive organic fertilizers. It will establish a federal advisory committee that has the power to create a list of approved pesticides for all states. And it does all this without authorizing Congress to appropriate money to spend on IPM education or administration of the program, or for states to pay for enforcement of what will be highly unpopular regulations.
In my opinion, the approach taken by this bill will hurt the progress we've made in Texas on school IPM, and will likely set back progress toward IPM implementation in other states as well. In nearly all aspects of its construction, bill H.R. 4159 is more restrictive than Texas's laws and regulations. Supporters of the bill claim that it will not preempt existing state school IPM regulations, but that is only true when federal law is less restrictive than state law. The fact is that no state or school district in the U.S. have school IPM regulations stricter than this bill.
It seems to me that chances for passage of H.R. 4159 are slim, given the cost and burden it will pose on the nation's schools. Nevertheless the persistent return of this legislation year after year suggests that the blanket anti-pesticide advocates (those who oppose nearly any and every pesticide regardless of its usefulness or benefits) are not ready to give up. The shift in the balance of power in Washington, however, means that what has happened over the past several years may not be a faithful guide to what will happen this year. It is important that professionals who understand IPM read this bill and make their opinions known.
By the way, it's never been easier to read and comment on federal legislation. After a simple registration process, you can make comments on this bill at the Open Congress website at http://www.opencongress.org/bill/111-h4159/text . Using this site you can register your support or opposition and even write your legislators about any bill with a click of the button.