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The School Environment Protection Act - Will an Unprecedented Compromise Fall by the Wayside (PDF)

On June 19, 2001, Congress crossed new territory. On that day, the United States Senate unanimously consented to Senator Robert Torricelli’s (D-NJ) Amendment 805 to H.R.1, known as the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act in the House and the Better Education for Students and Teachers Act (BEST Act) in the Senate. The Amendment—the School Environment Protection Act (SEPA) -- was the product of intense negotiation between groups historically on opposite ends of the political spectrum: on one end, trade associations with memberships composed of both pesticide manufacturers and pest management companies, and on the other end, a leading environmental group, the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides (NCAMP)/Beyond Pesticides. While Amendment 805 was dropped during the recent conference on the NCLB/BEST Act, it is unlikely that we have seen the last of SEPA, given its broad support and the historic, unprecedented negotiations underlying it. Indeed, Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) reportedly has vowed to try this session to attach it to unrelated language on the floor. According to a press release issued by one of the six industry trade associations involved, SEPA “represents the most significant and extensive agreement on the school pest management issue.” NCAMP calls it a “meaningful, national, pesticide right-to-know and pest management policy,” and notes that SEPA “resulted from a good faith effort on the part of groups normally at odds with each other to provide parents and school staff with information on pesticide use and pest management in local schools.”
While the Senate’s unanimous consent made it clear that SEPA had strong backing by Senate leadership, the legislation hit a political road bump in the House that ultimately became a roadblock. More specifically, unlike the Senate bill, the House Education Bill did not have SEPA-type language. On July 18, 2001, Representative John Boehner (R-OH) moved that the House disagree to the Senate amendment, and agree to a conference. The motion passed by a large margin. That same day, Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Chair of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition and Forestry, convened an emergency hearing of his Subcommittee to hear testimony on SEPA. SEPA opponents and proponents testified, and the hearing transcript makes clear that SEPA did not have the strong support of many Subcommittee members.
SEPA was, and is, controversial. It was reportedly opposed by House Agriculture leaders, as well as by EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman, who saw it as unnecessary. SEPA would have required states to develop School Pest as unnecessary. SEPA would have required states to develop School Pest Management Plans (Plans). SEPA outlines the components Plans must have, including requiring schools to develop pest management systems that “employ integrated methods”; establishing a “universal notification” system and a notification registry; requiring posting; mandating the designation of a contact person who will maintain and disseminate information regarding pesticide applications; and prohibiting the application of pesticides in certain occupied rooms and areas for a period of time. While, according to Senator Torricelli, over 30 states have already taken at least some of these actions, his legislation was prompted by the “lack of uniform guidelines” and the use of “cheap ‘all purpose’ bug killers,” which together “still leave children vulnerable.” The elements of the school Plans contemplated by SEPA are described in detail below.

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