Written by: Gary Huddleston | July 14, 2021
This blog is part of our policy priority series.
It’s been an interesting first few months with the Biden administration. When President Joe Biden came into office in January, the major issue he faced was our country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of his priorities were temporarily put on the back burner to allow the administration to focus most of its efforts on the pandemic, which has been ruling the lives of most Americans.
President Biden issued an executive order on Jan. 21 directing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to determine if there was a need for a COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) and then, if needed, put one into place by March 15.
Since the issuance of that executive order, we’ve been on the edge of our seats wondering what we would see from the agency. I fully expected to see a COVID-19 ETS issued before the end of March. If I were a betting man, I probably would have lost a lot of money!
OSHA presented the administration with a final standard at the end of April, but the administration did not move on it until early June. The only activity we saw was the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) holding stakeholder meetings with interested parties or trade groups, which the American Feed Industry Association participated in at the end of April. While OIRA was busy holding the stakeholder meetings, the country was busy coming out of the pandemic.
By mid-June, with 52% of the country receiving at least one COVID-19 vaccine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention loosening some of its COVID guidance for vaccinated individuals, it seemed as if the justification for an ETS for all workplaces may have passed. It certainly wouldn’t be a good political move for the president to issue an ETS in light of the progress our country has made toward putting this pandemic in the rearview mirror. Issuing a standard would only send mixed messages to the American public about the state of the pandemic in the United States.
In my opinion, the administration made the correct call on June 11 when Labor Secretary Marty Walsh announced that the ETS would only apply to the healthcare industry. The COVID-19 guidance would remain in place for other industries, but it would be updated in light of the most recent CDC guidance.
This was welcome news for our industry, which has done a great job adapting its business operations to protect the health and safety of its over 944,000 essential employees, following federal, state and local guidance since the beginning of the pandemic.
On the environmental front, we are seeing climate change as the primary focal point of the administration. Climate change will drive a lot of the priorities coming out of the Environmental Protection Agency over the next few months. In June, The EPA and Department of the Army announced their intent to revise the definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) to better protect our nation’s vital water resources that support public health, environmental protection, agricultural activity and economic growth. The U.S. agriculture sector will be anxiously awaiting this new definition.
Recently, the EPA Council on PFAS was formed to develop a comprehensive agency approach to addressing per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These substances are getting a lot of attention lately, especially with their potential to contaminate drinking water. States have taken a range of actions to address potential health hazards from certain PFAS chemistries. The PFAS issue has been one of the most complex issues seen in years. The AFIA has continued to engage with federal officials from the EPA, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration and others to determine whether any new requirements could impact the industry in the near- or long-term.
It is likely to be an interesting ride for businesses in the coming months as they navigate their way out of the pandemic and see what new challenges the agencies present them with. But there is one thing you can count on – the AFIA has your back and will keep you informed!