Congress' year-end funding bill has stalled recent policy changes that would have forced anhydrous ammonia fertilizer retailers to comply with standards historically used for manufacturers.
The language in the spending bill prevents the Occupational Safety and Health Administration from implementing the policy changes in fiscal year 2016, ending Sept. 30.
“The intent by Congress was to stop OSHA from applying its PSM rule to retailers until they go through rule-making and a new North American Industry Classification System code for Farm Supply Retailers has been established by the Census Bureau,” North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said in a statement. “However, OSHA plans to move forward with implementation in October.”
Nick Breidenbach, general manager of Central Dakota Frontier Cooperative with locations in Napoleon, Wishek, Hazelton, Steele and New Salem, said the cooperative had been preparing for the policy changes should they go into place but "didn't pull the trigger."
Breidenbach said he is relieved the changes have been held off through the upcoming growing season because, in the end, they will affect the cost to the customers at a time when farmers are already facing little to no profit margins on their crops. Without the suspension, anhydrous ammonia facilities would have had to be in compliance by Jan. 21.
"It's just another benefit to the farmers," said Breidenbach, adding that the cooperative will remain ready should the changes ultimately go into effect.
Goehring said he will still call for a repeal of the policy change. A court challenge by the Agricultural Retailers Association and The Fertilizer Institute also is pending in federal appeals court.
Eric Delzer, fertilizer specialist for the North Dakota Department of Agriculture, said, though OSHA will enforce the policy changes, it will also affect the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Risk Management Program administered by the Agriculture Department. EPA will begin enforcing changes six months after OSHA.
Delzer said the department has been conducting outreach and public meetings to help retailers prepare. If the changes are made permanent, it will mean more man hours and longer inspections for his office.
Anhydrous retailers are opposed to the rule because they say it will decrease safety, rather than increasing it as the policy had intended.
“If the new policy is implemented, it could force as many as one-third of North Dakota small- and medium-sized operators out of business due to the cost to implement the new rule," Goehring said.
As those operators close, farmers will have to go further for fertilizer, increasing the chances of hazards on the roads.
For those that do comply, the cost is estimated at $18,000 to $30,000 per facility.