[Federal Register Volume 81, Number 149 (Wednesday, August 3, 2016)]
[Notices]
[Pages 51174-51176]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2016-18421]


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DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service

[Docket No. APHIS-2015-0096]


The Scotts Co. and Monsanto Co.; Notice of Intent To Prepare an 
Environmental Impact Statement for Determination of Nonregulated Status 
of Glyphosate-Resistant Creeping Bentgrass

AGENCY: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, USDA.

ACTION: Notice.

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SUMMARY: We are announcing that the Animal and Plant Health Inspection 
Service intends to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) to 
evaluate the environmental impacts that may result from the approval of 
a new petition for nonregulated status of glyphosate-resistant creeping 
bentgrass (Agrostis stolonifera L.) (event ASR368) from The Scotts 
Company and Monsanto Company following withdrawal of their 2003 
petition. Issues to be addressed in the EIS include the potential 
environmental impacts to managed natural and non-agricultural lands, 
agricultural production systems, the physical environment, biological 
resources, human health, socioeconomics, federally listed threatened or 
endangered species, and cultural or historic resources. This notice of 
intent (NOI) replaces a previous NOI published in September 2004 and 
initiates a fresh public scoping process and stakeholder engagement for 
the purpose of preparing an EIS. We are requesting public comments to 
further frame the scope of the issues to be included in the EIS, 
including alternatives and environmental impacts.

DATES: We will consider all comments that we receive on or before 
September 2, 2016.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments by either of the following methods:
     Federal eRulemaking Portal: Go to http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=APHIS-2015-0096.
     Postal Mail/Commercial Delivery: Send your comment to 
Docket No. APHIS-2015-0096, Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD, 
APHIS, Station 3A-03.8, 4700 River Road, Unit 118, Riverdale, MD 20737-
1238.
    Supporting documents and any comments we receive on this docket may 
be viewed at http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=APHIS-2015-
0096 or in our reading room, which is located in Room 1141 of the USDA 
South Building, 14th Street and Independence Avenue SW., Washington, 
DC. Normal reading room hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through 
Friday, except holidays. To be sure someone is there to help you, 
please call (202) 799-7039 before coming.
    Other Information: We have retained the public comments submitted 
in response to previous notices on this subject. Due to the amount of 
time that has passed since these comments were originally submitted, 
some of the comments may need to be updated with newer information. 
These earlier comments will be assessed as long as they reflect 
conditions in the current agricultural and natural environment and are 
relevant to issues studied in the environmental impact statement (EIS). 
We welcome new submissions offering scientific facts, professional 
observations, and perspectives about how to evaluate any new material 
available for analysis in the EIS.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Dr. Sidney Abel, Assistant Deputy 
Administrator, Biotechnology Regulatory Services, APHIS, 4700 River 
Road, Unit 147, Riverdale, MD 20737-1238; (301) 851-3896, email: 
[email protected]. To obtain copies of the petition, contact

[[Page 51175]]

Ms. Cindy Eck at (301) 851-3882, email: [email protected].

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Background

    Under the authority of the plant pest provisions of the Plant 
Protection Act (PPA), as amended (7 U.S.C. 7701 et seq.), the 
regulations in 7 CFR part 340, ``Introduction of Organisms and Products 
Altered or Produced Through Genetic Engineering Which Are Plant Pests 
or Which There Is Reason to Believe Are Plant Pests,'' regulate, among 
other things, the introduction (importation, interstate movement, or 
release into the environment) of organisms and products altered or 
produced through genetic engineering that are plant pests or that there 
is reason to believe are plant pests. Such genetically engineered 
organisms and products are considered ``regulated articles.''
    The regulations in 7 CFR 340.6(a) provide that any person may 
submit a petition to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service 
(APHIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) seeking a 
determination that an article should not be regulated under 7 CFR part 
340. Paragraphs (b) and (c) of Sec.  340.6 describe the form that a 
petition for a determination of nonregulated status must take and the 
information that must be included in the petition.
    APHIS received a new petition from The Scotts Company (Scotts) and 
Monsanto Company (Monsanto), APHIS Petition Number 15-300-01p, seeking 
a determination of nonregulated status for creeping bentgrass (Agrostis 
stolonifera L.) that is resistant to glyphosate, identified as event 
ASR368 or Roundup Ready[supreg] creeping bentgrass. The petition states 
that this regulated article is unlikely to pose a plant pest risk and, 
therefore, should not be a regulated article under APHIS' regulations 
in 7 CFR part 340. These part 340 regulations are authorized by the PPA 
to prevent the introduction or dissemination of plant pests, and the 
decision on whether or not to approve the petition request will be 
based on this standard.
    A total of six notices have been published in the Federal Register 
related to the current and previous petition. The first notice,\1\ 
published on January 5, 2004, advised the public of receipt of petition 
03-104-01p and solicited comments from the public on the petition. The 
second notice,\2\ published on September 24, 2004, announced APHIS' 
intent to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) in accordance 
with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), as amended 
(42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) to provide the Agency with a review and 
analysis of potential environmental impacts associated with the 
petition request. The third notice,\3\ published on November 18, 2004, 
reopened the comment period on the second notice and announced APHIS' 
intent to hold a public meeting to promote further public involvement 
in the development of the EIS. On April 11, 2005, a fourth notice \4\ 
invited the public to attend public EIS scoping sessions in May 2005 in 
Maryland and Oregon. The fifth notice,\5\ published on October 12, 
2005, requested information from the public on glyphosate use and weed 
management in nonagricultural lands. The sixth notice \6\ published on 
January 8, 2016, advised the public of receipt of the current petition 
(15-300-01p) and solicited comment from the public, including comments 
related to the environmental impacts associated with the potential 
deregulation. APHIS received 168 comments during the 60-day comment 
period from a variety of stakeholders. These comments can be viewed on 
Regulations.gov (see ADDRESSES above). In total, more than 1,000 
comments were submitted to APHIS during the public comment periods and 
at the public meetings.
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    \1\ Docket No. 03-101-1 published on January 5, 2004, Vol. 69 
No. 2; http://www.aphis.usda.gov/brs/fedregister/BRS_20040105a.pdf.
    \2\ Docket No. 03-101-2 published on September 24, 2004, Vol. 69 
No. 185; http://www.aphis.usda.gov/brs/fedregister/BRS_20040924a.pdf.
    \3\ Docket No. 03-101-3 published on November 18, 2004, Vol. 69 
No. 222; http://www.aphis.usda.gov/brs/fedregister/BRS_20041118a.pdf.
    \4\ Docket No. 03-101-4 published on April 11, 2005, Vol. 70 No. 
68; http://www.aphis.usda.gov/brs/fedregister/BRS_20050411a.pdf.
    \5\ Docket No. 03-101-5 published on October 12, 2005, Vol. 70 
No. 196 http://www.aphis.usda.gov/brs/fedregister/BRS_20051012a.pdf.
    \6\ Docket No. APHIS-2015-0096 published on January 8, 2016, 
Vol. 81, No. 5 https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=APHIS-2015-0096.
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    Creeping bentgrass is a perennial outcrossing species, thus major 
issues raised by commenters focused on plant biology and agronomic 
consequences of it outcrossing to weedy species that may impact 
agriculture and/or natural ecosystems. Issues raised specifically 
included the distribution of seed and pollen from creeping bentgrass, 
hybridization with native or naturalized species, the need for 
additional chemicals to control glyphosate-resistant grass species that 
may develop due to hybridization with creeping bentgrass, increased 
weediness, the ability of creeping bentgrass to establish without 
cultivation, potential impacts on agricultural irrigation canals, and 
the development of herbicide-resistant weeds.
    APHIS published a preliminary risk assessment \7\ as part of its 
evaluation of the petition request under 7 CFR part 340 and also a 
white paper \8\ to support the preliminary risk assessment, providing a 
summary of the biology and ecology of creeping bentgrass. These 
documents were published in 2005 and 2006, respectively. The 
preliminary risk assessment concluded that there is a possibility that 
ASR368 or hybrids of ASR368 could become established in various urban 
or rural and natural areas. At the time the preliminary risk assessment 
was written, there were at least 13 naturalized or native species with 
which creeping bentgrass could hybridize in the United States. The 
white paper presented biological and ecological information on creeping 
bentgrass, including its distribution in the United States and Canada, 
and the ability for it to form hybrids by natural interspecific crosses 
or potentially do so. APHIS will further investigate in the EIS whether 
or not there are any additional species that hybridize with A. 
stolonifera and associated environmental impacts. APHIS will review the 
2005 preliminary risk assessment, updating it to reflect changes in 
turfgrass science and the current document standards of APHIS.
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    \7\ http://www.aphis.usda.gov/brs/aphisdocs/03_10401p_ra.pdf.
    \8\ http://www.aphis.usda.gov/peer_review/downloads/cbg-wpFinal.pdf.
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    To fulfill its section 7 requirements under the Endangered Species 
Act, APHIS entered into consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Services (USFWS) on the first petition (03-104-01p). Subsequent to the 
withdrawal of the petition in September 2015, APHIS notified the USFWS 
that it was terminating the consultation on the petition. Information 
provided during the comment period on this notice of intent (NOI) will 
be used to update APHIS' assessment of the effects on threatened and 
endangered species and critical habitat (collectively referred to as 
listed resources) and, as appropriate and required by statute, will be 
shared with the USFWS as part of APHIS' commitment to protect listed 
resources. If APHIS enters into formal consultation, the USFWS will 
make a determination about whether nonregulated status of ASR368 will 
jeopardize the continued existence of federally listed plant and animal 
species.
    Under NEPA, Federal agencies must examine the potential 
environmental

[[Page 51176]]

impacts of proposed major Federal actions significantly affecting the 
quality of the human environment before taking that action. In 
accordance with NEPA, the regulations of the Council on Environmental 
Quality for implementing the procedural provisions of NEPA (40 CFR 
parts 1500-1508), USDA regulations implementing NEPA (7 CFR part 1b), 
and APHIS' NEPA Implementing Procedures (7 CFR part 372) require that 
for each submitted petition, APHIS consider the potential environmental 
impacts of a request for nonregulated status either by preparing an 
environmental assessment (EA) or an EIS. APHIS has decided to prepare 
an EIS to better understand the degree of uncertainty for environmental 
impacts associated with the deregulation of ASR368. This uncertainty is 
primarily related to four issues that will be studied in the EIS: (1) 
Potential for hybridization and introgression, (2) management of 
volunteer ASR368, (3) potential effects on weed management practices, 
and (4) potential inter-related trade and economic impacts. The EIS 
will examine the broad and cumulative environmental impacts of the 
requested deregulation of ASR368, including potential impacts of the 
proposed action on the human environment and alternative courses of 
action.

Alternatives

    The Federal action being considered is whether to approve the 
petition for nonregulated status of ASR368. This notice identifies 
reasonable alternatives and potential issues that may be studied in the 
EIS. We are requesting public input and comment on the range of 
alternatives, and on the environmental impacts and issues stated in 
this NOI as well as suggestions for additional alternatives for 
consideration and new impacts or issues to be evaluated in the EIS for 
the petition.
    The EIS will consider a range of reasonable alternatives. APHIS is 
currently considering two alternatives: (1) Take no action, i.e., APHIS 
would not change the regulatory status of the glyphosate-resistant 
creeping bentgrass event ASR368 and such plants would continue to be 
regulated articles, or (2) approve the petition for determination of 
nonregulated status of ASR368.

Environmental Issues for Consideration

    We have identified the following potential environmental issues for 
consideration in the EIS: Impacts on managed natural and non-
agricultural lands; on agricultural production systems; on the physical 
environment; on biological resources; on human health; on socioeconomic 
issues; on federally listed threatened or endangered species; and on 
cultural or historic resources. In addition to providing input and 
comment on these issues, we are also requesting that the public provide 
information on the following questions during the comment period:

Potential for Hybridization and Introgression

     What are the weed species in potential affected 
environments with which ASR368 may hybridize and introgress? What 
evidence is there that this would or could occur?
     If introgression was to occur, would the inability to 
identify introgression of ASR368 lead to stand failures or increasing 
costs for production of grass seed crops when compared to non-
genetically engineered (non-GE) creeping bentgrass? What evidence is 
there that would support stand failure or increased costs.

Management of Volunteer ASR368

     Compared to non-GE creeping bentgrass and other grasses, 
would deregulation of ASR368 result in its establishment and 
persistence in situations where it is unwanted, unintended, or 
unexpected (e.g., agricultural irrigation canals, habitat restoration, 
riparian areas, wetlands, or grasslands)?
     When compared to non-GE creeping bentgrass, could the 
spread of ASR368 or its relatives to areas where it is unwanted, 
unintended, or unexpected potentially result in adverse effects on 
native species or habitats, including threatened and endangered species 
and their habitats? What supporting information is available to 
conclude an adverse effect?

Potential Effects on Weed Management Practices

     Would the presence of volunteer ASR368 increase the costs 
and complexity of weed control for growers of non-GE creeping bentgrass 
and other crops? What evidence is there to support this conclusion?
     What potential changes of agronomic practices may occur as 
a result of the presence of ASR368 agricultural crops, including crop 
rotation practices, herbicide use, and tillage?

Potential Trade and Economic Impacts

     What potential impacts on GE-free grass seed exports could 
result from the presence of ASR368?
     What potential impacts on conventional and organic crops 
could result from the presence of ARS368?
    Comments that identify other issues or alternatives that should be 
considered for examination in the EIS would be especially helpful. All 
comments received during the scoping period will be carefully 
considered in developing the final scope of the EIS. Upon completion of 
the draft EIS, a notice announcing its availability and an opportunity 
to comment on it will be published in the Federal Register.

    Authority: 7 U.S.C. 7701-7772 and 7781-7786; 31 U.S.C. 9701; 7 
CFR 2.22, 2.80, and 371.3.

    Done in Washington, DC, this 27th day of July 2016.
Kevin Shea,
Administrator, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
[FR Doc. 2016-18421 Filed 8-2-16; 8:45 am]
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