(Beyond Pesticides, March 24, 2015) Last week, to the dismay of health and environmental advocates, the House Agriculture Committee unanimously passed the latest version of the inaccurately titled ‚ÄúReducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2015‚ÄĚ (H.R. 897), which would nullify regulations that require pesticide applicators to apply for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits under the Clean Water Act (CWA) before applying pesticides on or near surface waters. The legislation also amends the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) by stating that no permit shall be required for the use of a pesticide that is registered under FIFRA. Generally, it means that pesticide applicators can discharge pesticides into waterways with no EPA oversight under the the standards of the CWA and the permitting process, which takes into account local conditions that are not addressed under FIFRA.
The¬†CWA permit lets authorities know what is sprayed and when it is sprayed, so that the public may know what chemicals are used in their waterways and the potential dangers to sensitive aquatic ecosystems. Existing pesticide regulations under FIFRA do not achieve these protections and, contrary to the assertions made by supporters of the bill, most agricultural pesticide applications are exempt from¬†CWA¬†permit requirements. Permits do not prevent applicators from using pesticides, especially for public health emergencies. The permits do require basic protections for water quality and aquatic wildlife. Applicators must record their pesticide applications and monitor application sites for any adverse incidents, which must be reported. For many states, the cost of the permit is as low as $25. The myth that the CWA permits for pesticide discharges near waterways are burdensome for farmers has not been substantiated.
Already,¬†nearly 2,000 waterways are impaired¬†by pesticide contamination¬†and many more have simply not been tested. The potentially high cost of public health problems, environmental clean-up efforts, and irreversible ecological damage that can result from unchecked, indiscriminate pollution of waterways is being ignored by opponents of¬†CWA¬†regulation. The reality is that this permitting process encourages pesticide users to seek alternative approaches to pest management if their current methods are going to contaminate nearby sources of water.
To understand the complex topic and the subsequent journey that this legislation has undertaken, it is helpful look back to where the entire controversy originated.
In 2006, EPA issued a rule allowing exemptions from the CWA under two specific situations where a permit with NPDES would not be necessary: (1) The application of pesticides directly to waters of the U.S. to control pests (such as mosquito larvae or aquatic weeds); and (2) The application of pesticides to control pests that are present over or near water and a portion of the pesticide can be deposited in lakes, rivers and streams. The statute that EPA claimed to rely on to protect water, FIFRA, is a regulatory and licensing law that oversees the registration of pesticides and their application. It does not, however, regulate and oversee water quality and the protection of aquatic ecosystems in the local context, which is specifically regulated under CWA. As Beyond Pesticides asserted at the time, this EPA action allowed weaker and more generalized standards under FIFRA to trump the more stringent CWA standards.
In 2009, in The National Cotton Council et al. v. EPA, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed EPA‚Äôs 2006 rulemaking and held that pesticide residuals and biological pesticides constitute pollutants under federal law and therefore must be regulated under CWA in order to minimize the impact to human health and the environment.
In June 2010, EPA responded to this decision by¬†outlining the applicability of the permits to¬†pesticide usage. Since then, industry has lobbied hard to get Congress to prevent this measure from going into effect this year.
In August 2010, Congress proposed the first of many bills to combat the ruling that emerged from The National Cotton Council et al. v. EPA case. Bill S. 3735 was introduced by then-Senators Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA). In September of that same year, Beyond Pesticides joined other environmental groups in sending a letter to supporters of the legislation, urging the immediate withdrawal of S. 3735. The letter argued that the NPDES permit was vital to protecting waterways from indiscriminate pesticide contamination. Eventually, S. 3735 was stalled, but the proponents of this legislation returned in 2011 with the first iteration of the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2011 (H.R. 872), introduced by Rep. Gibbs (R-OH). H.R. 872 was adopted¬†by the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 292-130, but eventually was stalled in the Senate by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Ben Cardin (D-MD).
Since this first attack against these important protections, two other attempts have been made. One in 2011, (S. 718), and another over the last two years, (HR 935), which was also passed by the full House, but again stalled in the Senate.
And now the fight for clean water continues, this time with supporters in control of both houses of Congress. The latest installation of the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2015 (H.R. 897) was passed March 19, 2015 in the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture. This bill, similar to the previous ones, will¬†eliminate the need for a federal Clean Water Act permit for aquatic pesticide applications in, over, or near ‚Äúwaters of the United States.‚ÄĚ
Despite the constant attacks on our nation‚Äôs water, it‚Äôs imperative that concerned residents remain stalwart in their dedication to protecting and improving the healthfulness of¬†water. Continue to contact your U.S. Representative and urge him/her¬†to stand with you in opposing the chemical industry‚Äôs¬†Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2015 (H.R. 897). Go to Beyond Pesticides action page to send a letter to your Representative today.
¬†All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.