(Beyond Pesticides, September 2, 2010) Beyond Pesticides, along with dozens of environmental and public health groups from across the country, sent a letter to members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, urging the withdrawal of S. 3735, a bill that would strip the Clean Water Act of protections from pesticides. The bill, introduced by Senators Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), the Senate Agricultural Committee’s Chair and Ranking Member, seeks to nullify regulations that require pesticide applicators apply for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits under CWA before applying pesticides on or near surface waters. The groups say Congress should be supporting the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in fulfilling its task, rather than undermining laws that protect public health and the environment.
Senators Lincoln and Chambliss argue that because pesticides are registered under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) additional regulation is unnecessary and the legislation will reduce the burden on farmers, foresters and ranchers. In their August 30th letter, the groups say, “CWA complements and does not duplicate the pesticide registration reviews conducted by EPA under FIFRA, which sets a general national standard that does not take into account conditions and specific vulnerabilities evaluated through the NPDES process. Given extensive, documented water contamination by pesticides nationwide, it is critical that we allow the NPDES review process to move ahead. S. 3735 will prevent this from happening.”
For decades our nation’s waterways have been polluted with hazardous pesticides which impact aquatic populations of animals and plants, and decrease surface and drinking water quality. Results from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Water-Quality Assessment Program studies show that pesticides are widespread in streams and ground water sampled within agricultural and urban areas of the nation. Many of these pesticides accumulate in fish and other organisms, making their way up the food chain, to eventually be consumed by the American public. Recent studies find that government agencies may be underestimating children’s dietary exposure to pesticides and that they are a prime cause of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD. Stronger regulatory action is needed to ensure that our waters, food and health are adequately protected from all industrial and agricultural pollution.
Thus, the NPDES permit is vital to protecting waterways from indiscriminate pesticide contamination. The permit would not pose undue burden to farmers, foresters and ranchers as the permits are only required for a narrow range of uses, for example, mosquito spraying which is seasonal in most parts of the U.S.
The introduction of S. 3735 follows EPA’s June 2010 posting of a draft NPDES General Permit for certain pesticide use patterns, also known as the Pesticides General Permit (PGP). The development of the permit stems from a 2009 court decision in the case of the National Cotton Council et al. v. EPA, in which the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that pesticide discharges into water are pollutants and require permitting under CWA. This ruling overturned the previous Bush administration policy that exempted pesticides from regulation under CWA, and instead applied the less stringent standards of FIFRA.
In July 2010, Beyond Pesticides and others sent comments to EPA requesting improvements to the proposed PGP and CWA regulations. These suggestions include: making general improvements to address specific limitations of the proposed permit (size of annual treatment areas, monitoring requirements, opportunities for public input); encouraging EPA to consider organic alternatives when reviewing permits; and, requiring EPA to set water quality standards for all pesticides that may contaminate water.