(Beyond Pesticides, June 23, 2011) The Senate Agriculture Committee has passed legislation that would allow pesticides to be sprayed into water without a Clean Water Act (CWA) on Tuesday, June 21, and urgent action is needed to stop the bill from passing in the full Senate. The bill, Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2011 (H.R. 872) amends the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the CWA, reversing a 2009 court order requiring the permits as a part of the National Pollutant Discharge System (NPDES). The U.S. House of Representatives already passed H.R. 827 by a vote of 292-130 back in April. Beyond Pesticides encourages individuals and organizations email and call their Senators that regulating pesticides under the CWA is necessary to protect our waterways, public health, fish, and wildlife, and therefore, they must oppose H.R. 872.
Out of eight committee members who voted, the only ones to oppose the bill were Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who was not present at the markup, but issued a recorded vote. Without press or notice, the bill was marked up private business meetings, and is being heralded by the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), which states that “The NPDES permitting system jeopardizes the farm economy without providing any real protection to water quality.”
However, the purpose of the NPDES permits is, as the name suggests, to reduce and eventually eliminate pollutants in the natural environment through requiring polluters to obtain permits. This allows for oversight of the proposed discharge, including evaluation of the potential risks it might present to aquatic and semi-aquatic species. Because the discharges are weighed against standards that don’t protect all species, are implemented with limited monitoring, and don’t consider need, even approved permits often present the potential for damage to ecosystems in affected areas. However, NPDES permits do allow for local citizen input through allowing the public to comment on the proposed pesticide application in the context of the CWA goal of “restoration and maintenance of chemical, physical and biological integrity of Nation’s waters,” and thus provide the opportunity for increased oversight and accountability in a goal-oriented framework.
Industries (such as NCGA) and sponsors of the bill say that the clean water requirements are “duplicative regulations” which would “unnecessarily burden” farmers and small businesses. However, the potentially high cost of public health problems, environmental clean-up efforts, and irreversible ecological damage that could result in the removal of this permitting process has not been considered. The reality is that this permitting process forces the pesticide users to seek alternative approaches to pest management if their current methods are going to contaminate nearby sources of water. And, given the vast knowledge that we have on organic, integrated pest management (IPM) and non-chemical solutions, this bill will be a disastrous step backwards.
“This bill threatens public health and wildlife,” said Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, “and sets a terrible precedent of opening tractor-sized loopholes in the Clean Water Act. It’s just baffling that the Committee voted without public debate to exempt the worst poisons from the Clean Water Act at a time when they are causing such damage to our nation’s waterways.”
According to National Wildlife Federation, more than 1,000 waterways in the United States are impaired because of pesticide pollution, and these toxic chemicals are a threat to people and wildlife. Pesticides discharged in our nation’s rivers, lakes and streams can harm or kill fish and amphibians. These toxins also accumulate in the fish that we eat and contaminate our drinking water. By prohibiting the EPA or states from requiring a permit under the NPDES for the discharge of pesticides, this bill will create a dangerous vacuum in protecting wildlife, human health and natural systems.
For decades our nation’s waterways have been polluted with hazardous pesticides and their degradates impacting aquatic populations of animals and plants, and decrease surface and drinking water quality. Results from the U.S. Geological Survey’s (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 protect U.S. waterways from indiscriminate pesticide contamination. The permit did not pose undue burden to farmers, foresters and ranchers as the permits are only required for a narrow range of uses, and does not affect terrestrial agricultural spraying.
For more background information, please see our previous coverage of this bill in Beyond Pesticides’ Daily News entry from March 11, 2011, and read the testimony of Charlie Tebbutt, the lead council of National Cotton Council v. EPA to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Call and email your Senator and urge them to stand with you in opposing the chemical industry’s Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2011, (H.R. 827) which would amend the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Clean Water Act (CWA) to eliminate provisions requiring pesticide applicators to obtain a permit to allow pesticides or their residues to enter waterways.