(Beyond Pesticides, August 17, 2011) Representatives Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, and Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.), the Ranking Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Water and Power, sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) urging adoption of new measures to help protect endangered species as the federal government develops rules governing the spraying of pesticides directly into U.S. waters. These new rules would apply to issuance of a Pesticide General Permit (PGP), which would be the first of its kind in the history of the Clean Water Act and would impose limits on the amount of pesticides that enter our streams, rivers, and lakes.
The letters were forwarded to EPA and FWS at a time when Congress is doing all it can to strip the Clean Water Act of its power to protect U.S. waterways. The Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2011 or H.R. 872, already passed by the House earlier this year and recently voted out of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, would revoke EPA’s authority to require permits for pesticide discharges into waterways. Click here to send a message to your Senators urging them to stand with you in opposition to this dangerous bill. Soon after H.R. 872 was passed, the Republican-controlled chamber passed the Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011, H.R. 2018. The act would prevent EPA from stepping in to enforce clean water standards when it deemed that a state agency was not effectively enforcing the law. The bill would also prevent EPA from refining its existing water standards to reflect the latest science without first getting approval from a state agency. Republican lawmakers are loading up an appropriations bill with over 70 amendments (riders) to significantly curtail environmental regulation in the 2012 Department of the Interior and the EPA spending bill (H.R. 2584), in one of the most extreme attacks on the environment and public health in modern history.
EPA has been in the process of developing the permit requirements in accordance with the 2009 court ruling since June 2010. The PGP covers operators who apply pesticides that result in discharges from the following use patterns: (1) mosquito and other flying insect pest control; (2) weed and algae control; (3) animal pest control; and (4) forest canopy pest control. The permit would not cover 1) non-target spray drift, or 2) discharges of pesticides to waterbodies that are impaired for that pesticide. Unfortunately, agricultural runoff and irrigation return flows, responsible for contaminating much of our waterways, are exempt from permitting under CWA and, thus, do not require CWA permits.
Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the EPA is required to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the Fish and Wildlife Service whenever its actions could cause harm to an endangered species. Fulfilling this ESA obligation, the EPA entered into a consultation with NMFS to determine if the Pesticide General Permit would harm endangered species. The NMFS found that the permit as written would threaten the existence of 33 endangered species, including Atlantic and Pacific salmon. According to the Biological Opinion:
“NMFS reached this conclusion because as the general permit is currently structured, the EPA would not be likely to know where or when most of the discharges it intends to authorize would occur; if these discharges were resulting in exposures to pesticide pollutants in concentrations, durations or frequencies that would cause adverse effects to ESA listed species or designated critical habitat and would not be in a position to take measures to avoid those adverse effects; or whether the permittees were complying with the conditions of the permit designed to protect ESA listed species and designated critical habitat from being exposed.”
The agency recommended three basic measures that would mediate the impact of the permit. These measures include annual reporting from applicators that discharge pesticides into U.S. waters, monitoring for pesticides in habitats of endangered species, and identification of the pesticides covered by the PGP that would cause the most severe adverse impacts to endangered species. EPA has received these recommendations and is currently in the process of finalizing the permit that should be published this fall. Reps. Markey and Napolitano’s letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson urged adoption of measures that would better protect endangered or threatened species from being killed by pesticides sprayed directly into our rivers, streams or lakes.
Reps. Markey and Napolitano also sent a letter to FWS Director Dan Ashe urging his agency to weigh in on the impacts the Pesticide General Permit may have on endangered freshwater species of fish. Despite receiving notice from the EPA requesting a consultation over a year ago, the FWS has yet to complete a consultation and is therefore not complying with its obligation under the ESA. Without FWS input, the EPA will be unable to modify the Pesticide General Permit even though freshwater endangered species may be harmed.
“As American families escape the heat of summer with visits to our nation’s lakes and rivers, they should not have to worry whether the river they swim in or the fish they catch and eat are laden with toxic pesticides,” said Rep. Markey. “We cannot turn a blind eye to water pollution when it jeopardizes the sizeable economic benefits of clean water and healthy wildlife populations — particularly when it comes to animals that are already being threatened with extinction. Every agency in the federal government should do its part to ensure that our most vulnerable species are protected.”