(Beyond Pesticides, April 13, 2009) Rebuffing the Department of Agriculture, the Justice Department announced that it will not seek rehearing of a recent significant environmental decision that enables improved protection from pesticides under the Clean Water Act. In a letter dated March 6, 2009, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack had asked EPA Administrator Jackson to request reversal of the 6th Circuit’s decision (The National Cotton Council et al. v. EPA) in January that invalidated a Bush EPA rule exempting pesticide spraying around waterways from the Clean Water Act regulations.
“This decision means that EPA recognizes its responsibility to move forward with implementing the Clean Water Act, instead of trying to circumvent this bedrock public protection statute as was attempted by the Bush EPA,” stated Charlie Tebbutt of the Western Environmental Law Center, who argued the case for the environmental plaintiffs. “We now look forward to working with EPA and the states to bring about meaningful changes in site specific uses of pesticides to protect our nation’s waters,” continued Mr. Tebbutt.
In this same announcement, EPA stated that it will seek to continue the Bush rule for two years, despite the court ruling it illegal. “This part of the EPA’s decision is troubling,” said Mr. Tebbutt, but he added, “I expect that the 6th Circuit will deny the request to keep an illegal rule in place.” The court decision simply reinstates the law as it was before Bush’s intervention in 2006 and numerous states had permits in place prior to the rule change. “It will not be the great hardship that the pesticide industry has concocted. It is time to reinstate the full protections to our nation’s rivers, lakes and streams envisioned by the Clean Water when it was passed in 1972,” Mr. Tebbutt concluded.
In January, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a Bush EPA decision that the spraying of pesticides into the nation’s waters should no longer be regulated by the Clean Water Act. The Court held that pesticide residuals and biological pesticides constitute pollutants under federal law and therefore must be regulated under the Clean Water Act in order to minimize the impact to human health and the environment.
With this decision, virtually all commercial pesticide application to, over and around waterways will now require National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits. The NPDES permits will allow for local citizen input, and provide for accountability and oversight. The permits will also require the regulatory agencies to evaluate effects on fish and wildlife from individual applications, to monitor exactly how much of a pesticide application goes into in our nation’s waters, and to evaluate the cumulative impact this residual effect has on aquatic organisms.