(Beyond Pesticides, October 11, 2011) U.S. Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) has offered an amendment to a currency bill in the Senate this week which would strip protections against pesticide contamination from the Clean Water Act (CWA). The language of the amendment is the exact same language as H.R. 872, which is currently working its way through the Senate and which environmental and public health advocates have been fighting against for much of the past year. Urgent action is needed to stop the amendment from successfully being attached to the larger bill, S. 1619.
Attaching the bill as an amendment to an entirely unrelated bill represents an attempt to slip the language in unnoticed and get it through without a fight. The language in the amendment, which has already passed through the U.S. House of Representatives as H.R. 872, and was voted out of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry as the stand alone bill S. 718 in June, but had since stalled in the Senate, would amend the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act and the Clean Water Act to make permits unnecessary when applying pesticides to waterways for the control of aquatic pests. Following a 2009 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit specifically finding that such permits were required as part of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), Congressional Republicans have sought to undermine the courtâs decision by amending the CWA itself to weaken NPDES requirements. The bill would allow pesticide applicators to discharge pesticides into U.S. waterways without any government oversight. While the main target of the bill is CWA, it could also prevent the regulation of pesticides under the Clean Air Act, which has been used to regulate ozone-depleting pesticides.
The Roberts amendment, cosponsored by U.S. Senator Mike Johanns (R-Nebraska), was offered as amendment 720 to the Currency Exchange Rate Oversight Reform Act of 2011, S. 1619. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) has indicated that he expects S. 1619 to pass easily with bipartisan support. This makes rejection of amendment 720 critically important.
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EPA has been in the process of developing permit requirements in accordance with the 2009 ruling by the Sixth Circuit since June 2010. The proposed pesticide general permit (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 NPDES permits. Republicans and conventional farm lobby groups have sought to get the amendmentâs language signed into law before the PGP would take effect.
The National Corn Growers Association has supported the language contained in the amendment, saying, âThe NPDES permitting system jeopardizes the farm economy without providing any real protection to water quality.â 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 donât protect all species, are implemented with limited monitoring, and donât 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 ârestoration and maintenance of chemical, physical and biological integrity of Nationâs waters,â and thus provide the opportunity for increased oversight and accountability.
Supporters of the amendment say that the clean water requirements are âduplicative regulationsâ which would âunnecessarily burdenâ 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.
For decades our nationâs 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 Surveyâs (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 childrenâs 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.
The NPDES permits are vital to protecting U.S. waterways from indiscriminate pesticide contamination. The proposed permit would not pose undue burden to farmers, foresters and ranchers as the permits are only required for a narrow range of uses, and do not even affect terrestrial agricultural spraying.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.