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Daily News Blog

27
Nov

U.S. House Again Trying to Kill Controls for Pesticides Getting into Waterways

(Beyond Pesticides, November 27, 2023) The waters of the United States are again under attack by the U.S. Congress. After the chemical industry and pesticide users won a major victory in the U.S. Supreme Court that limits the definition of protected waterways in May, 2023, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives introduced legislation that would ease restrictions of pesticides that could contaminate the remaining waterways protected under the Clean Water Act. Capitol Hill watchers expect the bill’s supporters will try to attach it to the 2023 Farm Bill.

The legislation, the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act, HR 5089, was introduced in the House of by Rep. David Rouzer (R-NC) in July. It would reverse a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requirement to obtain a permit before spraying pesticides on or near waterways. This is a repeat of HR 953, which passed the House and failed to pass the Senate in 2017. The House had passed similar legislation in 2011 amending 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. CWA was adopted “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.”

Tell Congress that protection of the nation’s water should be strengthened, not weakened.

HR 5089, if enacted into law, would reverse a 2009 decision issued by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, in the case of National Cotton Council et al. v. EPA, which held that pesticides applied to waterways should be considered pollutants under federal law and regulated under the Clean Water Act (CWA), through National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits. Prior to the decision, the EPA, under the Bush Administration, had allowed the weaker and more generalized standards under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) to be followed. This allowed pesticides to be discharged into U.S. waterways without any federal oversight, as FIFRA does not require tracking such applications and assessing the adverse effects on local ecosystems.

To be clear, HR 5089 would:
(1) undermine federal authority to protect U.S. waters under the Clean Water Act,
(2) allow spraying of toxic chemicals into waterways without local and state oversight,
(3) contaminate drinking water sources and harm aquatic life, and
(4) not reduce claimed burdens to farmers, since there are currently no burdens.

Backers of the bill continually argue that the permit requirements place undue burdens on farmers, but in reality, the majority of pesticide applicators can obtain a permit with little restriction, and agricultural activities are exempt from the requirement. What the bill will actually do is take away Americans’ right to know what toxic chemicals are entering their waterways. “This bill takes away the public’s right to know about toxic pesticides we may be exposed to,” Mae Wu, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council’s health program, said in a statement about the earlier bill, emailed to ThinkProgress. “It eliminates the current commonsense requirement that communities should have access to basic information about what’s being sprayed in waters that can pose risks for public health.”

If this bill passes, citizens will be forced to take innovative local actions to protect threatened waters. Already, nearly 2,000 waterways are impaired by pesticide contamination, and many more have simply not been tested. A U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and National Park Service collaborative survey report finds a harmful mixture of pollutants, including pesticides, pharmaceuticals, caffeine, methylparaben, algal toxins, and fecal and parasitic bacteria, in Pipestone Creek at Pipestone National Monument in Minnesota, U.S.— adding to evidence of widespread pesticide contamination in waterways across the U.S. Pesticide contamination in waterways is historically commonplace. Known pesticide water contaminants, such as  atrazine,  metolachlor, and  simazine, continue to be detected in streams more than 50 percent of the time, with fipronil being the pesticide most frequently found at levels of potential concern for aquatic organisms in urban streams. A 2018 report from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reveals the year-round presence of neonicotinoids (neonics) in the Great Lakes – the world’s largest freshwater ecosystem. Neonics, which are highly toxic to aquatic organisms and pollinators, are prevalent in the tributaries of the Great Lakes with concentrations and detections increasing during planting season. In 2015, another USGS report found that neonicotinoid insecticides contaminate over half of urban and agricultural streams across the United States and Puerto Rico.

The 2021 U.S. Geological Services (USGS) study of pesticide contamination of rivers on the U.S. mainland finds that degradation of those rivers from pesticide pollution continues unabated. USGS scientists looked at data from 2013 to 2017 (inclusive) from rivers across the country and offered these top-level conclusions: “(1) pesticides persist in environments beyond the site of application and expected period of use, and (2) the potential toxicity of pesticides to aquatic life is pervasive in surface waters.” Ultimately, water quality and aquatic organisms and their ecosystems will be fully protected from pesticides only through a wholesale movement to organic land management practices.

Tell Congress that protection of the nation’s water should be strengthened, not weakened.

Letter to U.S. Representative and Senators

On July 28, Rep. David Rouzer (R-NC) introduced in U.S. House of Representatives HR 5089, a bill that would reverse an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requirement to obtain a permit before spraying pesticides on or near waterways. Titled The Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act, it is actually part of an effort to undermine the purpose of the Clean Water Act—”to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.” Please reject this bill either as standalone legislation or as a provision in the 2023 Farm Bill.

Passed in 1972, the Clean Water Act set bold goals for drinkable, swimmable waters in this country. Unfortunately, the “National Pollution Discharge Elimination System” has not made significant steps towards eliminating polluting discharges but has instead reinforced them. Even less progress has been made towards eliminating nonpoint source pollution, such as agricultural runoff.

Already, nearly 2,000 waterways are impaired by pesticide contamination, and many more have simply not been tested. A U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and National Park Service collaborative survey report finds a harmful mixture of pollutants, including pesticides, pharmaceuticals, caffeine, methylparaben, algal toxins, and fecal and parasitic bacteria, in Pipestone Creek at Pipestone National Monument in Minnesota, U.S.— adding to evidence of widespread pesticide contamination in waterways across the U.S. Pesticide contamination in waterways is historically commonplace. Known pesticide water contaminants continue to be detected in streams more than 50 percent of the time. A 2018 report from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reveals the year-round presence of neonicotinoids (neonics), which are highly toxic to aquatic organisms and pollinators, in the Great Lakes – the world’s largest freshwater ecosystem, with concentrations and detections increasing during planting season. An earlier USGS report found that neonicotinoid insecticides contaminate over half of urban and agricultural streams across the United States and Puerto Rico.

HR 5089, if enacted into law, would reverse a 2009 decision issued by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, in the case of National Cotton Council et al. v. EPA, which held that pesticides applied to waterways should be considered pollutants under federal law and regulated under the Clean Water Act (CWA), through National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits. Prior to the decision, the EPA, had allowed the weaker and more generalized standards under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) to be followed. This allowed pesticides to be discharged into U.S. waterways without any federal oversight, as FIFRA does not require tracking such applications and assessing the adverse effects on local ecosystems.

To be clear, HR 5089 would:
(1) undermine federal authority to protect U.S. waters under the Clean Water Act,
(2) allow spraying of toxic chemicals into waterways without local and state oversight,
(3) contaminate drinking water sources and harm aquatic life, and
(4) not reduce claimed burdens to farmers, since there are currently no burdens.

Backers of the bill argue that the permit requirements place undue burdens on farmers, but the majority of pesticide applicators can obtain a permit with little restriction, and agricultural activities are exempt from the requirement. The bill will actually take away Americans’ right to know what toxic chemicals are entering their waterways, eliminating the current commonsense requirement that communities should have access to basic information about what’s being sprayed in waters that can pose risks for public health.

Please oppose HR 5089 and tell EPA to take stronger steps “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.”

Thank you.

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One Response to “U.S. House Again Trying to Kill Controls for Pesticides Getting into Waterways”

  1. 1
    Heather Says:

    Beyond Pesticides has an aversion to calling out the responsible party that continually works to benefit business over public health – the REPUBLICAN PARTY. It isn’t “Congress” who furthered the bill you wrote about, it is a REPUBLICAN Congressman. Please stop giving the Republican Party a pass. They are the ones responsible for weakening environmental and health protections.

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