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Pesticide spraying near streams to expand under Congressional bill

June 21, 2011 |  6:18 pm

Pesticides near water
A bill allowing pesticide manufacturers and users to avoid the Clean Water Act permitting process passed in the Senate Agriculture Committee today.

If passed in the Senate, bill H.R. 872 lets farmers spray pesticides near public waters without having to meet Clean Water Act permitting requirements. 

A 2007 EPA rule allowing all pesticides listed in the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) to be exempted from Clean Water Act permitting requirements was reversed by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2009.

The amendment, on its way to the Senate floor, reinstates the exemptions, effectively skirting the legal battles over whether pesticide residue is a chemical waste that can be regulated as a pollutant under the Act.

Growers, ranchers and others have highlighted the regulation as an example of unnecessary federal bureaucracy, while environmentalists supported it as a hedge against over-use of chemicals that may be perilous to aquatic life and to drinking water.

“The Committee sided with the pesticide industry and against our health and the health of our waters by eliminating all Clean Water Act protections of our rivers, lakes and streams against pesticide pollution,” said Natural Resources Defense Council  staff attorney Mae Wu.

FIFRA is a federal pesticide law used by the Environment Protection Agency  to evaluate whether the pesticide a manufacturer wants to sell is safe. A manufacturer cannot sell or use a pesticide until the EPA registers it.  Manufacturers, such DOW, Monsanto and DuPont, have to prove their pesticide will not cause “unreasonable adverse effects on the environment.” The EPA takes these results into account before giving the OK.

The Clean Water Act is more specific, requiring a pesticide user intending to spray into or near a body of water to apply for a permit. The permit requires the pesticide user to consider alternatives before spraying.

The Clean Water Act aims to minimize pesticide use, whereas FIFRA allows companies to use the maximum amount of a pesticide that would not cause unreasonable and adverse effects.
Under FIFRA, if the EPA OKs a pesticide, and that pesticide is used near water, no Clean Water Act permit has to be issued.

“FIFRA is weak when holding companies accountable,” said Mae Wu. “With the Clean Water Act, if you violate a permit, spray pesticides near water and unintentionally kill a species , then you can be sued.”

Wu said if H.R. 872 passes, “companies can do whatever they want” and no longer will have to answer to Clean Water Act requirements. 

Monsanto and DuPont officials were not immediately available for comment.

Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said in a press release in March that H.R. 872 would eliminate “another regulatory hoop” for people who apply legally registered pesticides.

“It provides a permanent solution to the regulatory quagmire of duplicative pesticide permitting requirements facing farmers, ranchers and others who use pesticides,” Stallman wrote. “Having to go through a senseless permit process to apply a safe and already approved product will improve neither food safety nor the environment.

This bill was passed in the House on March 31 under a expedited process, by a 292-134 vote. It passed the Senate committee without a hearing.

“This bill passed the House with a lot of Democrats, and it just passed out of committee on the Senate,” Wu said. “I'd say it has a chance in the Senate unless we can educate more people.”

RELATED:

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Pesticides in well water linked to Parkinson's disease

-- Ashlie Rodriguez

Photo: A grower in Westley, Calif., checks the drainage of irrigation water as it flows through his tomato fields. Many farmers use pesticides to keep crops healthy and try to find a way to limit the amount of chemicals that eventually flow into the nearby San Joaquin River. Credit: Steve Yeater / For The Times

 

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