Bills Limit EPA's Pesticide Authority

House and Senate introduce bills to state pesticide applications do not need additional Clean Water Act permit.

Leading Senate ag committee members have introduced legislation that would overturn a an EPA rule required from an April 2009 court decision that found that pesticide discharges to U.S. waters were pollutants and therefore required a permit. House Agriculture Committee ranking member Frank Lucas, along with six of his colleagues on the House Agriculture Committee, also introduced H.R. 6087, a companion bill to the Senate's bill.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., and ranking member Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., introduced the bill which amends the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act by stating, "Not withstanding any other law, no permit shall be required for the use of a pesticide that is registered or otherwise authorized for use under this Act, if that use is in accordance with [the label]."

Under the federal court ruling, pesticide applicators would have to apply for a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Clean Water Act permit if the chemical reaches a body of water, including ditches and culverts. The decision created unnecessary regulatory requirements and also exposed growers to citizen action suits under the Clean Water Act.

An EPA draft rule released in June established a relatively narrow federal NPDES program for pesticides; however, future courts could expand the requirements for spray drift and runoff, as well as direct aquatic applications. The draft rule released by EPA in June was not intended to include the majority of farmers, a considerable number may be forced to get a permit for fear of getting sued by environmental groups.

Lucas explained under the Bush administration, the EPA issued a final regulation codifying this long-standing practice. "The current political leadership of the EPA has chosen a different path. It is one that on a daily basis adds more and more regulatory burdens on our agricultural producers. It is now up to the Congress to fix this problem before the EPA imposes this new bureaucracy on American agriculture," he said.

“Subjecting our farmers, foresters, and ranchers to an additional layer of bureaucracy under the Clean Water Act was never Congress’ intent,” said Lincoln. “Our legislation is very simple: as long as a producer is complying with FIFRA, then no Clean Water Act permit will be required. During the more than 35 years since the enactment of the Clean Water Act, the EPA has never required a permit for the application of FIFRA-registered crop protection products. Our bill would extend this common-sense approach and avoid duplicative, unnecessary burdens on our farmers, foresters, and ranchers.”

Ag groups ranging from timber and forestry groups to traditional commodity groups were quick to praise the legislation for its ability to remove "unnecessary, duplicative, and confusing regulatory burdens on farmers," as National Cotton Council Chairman Eddie Smith stated.

"This legislation does nothing more than clarify what has been the situation for nearly forty years – that lawful application of pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) does not trigger regulatory requirements in other programs," said American Farm Bureau Federation president Bob Stallman. "Farmers know the label on each chemical they use is the law of the land and that they must use chemicals properly. Having additional regulations and bureaucratic red tape will not improve food safety or the environment."

Andrew D. Moore, National Agricultural Aviation Association executive director, said the bill is a win for both the environment and agriculture. “Extremely robust science must be collected under FIFRA proving the safety of a pesticide to water and a number of other environmental components. The Sixth Circuit decision requiring water permits for pesticides would result in a bureaucratic morass, and unnecessary, costly and time-consuming procedures for farmers and applicators. This would notably hamper their ability to provide food, fiber, biofuel and to protect the public health.”

The National Corn Growers Association released a statement approving the action, saying Congressional action is "imperative" before the new permitting program is scheduled to take effect in April 2011.

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