House Stands Up Against Unneeded Pesticide Permits

House action and federal court extension gives more time to fix requiring duplicative permits for farmers using pesticides.

Farmers are a few steps closer to keeping duplicative pesticide permits out of their business with several actions this week.

First, on March 28, a federal appeals court granted a six-month extension to the Environmental Protection Agency on enforcement of a rule that would require a Clean Water Act permit for users whose pesticides could drift into waters of the U.S. EPA sought the extension because it could not comply with the permitting requirements by the April 9 deadline; it now has until Oct. 31.

Under a federal court ruling in 2009 (National Cotton Council vs. EPA), pesticide applicators would have to apply for a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit if the chemical reaches a body of water, which could include ditches and culverts. While NPDES permits will not provide any additional environmental benefits, the complex new requirements will expose farmers to potential citizen action suits for something as simple as paperwork violations, the National Corn Growers Association pointed out.

"Most of today's farmers use pesticides to help produce a safe, abundant and affordable food supply," said NCGA President Bart Schott, a farmer in Kulm, N.D. "As it currently stands, the NPDES permitting system jeopardizes the farm economy without providing any real protection to water quality." 

The other major victory in the critical issue came Thursday with the House approval of H.R. 872, the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2011, with a strong bipartisan vote of 292 to 130. This legislation states NPDES permits are not required when applying pesticides according to their EPA approved label. 

For most of the past four decades, water quality concerns from pesticide applications were addressed within the registration process under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), rather than a Clean Water Act permitting program. H.R. 872 amends both the Clean Water Act and FIFRA in order to restore the previous regulatory framework.

"The courts are not the place to decide agriculture policy and this bill makes clear that it was never the intent of Congress to burden producers with additional permit requirements that would have little to no environmental benefit. I urge the Senate to quickly follow suit and provide certainty to producers by passing this legislation,” said House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson.

 American Farm Bureau Federation president Bob Stallman said opponents attempted to derail this bill with last-minute charges that it would weaken the Clean Water Act and diminish the authority of the EPA but they did not prevail.

 Western Growers President and CEO Tom Nassif,who represents farmers in California and Arizona who grow most of the nation's fresh produce, said the passage provides "clear support for a regulatory environment that doesn't strap farmers with unnecessary red tape. The bill is a practical, bipartisan example of eliminating government regulations that needlessly increase farm business costs."

The bill has yet to see Senate action, however farm groups as well as House leaders are urging for quick action. The Senate currently is battling over approving budget measures.

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