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Backwash: The New Old Attack on Clean Water

by Josh Vincent — last modified Apr 26, 2013 03:17 PM

Politicians from both camps are again attempting to eliminate permitting requirements for pesticide applications in or near waterways.

What some legislators lack in originality, they make up for in persistence.   This much is evident in the latest round of a seemingly tireless effort to weaken environmental protections by targeting the Clean Water Act. 
The newest proposed bill, referred to as the "Sensible Environmental Protection Act of 2013," would amend the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to nullify the requirement that Clean Water Act permits be obtained for pesticide applications in or near waterways. Senator Kay Hagan (D - N.C.) and Senator Mike Crapo (R - Idaho) are the main support behind the bill, though it quickly gained a bipartisan group of 11 cosponsors.
The bill is a slightly broader version of S. 175, another bill introduced in January by Senator Pat Roberts (R - Kan.) and Senator Mike Johanns (R - Neb.), which itself is a repackaged version of 2011's S. 718, targeting the very same permitting requirements in FIFRA. A House version of the bill, HR 935, was introduced in March by Representative Bob Gibbs (R - Ohio). Like the Senate bill, it is an updated version of its 2011 predecessor HR 872, the "Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act."
Proponents of these bills have allowed themselves to be convinced by chemical and agricultural lobby groups that Clean Water Act permits are duplicative and burdensome given the other requirements outlined in FIFRA. However this is not true. FIFRA outlines the process for pesticide registration, labeling, and sales, but fails to adequately address pollution or potential pollution caused by pesticides. That's why U.S. courts ruled in National Cotton Council et al. v. EPA that certain pesticides are pollutants and are required to be regulated under a water quality permit. See this detailed post from 2011 for more analysis.
It's important that, like in years past, these bills do not pass into law. Please contact your legislators and tell them not to support the following:
In the Senate:
Sensible Environmental Protection Act of 2013
S. 175

Find your Senator
In the House:
HR 935
Find your Representative

Talking Points

1. This bill would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from protecting our waterways from toxic pesticide pollution by exempting pesticides applications from Clean Water Act permitting.  The bill tries to overturn a 2009 lawsuit (National Cotton Council et al. v. EPA), which held that certain pesticides are pollutants and are required to be regulated under a water quality permit.

2. Treating pesticides as pollutants when they’re applied to waterways is common sense. Pesticides are manufactured to be toxic to living things and have caused real harm to public health and aquatic ecosystems. Pesticides are known to directly harm fish and amphibian life in particular. They also move up the food chain and can contaminate drinking water supplies.

3. Regulating pesticide discharges to water under the Clean Water Act does not duplicate other regulations and is unquestionably necessary to protect our waterways, public health, fish, and wildlife. Therefore, I urge you to oppose efforts that seek to weaken the Clean Water Act.