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Support Clean Water! Oppose HR 872

by Josh Vincent — last modified Mar 23, 2011 05:20 PM
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NRDC and Baykeeper's analysis of FIFRA vs. CWA, along with talking points for contacting your representatives in congress in opposition to HR 872.

HR 872, the so-called Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act, would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from protecting our waterways from toxic pesticide pollution by exempting pesticide 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.

Keeping Our Waters Safe: The 112th Congress Must Not Strip the EPA’s Duty to Protect Our Waters from Pesticides

Under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA),
the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registers pesticides that can
be sold and used in the United States. When the EPA approves a pesticide
under FIFRA, however, it merely concludes that its use “will not generally
cause unreasonable adverse effects on the environment.” As the growing
evidence of pesticide-contaminated waters shows, FIFRA and its labeling
requirements are insufficient to protect many waters across the country.
Only the Clean Water Act specifically aims to restore the most polluted
waters or protect pristine waters from contamination. Permits granted under
the Clean Water Act can prevent pollutants from being discharged into our
waterways to maintain and improve water quality for fishing, swimming,
and other uses.

Despite this, special interest efforts—pushed by the chemical companies—
are underway in Congress to undermine the Clean Water Act by exempting
pesticide applications from the protections and safeguards of water quality
monitoring and permits. Under the industry groups’ proposal, discharges of
registered pesticides would evade Clean Water Act permitting.

More than 1,000 waterways in the United States are known to be impaired because of pesticide pollution—and many more may be polluted but are not sampled.1 In a nationwide survey, the U.S. Geological Survey found pesticides (or their byproducts) in every stream they sampled.2 In California, pesticide pollution is responsible for 27 percent of the state’s waters being designated as unfit for drinking, swimming, and fishing under the Clean Water Act.

Polluted U.S. Waterways Risk Water Quality
and Public Health

Pesticides discharged into our waterways can kill or cause severe reproductive and developmental harm and cancer in fish and amphibians. The toxins can also move up the food chain, potentially accumulating in people who eat fish, and can contaminate our drinking water supplies. Since the 1960s, the spraying of the pesticide carbaryl to control populations
of burrowing shrimp in Washington’s Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor has killed millions of fish and crab, including endangered Chinook salmon.3 In 1996, the Talent Irrigation District, which discharged an herbicide into irrigation canals to kill aquatic weeds, ended up killing 92,000 juvenile steelhead salmon when the pesticide flowed from the canals into an adjacent, pristine creek.4

The Clean Water Act: Th e EPA’s Only Tool to Protect Water Quality and Fish, Wildlife, and Human Health from Pesticide Contamination

The EPA can and must protect the nation’s waters under the Clean Water Act through permits granted under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). The system currently serves as the mechanism for regulating millions of discharges of pollutants into the
nation’s waters every day. NPDES permits place limits on the amount and type of pollutants that can be discharged into waterbodies, taking into consideration factors such as whether the waterbody is used by people for fishing and swimming and whether significant fish species rely on the waters. FIFRA only considers nationwide assessments and requires no local assessments for waterbodies. FIFRA registration is not a substitute for water-specific permits.

The Importance of Water Permits

Industry groups oppose the EPA exercising its mandatory authority under the Clean Water Act to require a NPDES permit when pesticides are discharged into U.S. waters; they claim that such a permit would be duplicative of FIFRA registration or burdensome. These claims are

The EPA has proposed the use of general NPDES pesticide permits to provide timely and efficient coverage and to simplify the permitting process while protecting public health and water quality. A general permit, as opposed to an individual permit, applies to multiple dischargers located together in a geographic area or with a common type of discharge. Rather
than having each individual discharger obtain a permit, a general permit makes it easy to apply for a permit prior to applying pesticides on a given waterbody. The EPA’s proposed general pesticide permit would require pesticide applicators to analyze safer alternatives to pesticide use, to monitor for environmental impacts post-application, and to ensure public safety and create consistency for the regulated community.

General Pesticide Permits Will Not Affect Agricultural Practices

Existing agricultural exemptions in the Clean Water Act remain intact under the EPA’s proposed general permit. Farmers will not be required to obtain permits for irrigation return flows and agricultural stormwater runoff, even when they contain pesticides. The general pesticide permit would not cover land applications for the purpose of controlling pests on agricultural crops and spray “drift” from aerial applications on crops. In addition, the permit would not cover farmers’ or ranchers’ pesticide applications.

To protect and restore our nation’s waters and prevent further pollution to one of our country’s most precious resources, Congress must not take away the EPA’s ability to require Clean Water Act permits for applications of pesticides into our waters.


  1. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Causes of Impairment for 303(d) Listed Waters Table,, (last accessed on March 21, 2011).
  2. Gillion, RJ et al. “The Quality of Our Nation’s Waters: Pesticides in the Nation’s Streams and Ground Water, 1992-2001.” U.S. Geological Survey. Circular 1291. 2006.
  3. U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”), ESA Section 7 Consultation Biological Opinion re: EPA Registration of Pesticides Containing Carbaryl, Carbofuran, and Methomyl, April 20, 2009. 373-79,, (last accessed on March 21, 2011).
  4. The Talent Irrigation District now uses no pesticides, but rather much safer mechanical means of weed removal.


Talking Points for HR 872

1.  Find your member of Congress.  Call your Representative's Washington, DC, office. You can look online or call 202-224-3121 for Capitol Information and ask for your Representative's office.  If you need help identifying your representative, please go to and simply look up your Representative by your zip code.

2. Call your Representative.  A receptionist will greet you on the phone.  Ask to speak to the Representative about Pesticides and the Clean Water Act.  If they are not available, ask to speak to the staff person working on clean water and environmental issues. If neither is there, ask to leave a voicemail with a message and your contact info.  Feel free to use the following phone script:

My name is [XX] from [city, state]. I urge you to oppose HR 872 the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act and to support EPA’s Pesticides General Permit to ensure the health and safety of our communities and wildlife.  A permit under the Clean Water Act is necessary to protect our waterways, public health, and fish and wildlife. 

(If applicable, you can mention a particular waterbody in your area that you enjoy hiking near, fishing in, or swimming in, and how voting “NO” on 872 will ensure that the EPA is able to keep it free of pesticide pollution.)

3.  Send the following sample letter to your Representative’s office by fax or email.


RE: Oppose HR 872, the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act


I am writing to ask you to vote NO on HR 872, the so-called “Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act.”  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.

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.

The claim by proponents of HR 872 that farmers and ranchers will be burdened by this permit is false. Applications by agriculture do not fall under EPA’s general permit and will remain exempt under Clean Water Act permitting requirements. For the other pesticide applicators that are required to obtain the CWA permit, EPA is preparing a general permit rather than requiring every discharger to obtain an individual permit. This approach eases the regulatory burden on dischargers while allowing EPA to protect public health and water quality.

Regulating pesticide discharges to water under the CWA does not duplicate other regulations and is unquestionably necessary to protect our waterways, public health, fish, and wildlife.  Therefore, I urge you to oppose HR 872.

Thank you,