Monday, February 4, 2013

Pesticide Regulation in the News: New Legislation Could Harm Our Waterways

One of the main principles of organic land care is to reduce the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. There are many reasons for this principle, one being to reduce the pollution of our waterways.

As of recently,  U.S. Senators Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Mike Johanns (R-NE) re-introduced legislation that would reduce the review requirements for pesticides that are directly applied to water. The legislation would ensure that Clean Water Act (CWA) permits are not required for the application of pesticides. This is the second attempt for this type of legislation to be passed. The previous Senate version of the bill, Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2011, never reached the Senate floor due to holds put on the act by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Benjamin Cardin (D-MD).

This article from gives a great overview the legislation and why sustaining CWA permits is so important.

       "In 2009, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the case of theNational Cotton Council et al. v. EPAthat pesticides discharged into water are pollutants and required to be permitted under the CWA’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). This ruling overturned Bush administration policy that exempted pesticides from regulation under the CWA and applied the less protective standards of theFederal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). CWA uses a health-based standard known as maximum contamination levels (MCLs) to protect waterways and requires permits when chemicals are directly deposited into rivers, lakes and streams, whereas FIFRA uses a highly generalized risk assessment that does not consider the availability of safer alternatives.

The proponents of this legislation claim that requiring a CWA permit creates a double layer of red tape that is costly to the agriculture industry and consumers. However, FIFRA and CWA are complementary laws and the CWA permit process only affects a small number of pesticide applications. The two statutes have fundamentally different standards and methods in determining whether a pesticide will have unreasonable adverse effects on the environment and/or human health. The CWA statute is more stringent than FIFRA. CWA has a “zero discharge” standard, meaning any amount of discharge, no matter how small, without a permit, constitutes a violation of the CWA. Risk assessment, on the other hand, used under FIFRA, is weaker than a “zero” standard. Risk/benefit allows a certain amount of pollution (i.e. risk) in exchange for controversial calculations of benefit and use a threshold of harm that can vary upon EPA discretion. Since the CWA statute is more stringent in its oversight of U.S. waterways, and thus provides increased safeguards for human health and the environment, FIFRA should not be allowed to override the CWA.

Proponents of this legislation also claim that this permit process would restrict public health officials from using pesticides to control mosquitoes and the spread of West Nile virus (WNv). However, as evidenced through scientific studies and experiences from communities around the country, spraying pesticides is not an effective or efficient way to prevent death or illness associated with insect-borne WNv. Moreover, spraying for WNv can be harmful to non-target species, adversely affect wildlife, and contaminate drinking water sources."