Farmers and other pesticide users would not need to secure Clean Water Act (CWA) permits before spraying over water under Senate legislation offered late last week in response to a pivotal federal court ruling.
The pesticide bill, offered Thursday by Agriculture Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and the panel's senior Republican, Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, would allow agriculture interests to continue pesticide use in compliance with the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year struck down a U.S. EPA rule passed during the George W. Bush administration that exempted pesticide sprays over water from the CWA, requiring the agency to begin crafting new clean water permit requirements.
Several Republicans -- including Rep. John Boozman, who aims to unseat Lincoln in this fall's Arkansas Senate race -- have raised concerns about the need to obtain stronger CWA permits for pesticide use that already complies with FIFRA. Seven GOP senators on the Environment and Public Works Committee complained of "greater regulation and heavier economic burdens on farmers and states" as a result of the new CWA permit mandate in a July 22 letter to EPA.
Lincoln's sponsorship of the new bill suggests that she shares the GOP concerns. "Congress never intended for agricultural chemicals to be regulated under the Clean Water Act," the Agriculture panel chief said in a floor speech unveiling the legislation.
"Unfortunately, because of aggressive litigation and federal courts misinterpreting congressional intent, our farmers, foresters and ranchers are facing new restrictions on their operations," Lincoln said. "Too often, this results in obligations that are time-consuming, expensive and plainly unnecessary."
The Supreme Court earlier this year declined to review the appeals court ruling in the pesticide permits case, National Cotton Council v. EPA, dealing a blow to the agriculture industry and delighting environmental advocates who had pushed for new controls on chemical spraying (Greenwire, Feb. 23).
The bill drew praise from agriculture interest groups.
"I applaud Senator Lincoln's leadership in acknowledging the need to reverse the decision of the 6th Circuit Court's January 2009 ruling in National Cotton Council v. EPA," said Beau Greenwood, executive vice president of government relations and public affairs at CropLife America, in a statement. "The court's ruling failed to preserve FIFRA primacy with respect to pesticide applications."