As a new court-ordered mandate requiring pesticide users who spray over water to obtain new permits went into effect yesterday, Sen. Pat Roberts is making a last-ditch effort to undo it.
The Kansas Republican, who has said the 2009 federal appeals court ruling in National Cotton Council v. EPA puts an undue economic burden on farmers, introduced legislation late Monday night that would have suspended the new permit requirement for two years.
The legislation, an amendment to the House-passed H.R. 872, was also "whipped" by the Senate leaders yesterday to see if it could pass through unanimous consent. Roberts' office said there was no objection in the GOP caucus.
And, according to Roberts' office, Democrats are also conducting a whip count of their caucus. At press time, the result of that tally remained unknown.
The goal of the legislation, Roberts said, is to delay the new requirement to give senators time to find a compromise.
"There is bipartisan agreement right now on a moratorium," Roberts told E&E Daily. "Common sense would indicate that we should be able to clear legislation to delay implementation of the rule until differences can be worked out."
The National Cotton Council ruling said current regulations do not sufficiently protect U.S. waterways from pesticide contamination and required applicators to obtain permits that comply with the Clean Water Act.
EPA said Monday that it is complying with the court ruling and is issuing "general permits" for territories where it has jurisdiction -- six states, Washington, D.C., and several U.S. territories and federal facilities. The agency added, however, that it will not enforce the new requirement for 120 days (E&E Daily, Nov. 1).
The House passed H.R. 872 in March and the Senate Agriculture Committee followed by quickly marking it up and passing it. But Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) put a hold on the bill, saying more attention needs to be given to pesticide contamination in waterways.
That led to negotiations between Roberts, Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), and Boxer and Cardin. They appeared to be close to a deal last week that would implement a two-year moratorium on the new permits in exchange for a large study on pesticide contamination.
But negotiations broke down Friday with both sides pointing fingers at each other.
Yesterday, Cardin told E&E Daily that the Senate would not swiftly move Roberts' bill, which calls for a two-year moratorium but no study.
"We were prepared to sit down and work out a compromise," Cardin said. "I thought we had come close with a short-term delay and a scientific study. We were OK with that. I thought we had reached a level where that would happen."
Cardin charged that Roberts pulled out of the talks. When asked about the Republican's new bill and whether it could be moved swiftly through unanimous consent, Cardin said, "That's not going to work."
Last Friday, Roberts issued a statement that said "attempts to use a moratorium to leverage a controversial and overly broad study that threatens agriculture production will only increase confusion facing our farmers, ranchers and state and local health agencies."
He added that the compromise would "simply kick the can down the road" (E&E Daily, Oct. 31).
Roberts appears to have his leadership on board with his effort. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the Republican Conference chairman, highlighted H.R. 872 during a stakeout with reporters yesterday. Alexander said the bill, which would also undo the court decision, was one of the "forgotten 15" pieces of legislation that have cleared the House and would make it "easier to create private-sector jobs."
He said there is common ground on those pieces of legislation. The House passed H.R. 872, for example, with the backing of 57 Democrats. The GOP, Alexander said, is "calling on Democratic leadership in the Senate to bring up the forgotten 15."
The National Cotton Council case has been controversial since it was decided in 2009. Agribusiness said the ruling was duplicative because users already follow instructions on pesticide labels that protect waterways from pesticide contamination. They also said it placed a significant and unnecessary economic burden on farmers.
Environmentalists, on the other hand, applauded the ruling and pointed to a handful of studies that have detected significant amount of pesticides in water bodies.
Yesterday, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, applauded EPA's decision to go forward with the permits.
"For the first time ever, the EPA will begin to track the amount of pesticides that are applied to our nation's waters each year," Markey said in a statement. "This step is long overdue and will lead to improvements in the quality of our drinking water and reduce threats to human health."
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