In Pesticide-Permit Fight, Both Sides Champion Health

WASHINGTON (CN) – The House Rules Committee tackled a deregulation effort Monday that Democrats say would allow the spraying of pesticides into U.S. waters without a permit.

Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, defended his Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2017 on the basis that the permit system under the Clean Water Act is redundant and burdensome.

While trying to confront public health risks like the Zika and West Nile viruses, Gibbs said mosquito-control districts run into a permitting scheme that eats up most of their budgets.

Though Gibbs noted that pesticides are already regulated by the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, Democrats noted that the Environmental Protection Agency faces obstacles in enforcing these regulations.

“Mr. Gibbs, they may have what you say,” Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., said of the EPA, “but they won’t have much authority after this budget comes out tomorrow.”

As the Florida congressman suggested, the budget proposal President Donald Trump unveiled on Wednesday recommends slashing one-third of the EPA’s budget.

“This is a giveaway to the pesticide industry, and it’s not particularly credible what they’ve been saying about it,” said Brett Hartl, the government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity.

In addition to disputing the characterization that the permit system is burdensome, Hartl noted that there are few actors that even need a permit, and the process has inspired little litigation.

Only 30 operators were required to seek permits in Delaware, Hartl said, as an example, and the state’s permit is just two pages long.

Hurtl also brought up the exemptions that exist for public health emergencies — allowing actors to obtain permits after spraying — and for agriculture and farming runoff.

“There’s no legal issue here,” Hartl said.

As for existing regulations, Hartl emphasized that the FIFRA is a mere labeling law, dealing only with bringing pesticides to market.

“It has nothing to do with real world impacts of pesticides in the environment,” Hartl said.

Since FIFRA has no reporting requirement, Hartl added that it cannot regulate cumulative impact.

“Without this Clean Water Act authority, there’s literally nothing known about what’s happening in the environment,” Hartl said.

Gibbs’ bill marks the sixth attempt to dismantle the permitting system, and Hartl noted that his group has opposed each of these efforts.

“At a minimum we should be knowing what is going into the water and when so that if the EPA needs to take remedial action to mitigate impacts from pesticides, we know what’s going on,” Hartl said.

In addition to potentially increasing the use of  pesticides, Hartl warned that removing the permit system could limit data collection.

“So if you get rid of that provision then presumably you go back to just a spray free-for-all with no checks anywhere at any time for any reason,” Hartl said. “And we don’t know when and we don’t know which ones and we never will because under FIFRA they never ask.”

Gibbs played this worry down at the hour-long hearing Monday evening, saying that farmers and pesticide companies do their best to ensure the chemicals are used in the right way. Gibbs said the permit system slows the entire process down, ultimately causing more human health and water-quality problems.

Though the EPA used to exempted permits for pest control in or near water, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit vacated the rule in 2009, holding that all biological and chemical pesticide applications require Clean Water Act permits when their application leaves a residue.

Republicans have opposed the permit system since.

“In vacating that rule, the Sixth Circuit legislated from the bench, ignoring the Congressional intent as well as reasonable agency interpretations of the law,” Gibbs said Monday.

“In the process, the court undermined the traditional understanding of how the Clean Water Act interacts with other federal, state and environmental statutes and judicially expanded the scope of the Clean Water Act regulation further into areas already regulated,” Gibbs continued.

Hartl meanwhile rejected assertions that the permits have hurt America’s economy.

“We’re in year 6 of this permit now and the sky still hasn’t fallen yet,” Hartl said.

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