On May 24, 2017, the House voted 256–165 to wipe the EPA’s Pesticide General Permit (PGP) off the books. Basically, the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2017 (H.R. 953) would prohibit the EPA or a state from requiring a Clean Water Act (CWA) national pollutant discharge elimination system (NPDES) permit for the application of a pesticide into a water of the United States provided the pesticide is used for its intended purpose and the use is in compliance with pesticide label requirements.
Court Overturned Exemption
The PGP has a lengthy history. In November 2006, the EPA concluded in a final rule that pesticides applied in accordance with Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) are exempt from all CWA permitting requirements. Environmental groups challenged the rule, and in a January 2009 ruling (National Cotton Council v. EPA), a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for 6th Circuit found in favor of the plaintiffs.
As a result, in October 2011, the EPA issued its PGP under the NPDES program. The PGP covers four use patterns in which pesticides are discharged to water—mosquito and other flying insect pest control; weed and algae control; animal pest control; and forest canopy pest control.
“We’ve seen the consequences of this duplicative and unnecessary permitting requirement since it went into effect in 2011,” said Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH), the sponsor of H.R. 953. “Cities and local governments that conduct routine preventive mosquito abatement should not have to do it with one hand tied behind their backs. This bill ensures the permitting process adheres to EPA’s current authority under [FIFRA] to approve and regulate these lifesaving pesticides. This is a commonsense measure that provides peace of mind to those living in communities prone to mosquitos by eliminating the need for a redundant permit that diverts resources from the mission of protecting public health.”
One of the Simplest Permits
The Center for Biological Diversity disagrees that implementation of the PGP is imposing significant burdens on the regulated community.
“The overwhelming majority of pesticide applicators may apply for a general permit with very few restrictions on spraying, while only the largest volume applicators must receive an individual permit,” said the Center. “Exemptions to the requirement are available in emergencies. No permit under the Clean Water Act is required for normal farming operations. This is one of the easiest and simplest permits to comply with in the history of the Clean Water Act.”
“This legislation is just a giveaway to gigantic pesticide corporations, and deprives the public of its ability to know when pesticides are sprayed directly into rivers and lakes, even our drinking water,” said the Center’s Brett Hartl. “Given that more than 1,000 U.S. waterways are already designated as impaired from pesticide pollution, it’s lunacy to forbid the EPA to use the Clean Water Act to address this serious threat to public health.”
H.R. 953 is available here.