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Bill seeks to end ‘duplicative’ pesticide permits

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Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo has introduced legislation to end a requirement that pesticide applications over or in waterways be permitted by the federal Clean Water Act.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Idaho’s senators are backing a bill they say would prevent a potential hassle for farmers and eliminate a duplicative federal regulation affecting irrigation entities and others applying pesticides in or over waterways.

Certain pesticide applications affecting navigable waters have required National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permits since 2011, in response to a 2009 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that vacated the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Act exemption for pesticides.

Organizations representing farmers fear they may be “just a lawsuit away” from having the requirement expanded to cover fields adjacent to waterways.

Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Miss., introduced S 340, the Sensible Environmental Protection Act, on Feb. 7.

Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, was an original cosponsor of the legislation, which would “clarify congressional intent” to reverse the court ruling. A companion bill, HR 953, passed through the House Committee on Agriculture on Feb. 16.

Crapo told Capital Press the reform should protect a variety of stakeholders from unnecessary compliance costs and burdens, as well as from the threat of Clean Water Act litigation. Crapo said the reform is a top priority of the Idaho Water Users Association, and the federal Fungicide and Rodenticide Act already effectively governs pesticide use to protect human health and the environment.

“What we’re seeing nowadays is a rather rapid expansion of the reach of the federal government across the spectrum of economic activity in the U.S., and often we’re seeing those regulations are not only duplicative, but also in conflict,” Crapo said. “I think there is a very real threat that this is just one step in an increasing expansion of federal regulatory activity over water, and ultimately over fields … where we already have working regulatory structures in place.”

Kristin Schafer, program director with the Pesticide Action Network’s California office, argues NPDES permits provide transparency by establishing a record of pesticide use. A fish kill, for example, could be traced to an upstream pesticide application, she said.

National Potato Council Executive Vice President and CEO John Keeling said eliminating the NPDES permit requirement for pesticides has long been a priority for potato growers when they lobby lawmakers.

“The potential effect on the growers is the concern,” Keeling said.

The full House has passed similar legislation three times since 2011, only to see it fail in the Senate, but Keeling is optimistic that bipartisan support in Congress and a president who has prioritized eliminating duplicative regulations will see it through this time.

Rebeckah Adcock, senior director of government relations with CropLife America, which represents the pesticide industry, said the water permits provide no additional environmental protection but “the confusion caused by the current process serves as fodder for nuisance suits.”

Twin Falls Canal Co. General Manager Brian Olmstead said getting the NPDES permit to control weeds in his system adds paperwork, with no effect on how he applies pesticides. Andrew Moore, executive director of the National Agricultural Aviation Association, said many members have stopped spraying for mosquitoes due to the hassle of NPDES permits.

“They fear it’s going to ultimately reach over into farming,” Moore said.

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