PESTICIDES: Vilsack urges EPA to challenge ruling on water permits
Sara Goodman, E&E reporter
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is urging U.S. EPA to challenge a court ruling that would subject registered pesticides to Clean Water Act permitting.
At issue is a 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruling that pesticide residuals and biological pesticides are pollutants regulated under the Clean Water Act. The Cincinnati court’s January ruling struck down a 2007 EPA exemption for those who apply pesticides in accordance with the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, or FIFRA .
In a recent letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Vilsack argued that the court broadened the scope of the Clean Water Act to include virtually all pesticide applications. This, he wrote, could impair farmers trying to protect crops quickly in the face of new infestations.
“Failure to obtain a timely permit for pesticide application could cripple American farmers’ emergency pest management efforts and hamper their ability to respond quickly to new pest infestations or threats of infestations, thus increasing the risk of crop losses,” Vilsack wrote.
In addition, the court’s decision will affect USDA agencies, including the Forest Service and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, he said. The ruling forces both to obtain permits before aerial and ground applications.
Furthermore, he said, permitting won’t lead to significant environmental benefits. Instead, he said, it will duplicate efforts under FIFRA to monitor and register pesticides.
Vilsack wants Jackson to seek review of the court’s decision. EPA did not respond to requests for comment on the letter.
CropLife America, an industry trade group, has echoed Vilsack’s call to review the court’s decision. The group says pesticides should not be classified as pollutants under the Clean Water Act because they serve an “intended, beneficial purpose.”
On the other side, environmental groups applauded the ruling, saying that by requiring permitting for virtually all commercial pesticide applications around waterways, the court will foster greater accountability and oversight, and allow for public input. In addition, they say federal agencies will have a better way of tracking cumulative pesticide use to determine how much is entering aquatic systems.
Joe Mann, a staff attorney for the National Environmental Law Center, said he was surprised by Vilsack’s letter, calling it a “sky is falling concern that there is going to be widespread disruption of practices.”
Instead, he said most agricultural pesticide applications will continue to be exempt from the permitting requirements. The only agricultural applications that will change are for terrestrial pesticides being sprayed directly into water or near water, which Mann said are not permitted under FIFRA since the application does not follow intended use.
EPA has until next month to determine whether it will petition for a rehearing of the case before the full circuit court.