H.R. 872: A Threat to America’s Waterways?
On March 31, the U.S. House voted in favor of H.R. 872 in a 292-130 vote. The bill, introduced by Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH), was proposed to amend the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (Clean Water Act), clarifying Congressional intent regarding the regulation of the use of pesticides in or near navigable waters.
In essence, the bill would eliminate the EPA’s authority to issue Clean Water Act permits for pesticides released in waterways.
Wanting to know more, I went to the site of The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS,) a federal government agency that considers itself an unbiased and independent science research agency. They provide scientific information to decisions makers, and have done extensive research on the country’s waterways. USGS conducted a study entitled “The Quality of Our Nation’s Waters: Pesticides in the Nation’s Streams and Ground Water, 1992–2001.” The report was published in March 2006, with a February 2007 revision. In a separate summary fact sheet, culled from the original report, they focused on several key points:
- Pesticide Occurrence
Pesticides and degradates (the product of the environmental transformations of a pesticide) are typically present throughout most of the year in streams draining watersheds with substantial agricultural or urban areas, but are less common in ground water.
- Potential for Effects on Human Health
Concentrations of pesticides in streams and ground water were typically below water-quality benchmarks for human health.
- Potential for Efects on Aquatic Life and Wildlife
Concentrations of pesticides were greater than water-quality benchmarks for aquatic life and (or) fish-eating wildlife in more than half of the streams with substantial agricultural and urban areas in their watersheds.
- Trends in Pesticides
Some trends in pesticide concentrations are already evident, showing responses to regulatory actions and reduced use.
I checked Govtrack.us to see how New York state representatives voted. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), senior Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee — through which the bill passed, voted against the bill. I called his office to ask why he had rejected the resolution. Nadler wrote back by e-mail stating:
“H.R. 872, the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act, is a barely veiled handout to polluting industries and businesses that seek to roll back Clean Water Act safeguards of our waterways. I have vigorously opposed this reckless bill, which would hinder the government’s ability to control dangerous pesticides in our waterways, and imperil hard-won protections of the environment.”
Dalal Aboulhosn, the clean water spokesperson for the Sierra Club, conversed with me at length about the backstory on pesticide regulation and the issues at hand. Needless to say, it’s complicated.
Pesticide regulation was first established to protect the health of farmers and food production. Regulation takes place under the previously mentioned Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). It regulates pesticides before their use, but does not monitor for water quality standards after application to the country’s waters. The purpose of pesticides is to control a “particular” pest, however, they may also affect other wildlife exposed to the chemicals. The concern around pesticides being discharged into the waterways is that it can harm fish and amphibians — and move up the food chain.
Under the Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the authority to regulate pollution in our waterways for the purpose of “restoring and maintaining the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.” The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Pesticides General Permit (PGP), which is set to go into effect October 2011, is designed to fulfill this purpose.
Since FIFRA regulates pesticides before they are used, but does not monitor for water quality standards after application to the country’s waters, Aboulhosn believes that “this has caused a dangerous blind spot in protecting human health and ecosystems.”
Parsing the court rulings, laws, and various permits are not for the faint of heart. Passions and opinions run high on both sides of the matter.
One of the points that Aboulhosn and several other people I spoke with referenced was that many of the current attacks on the EPA for the safeguards they are working to implement have been framed within an economic context. Yet does it become a shell game when the expenditure just moves somewhere else — such as to medical costs if citizens get ill from toxins in the water?
Perhaps of greatest concern, was the way the bill was rushed through the House Agriculture Committee and the floor of the House. At this point, concerned voters need to contact their Senators to ask questions and request information about exactly what is at stake with H.R. 872.
Most importantly, they should demand to know if this bill would weaken clean water standards.
Image courtesy of RVR Associates