Democrats walk out on efforts to block Clean Power Plan, clarify pesticide permits

By Sarah Gonzalez

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WASHINGTON, Aug. 5, 2015- Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and fellow Democrats walked out of a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee meeting held today to consider several bills, including one to block the president's Clean Power Plan and another that would alter Clean Water Act pesticide permit regulations - in an effort to deny Republicans a quorum.

But the Committee's 11 Republicans, led by Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., moved ahead, holding afternoon voice votes just across the hall from the Senate chamber in the Capitol. No Democrats joined.

“The Democrats' decision to walk out on the EPW Committee markup was a complete surprise, but it also affirms that liberal Democrats are not committed to addressing the flaws in the president's carbon mandates,” said Inhofe in a press release.

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Most of the debate focused on a bill introduced by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito's, R-W.Va., which would overturn the Clean Power Plan released by President Barack Obama on Monday. Her bill, The Affordable Reliable Energy Now Act, would stop EPA regulations aimed at limiting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and restrict the agency's ability to rewrite the rules.

However, Boxer also objected to the consideration of a separate bill, S.1500, sponsored by Sens. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., that would lift duplicate regulations for pesticide permits.

Boxer, who said it is unacceptable that the committee had not held a hearing on the pesticide bill, asked Inhofe to delay a vote on the legislation, but he refused to do so. The resistance meant that the committee could not hold a quorum of 11 senators and the vote on legislation to overturn the Clean Power Plan was delayed. 

In her protest over Crapo's bill, Boxer said the U.S. Geological Survey found that 61 percent of agricultural streams and 90 percent of urban streams are contaminated with one or more pesticides. “When pesticides get into bodies of water where our children swim and waterways that provide drinking water to our families, we are exposing people to substances that are known to be toxic,” she said.

However, Crapo retorted that “there is already a full regime under FIFRA [Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act] for pesticides…This legislation does not eliminate the regulation of pesticides, it simplifies it to one system-one EPA itself has said we need to utilize.” 

EPA has implemented a regulatory structure for pesticide applications under FIFRA for more than 30 years. The statute requires pesticides to be evaluated and registered with the agency. However, a 2009 court decision required EPA to issue CWA permits for certain applications of pesticides in or near water, and this requirement went into effect in 2011. 

Crapo's bill states that CWA permits are not required for pesticide applications in or near water.

The National Council of Farmer Cooperatives applauded the Senate Environment & Public Works (EPW) Committee's approval of S. 1500, noting that it “would resolve the regulatory morass created by a misguided and poorly reasoned court decision forced on the EPA.”

S. 1500 clarifies the Clean Water Act and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) to ensure that crop protectants compliant with FIFRA do not require permits under the Clean Water Act. Companion legislation in the House, H.R. 897, was passed out of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

 “It is far past time for this issue to be dealt with once and for all. The intent of Congress has long been clear-FIFRA was always intended to regulate the registration and use of crop protectants and the EPA plays an important role in the process by ensuring that pesticides do not harm human health or the environment,” said Chuck Conner, president and CEO of NCFC. “Quite simply, under FIFRA, the label is the law. Those who do not follow a product's label are violating the law even without a clean water permit.”

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