By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, March 3 - An estimated 365,000 pesticide applicators nationwide carrying out some 5.6 million pesticide applications annually will get at least a brief reprieve from new rules due to take effect April 9. If, as expected, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wins court approval for its request issued Thursday, the reprieve will delay implementation until Oct. 31. Pending a court decision on the EPA request, EPA will not require permits for pesticide applications under the Clean Water Act.

An earlier EPA request in April 2009 to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in the National Cotton Council v. EPA case won the two-year delay which runs out next month. Without a further extension, the court's original 2009 order would mandate that applicators obtain state or federal permits under the Clean Water Act. The permits would be intended to reduce pesticides entering aquatic ecosystems as part of protecting the nation’s waters and public health.

Either anticipating or triggering the EPA request for further delay, Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., wrote EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to request that EPA support delaying new pesticide regulations. (To read the March 2 letter, click HERE.)

In announcing its request for the additional six-month stay of the court order, EPA explained Thursday that “The extension request is important to allow sufficient time for EPA to engage in Endangered Species Act consultation and complete the development of an electronic database to streamline requests for coverage under the Agency’s general permit. It also allows time for authorized states to finish developing their state permits and for permitting authorities to provide additional outreach to stakeholders on pesticide permit requirements.”

Reacting to the EPA announcement, the American Farm Bureau Federation commented that even though EPA has requested a six-month court delay, “legislative action must be taken to prevent this redundant and dangerous permit requirement.”

Farm Bureau points out that “Pesticides applications are already effectively regulated under the Federal Insecticide Fungicide Rodenticide Act, which requires EPA-approved label restrictions to protect the environment. So, farmers are already bound by law to use pesticides properly as directed by the product label.” Farm Bureau also warns that “At worst, this permit requirement will be used to delay or prevent essential crop protection. It invites anti-chemical activists to oppose pesticide use by threatening farmers with lawsuits and enormous federal penalties.”

Farm Bureau says the solution is for Congress to pass H.R. 872 – a bill explained in its lengthy title: “To amend the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to clarify Congressional intent regarding the regulation of the use of pesticides in or near navigable waters, and for other purposes.” The bipartisan bill to block new Clean Water Act pesticides rules was introduced this week by Reps. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio, and Joe Baca, D-Calif., with a total of 21 co-sponsors including House Agriculture Committee Chair Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and the Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn.

Farm Bureau charges that “Having to go through a senseless permit process to apply a safe and already approved product will improve neither food safety nor the environment.”

The National Council of Farmer Cooperatives (NCFC) has also come out in strong support of H.R. 872. NCFC President and CEO Chuck Conner said Thursday that “We would like to see the House take up the bill in a timely manner, and hope that the Senate considers similar legislation as well.”

Conner said “Action is needed to relieve the tremendous costs, resource burdens, and regulatory uncertainty caused by the Circuit Court ruling. It is clear that Congress always intended the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) to be the law of the land on these sorts of pesticide applications, as pesticides were specifically not included in the Clean Water Act when it was written.”

Conner welcomed the EPA delay request, commenting that “With less than a month to go before the deadline, it is good that the EPA has finally realized that more time will be needed. We hope the Court grants this request and that Congress will use the added time to clarify the law and ensure a more common sense approach to pesticide regulation.”

For links to EPA documents on new court-ordered pesticides regulation, click HERE.

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