Controversial Pesticide Rule Might Protect Waterways

October 26, 2011

Many US waterways are so laced with pesticides that they can not be used for fishing or drinking-water supply. States submit information to EPA about which water bodies are impaired, and you can get that information from the EPA website after the states submit it — or from the state. For more information, contact the state water office, whose contact information is listed on the EPA URL for each state on the following page:

Additional information on the widespread pesticide contamination of waterways is available from the US Geological Survey.

EPA estimated many years ago there are about 365,000 pesticide applicators who annually perform about 5.6 million pesticide applications for cities, counties, utilities, mosquito control districts, forest managers, ranchers, and others. The agency didn't respond when asked for updated numbers.

In an effort to reduce pesticide contamination of waterways, EPA says it is on track to meet a court-ordered deadline of Oct. 31, 2011, for releasing a final rule establishing a Pesticides General Permit (PGP) process, under the auspices of the Clean Water Act's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). The PGP would establish a number of steps to reduce and document certain pesticide applications on or near waterways for control of mosquitoes, other flying insects, weeds, algae, animals, and forest canopy pests.

The draft version of the PGP specifically excludes agricultural applications, which are a substantial source of pesticides. Nonetheless, the regulation has many farming groups concerned, in part because they speculate pesticide advocacy groups may still push EPA to eventually include agricultural sources in the regulation.

Many others who apply pesticides are adamantly opposed to the PGP regulation, and the House responded in March 2011 by passing a bill (HR 872) that would essentially nullify any new EPA regulation. However, the bill is stuck in the Senate, in part due to the efforts of Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Benjamin Cardin (D-MD).

EPA's development of some form of the PGP regulation has been evolving for many years. In the current version, the agency is responding to a Jan. 7, 2009, court order vacating EPA's 2006 regulation that didn't require an NPDES permit. Both industry and environmental organizations sued in response to the 2006 regulation. Those groups, some of which are highlighted below, are listed on page 6 in the court decision.

Another environmental organization source is:

Much of the reaction to the PGP rule so far has been based on information that came in before the April 1, 2011, draft of the rule — and included in it. However, on June 17, 2011, NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, which was one of the federal agencies consulted on the rule, told EPA the rule as written would threaten 33 species. NMFS gave EPA a "Reasonable and Prudent Alternative" that NMFS officials said should preclude these threats. As a result, the final rule might be different from the draft rule.