Congress: To Poison our Water with Pesticides or Not

Pesticide manufacturers are back in Congress, using misinformation to try to roll back important environmental protections for our lakes, rivers, and streams.

Using a combination of imagined hardships and misinterpretation of the law, pesticide manufacturers are pushing Congress—as they have for the past six years—to eliminate Clean Water Act protections. The bill, misleadingly titled the “Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act” (H.R. 953) should more appropriately be called the “Poison our Waters Act.”

Congressmen supporting this bill are throwing out words like "burdensome" and "duplicative" to bully their colleagues into rolling back the Clean Water Act and only rely on the federal pesticide law, called FIFRA for the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act.

But FIFRA and the Clean Water Act are very different—with different goals and missions.

Under FIFRA, the EPA registers pesticides that can be sold and used in the U.S. if the Agency finds that its use “will not generally cause unreasonable adverse effects on the environment.” But it considers the environment very broadly, and does not account for the conditions of the actual areas where the pesticide will be sprayed.

The aim of the Clean Water Act is to restore the most polluted waters or protect pristine waters from contamination. To do this, EPA has a permit program where the Agency limits the amount and type of pollution that can be dumped into a water body by taking into consideration things like how the water body is used (for fishing or swimming) and whether significant fish species rely on the waters.  

Pesticides are designed to kill things. So, it should come as no surprise that once they enter the water, they can wreak havoc on the health of aquatic plants and animals, and they work their way up our food chain and into our drinking water supplies.   

For more than five years, the EPA has had a Clean Water Act permit for pesticides that informs the public about what is sprayed directly into our lakes, rivers, and streams. It's a streamlined and easy permit - requiring a few clicks on the computer to do the notification. It protects our water bodies from impairment from pesticides. It allows applicators to spray first during public health emergencies—for example, during the Zika virus outbreak—and get the permit after.

Unfortunately, the House of Representatives is voting this week to gut the Clean Water Act protections and eliminate these permits.

If these Congressmen and the pesticide manufacturers get their way, applicators can keep dumping a pesticide into a lake already impaired by that pesticide, allowing it to become more and more toxic. And FIFRA can do nothing to stop it.

At its core, FIFRA is about getting pesticides to market. The Clean Water Act is about minimizing pollution. We need the Clean Water Act to protect us from FIFRA-registered pesticides. We need to stop HR 953.