The sky isn't falling, so don't let pesticide applicators ignore the Clean Water Act.

It’s a busy week on Capitol Hill for people who want to be able to quietly spray pesticides into your water without you knowing about it.

Today, the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee is marking up a bill to exempt pesticides that are applied to water from the Clean Water Act. (H.R. 935)

Tomorrow, the Farm Bill conferees will meet to begin hammering out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill. The House version of the bill contains a provision that would exempt pesticides that are applied to water from the Clean Water Act. (Sec. 10013 of the Farm Bill.)

Sound familiar? It should, although shouldn’t have to be fighting this fight again.

Three years ago, the House quickly and quietly pushed through a bill to exempt pesticides that are registered under the federal pesticide law (FIFRA or the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act) from the Clean Water Act. Proponents of the bill said that all haste was needed to get this exemption before the court-ordered date for the permits to go into effect. But the bill never passed the Senate.

Two years ago, the general pesticides permit went into effect.

And here is the stunning realization. The sky did not fall.

Farmers continue to produce their crops. Mosquito districts continue treating for mosquitos. Irrigation districts continue to keep their canals clear. The impending disaster that the bill’s proponents kept anticipating if the permit were to go into effect never actually came.

And yet, here the pro-pesticides people are at it again: using misinformation to get rid of these protections. They claim that requiring a Clean Water Act permit to apply FIFRA-approved pesticides is “redundant.”

False. FIFRA and the Clean Water Act are two separate statutes that do not overlap. FIFRA governs the registration of pesticides so that they can be sold in the U.S. The Clean Water Act requires an applicator to comply with a permit to spray a pesticide into a water of the U.S. 

FIFRA gets pesticides to market. 

The Clean Water Act protects water bodies from those pesticides.

If a lake is impaired by a pesticide, only the Clean Water Act stops anyone from applying more of that pesticide into the lake. The EPA’s pesticide registration program under FIFRA does consider water quality, fish and aquatic wildlife impacts very generally when deciding on registering a pesticide. But it never considers the quality of the actual waterbody being sprayed. Only the Clean Water Act does that.

Pesticides are by definition designed to kill things. Almost 2,000 waterways are impaired with pesticides. Removing Clean Water Act protections (like these bills seek to do) will only increase the number. We fish in, swim in, and get our drinking water from these waterways. No matter which way you look at it, we don’t want more poisons in them. So don’t let Congress eliminate the only real protection we have for our rivers, lakes, and streams.


For more history about this provision, check out some of my other blogs like here, here, and here.

P.S. Don’t think this is the only controversial provision in the House-version of the Farm Bill. Check out this letter highlighting all the House’s efforts to undermine our environmental protections.

Updated to reflect new section number for Farm Bill provision. Originally Sec.9013, it is now Sec. 10013.