Senate Ag Leadership Express Concern Over Pesticide Ruling

Harkin, Chambliss ask EPA to scrutinize the impact it would have on farmers.

Published on: Apr 7, 2009

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., have written to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson asking that any regulations stemming from a recent court ruling on pesticides would eliminate any unnecessary burdens on farmers as well as EPA, provide uniformity in regulation for pesticides and allow for continued emergency use of pesticides.

The Sixth Circuit Court issued a ruling in a case brought by the National Cotton Council of America against the EPA that is to take effect April 16, 2009. Harkin and Chambliss ask Jackson to do as Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack suggested, and seek further review by the Sixth Circuit.

"Should the court’s ruling stand, we believe that the EPA must take into account the substantial impact it would have on farmers using pesticide products," the letter said. "We ask you to make any regulatory changes as smooth and seamless as possible, consistent with your obligations under statute and the protection of natural resources."

If the ruling became effective without any delay, rehearing, or issuance of a general permit, it could require individual National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permits from each of the many thousands of farmers in the country whose operations are adjacent to water. This would impose an overwhelming workload on the agency and state agencies administering the NPDES permit program, and would be difficult to administer.

"More importantly, requiring individual permits would suddenly impose a needlessly burdensome regulatory requirement on producers," Harkin and Chambliss said. "A scramble for permits would not be in anyone’s interests. Nor would it be workable to give farmers a choice: risk Clean Water Act liability for applying pesticides without a permit, or allow their crops to be damaged by refraining from using pesticides."

The senators also want uniformity for pesticide regulations under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, which allows agricultural chemicals to move in interstate commerce, and farmers, no matter their location, to be certain that as long as they follow label instructions they are using the products according to regulations.

"A state-by-state regulatory mechanism in which each state can modify permit requirements would present serious logistical problems," Harkin and Chambliss said. "It would require manufacturers to deal with at least 49 separate jurisdictions, on thousands of products, using numerous combinations of active ingredients. Even if a manufacturer could navigate this multiplicity of regulations, individual producers might well have to deal with two or more sets of regulations, if their farming operations crossed state lines. A uniform national standard is needed to ensure that farmers have the clear regulatory guidance they need to apply pesticides safely for the health of the environment and themselves, and to avoid creating barriers to the interstate movement and sale of pesticides."