Pesticide Bills Breeze Through Agriculture Committee

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By Tiffany Stecker

Two pesticide-related bills sailed through the House Agriculture Committee on Feb. 16 as farm-state lawmakers hailed the legislation for easing burdens on growers.

The committee passed both bills by voice vote in the first 10 minutes of the meeting, which preceded a hearing on the federal nutrition assistance program.

H.R. 1029 would reauthorize the 2003 Pesticide Registration Improvement Act, which authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency to collect fees from industry to license pesticides and review the safety of the chemicals.

“PRIA’s goal has been to create a more predictable and effective evaluation process, promote shorter review periods for reduced-risk pesticides, and enhance scientific and regulatory activities related to farm worker protection,” the committee’s ranking member, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), said in his opening statement.

The latest version of the legislation, introduced by Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), will allow the agency to raise up to $31 million—an increase from $27.8 million—to maintain the registrations of existing pesticides. For product registration service fees, there will be two scheduled 5 percent increases—one in 2019 and the second in 2021.

The legislation is expected to pass before the current PRIA expires on Sept. 30.

Clean Water Act Bill Passes

The committee also passed H.R. 953, a bill to reinstate Clean Water Act exemptions for farmers, ranchers and public health officials who spray pesticides near or over water bodies. The bill was introduced by Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio).

The legislation would overturn a 2009 decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit that forced the EPA to require National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, which are intended to control pollution in protected waterways, for pesticide applications near water ( Nat’l Cotton Council of Am. v. EPA, 553 F.3d 927, 68 ERC 1129, 2009 BL 1441 (6th Cir. 2009)).

The NPDES permitting process “is unnecessary, costly and ultimately undermines public health. It amounts to a duplication of regulatory compliance costs for a variety of public agencies, adds to their legal jeopardy, and threatens pesticide applicators,” Agriculture Chairman Michael Conaway (R-Texas) said in his opening statement.

Agriculture interests argue that the water permits are duplicative, given that the EPA must consider pesticide effects on watersheds under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).

This is the sixth year the committee has considered the legislation. Gibbs sought to attach the bill to a spending package to address the Zika virus last year, but President Barack Obama threatened to veto the aid if it included the pesticide rider and the provision was not included in the final package.

One Democrat voted “no” in the voice vote for the bill.

Sens. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) have introduced similar legislation in the Senate ( S. 340).

Could Congress Pass Spraying Bill?

Environmental groups say that the NPDES permits for agriculture and public health are not duplicative, because the Clean Water Act’s intent differs from FIFRA’s. NPDES permitting allows the EPA to track water resources where pesticides are being used, said Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity.

“It really is one of the most dishonest bills that keeps rearing its ugly head over and over again,” Hartl told Bloomberg BNA.

Having President Donald Trump in the White House offers the bill a better chance of passing, Hartl said. Previous iterations of the pesticide spraying bill have passed easily in the House Agriculture Committee, but approval in the Senate has been elusive.

In 2011, former Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) placed a hold on the legislation, killing it in the upper chamber. Last year, the bill was attached to sportsmen’s legislation that never made it past the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

But the bill’s author thinks it has a better chance in the 115th Congress.

“There was a senator [in the last several years] who didn’t like it, and she’s not here anymore,” Gibbs told Bloomberg BNA with a laugh.

Boxer, who retired from the Senate in January, served as EPW’s ranking member. Her replacement as the committee’s top Democrat is Sen. Tom Carper (Del.), who has sided with Republicans in the past in favor of overturning the Sixth Circuit’s decision.

Carper Not on Senate Bill

But Carper, whose home state is headquarters to Dow Chemical Co. and Dupont Co., has not signed on to the Senate bill.

He has stuck to his party’s line on most environmental issues and supported the Obama administration’s controversial Clean Water Rule, which redefines which streams and wetlands fall under the Clean Water Act’s jurisdiction. He has led Democratic opposition to Scott Pruitt, Trump’s nominee for EPA administrator.

Environmentalists will need to convince Carper that the pesticide spraying bill is a blow to the Clean Water Act overall, Hartl said.

The bill “just makes it easier to chip away at it at another part of [the act] in the future,” he said. “Now he needs to consider what the larger implications of what this means for the Clean Water Act, writ large.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Tiffany Stecker in Washington, D.C. at tstecker@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

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