Republican-led bill takes away the public’s right to know about pesticides
The U.S. House of Representatives voted Wednesday to pass a bill that dismantles a pesticide permitting system. Opponents are calling the Republican-led legislation the “Poison Our Waters Act.”
Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH), the sponsor of H.R. 953, said the permitting system for the use of pesticides under the Clean Water Act is redundant. The legislation, whose real name is the “Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2017,” will lift bureaucratic burdens on farmers, ranchers, and local pest control agencies, Gibbs said.
Under the bill, anyone applying a pesticide that the Environmental Protection Agency has approved under the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act would no longer require a Clean Water Act “general permit.”
Currently, though, the overwhelming majority of pesticide applicators can get a general permit with very few restrictions on spraying. Only the largest-volume applicators must receive a more stringent individual permit. No permit under the Clean Water Act is required for normal farming operations.
In a 256–165 vote, the bill passed the Republican-dominated House on Wednesday. The bill now heads to the Republican-controlled Senate. Twenty-five House Democrats voted in favor of the bill. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), who represents Bucks County and portions of Montgomery County north of Philadelphia, was the only Republican to vote against the bill.
“This bill takes away the public’s right to know about toxic pesticides we may be exposed to,” Mae Wu, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council’s health program, said in a statement emailed to ThinkProgress. “It eliminates the current commonsense requirement that communities should have access to basic information about what’s being sprayed in waters that can pose risks for public health.”
Pesticide manufacturers have long championed a bill similar to Gibbs’ that would allow pesticides to be sprayed directly into water bodies. Nearly 2,000 U.S. waterways do not meet water quality standards because of pesticide contamination, according to environmental group Earthworks.
“To get to the bottom of and address this pesticide pollution, we need to know what is causing it — but this bill does the exact opposite, making it harder to keep our communities safe and putting people’s health at risk,” Earthjustice senior legislative counsel Marjorie Mulhall said in a statement.
A more apt name for the bill would be the “Poison Our Waters Act,” said the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), which said the bill’s sponsors are “trying to take away our right to know when pesticides are sprayed into our waterways.”