EPW, Ag committees in turf war over EPA permitting bill

October 5, 2011
EPW, Ag committees in turf war over EPA permitting bill

BY Jeremy P. Jacobs, E&E reporter

Published: Wednesday, October 5, 2011

With a critical deadline approaching at the end of the month, negotiations appear to have stalled between two powerful Senate committees over a bipartisan House-passed bill to avoid a new pesticide permitting program.

At issue is H.R. 872, legislation that would undo a 2009 federal appeals court ruling in National Cotton Council v. EPA that requires U.S. EPA to issue new permits to pesticide users who spray over water.

After seeking several deadline extensions, EPA said yesterday it won't ask for another and plans to begin requiring the permits by the court's Oct. 31 deadline (Greenwire, Oct. 4).

The House passed H.R. 872 in March and the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee approved it in June. But Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) put a hold on the measure, arguing their committee should have jurisdiction because it is a water issue.

Asked about negotiations with Boxer and Cardin, Agriculture Committee ranking member Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) told E&E Daily that they had stalled."There are a lot of things stuck there," he said.

Roberts and Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) both said they were hopeful that a compromise with Boxer and Cardin could be reached before the end of the month.

Asked how likely a compromise was, though, Stabenow hedged.

"I'm not sure," she said. "I really think it's important that we get an agreement and do something."

Stabenow added that they are still working on forging a deal.

Cardin also said his staff has been in talks with Boxer and Stabenow's offices. He did not indicate, however, that any deal was imminent.

"We're open to discussions and about ways to try to resolve this," Cardin said. "I know our staffs have been talking, but I don't know how far they have gotten."

The National Cotton Council case has been controversial since it was decided in 2009. The court said U.S. EPA's regulations failed to protect the country's waterways from pesticide contamination and ordered the agency to issue permits to pesticide applicators who spray over water under its Clean Water Act authority. EPA strongly disagreed with the ruling, as has agribusiness.

Environmentalists, however, applauded it and pointed to a handful of studies that found high levels of pesticides in water bodies.

Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.) voiced those concerns yesterday.

"I understand the issue for farmers," Bishop said, "but the fact of the matter is that we have a huge number of bodies of water that are pesticide impaired. We shouldn't just close our eyes to that."

H.R. 872 would accomplish two objectives. It would amend the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) to prohibit EPA from issuing permits under the Clean Water Act for pesticide use. It would also amend the water law so EPA could not issue pesticide permits under its authority.

Increased pressure from House

As discussions continue in the Senate, House Republicans are becoming increasingly vocal about the need for the upper chamber to move on the legislation.

House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) yesterday dedicated his weekly radio address to the bill.

"I have repeatedly called on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid [D-Nev.] to bring the bill to the Senate floor for action," Lucas said. "Time is running out. In less than one month, farmers, ranchers, and small business owners will be subject to this costly and unnecessary requirement, unless Senator Reid acts quickly."

Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio), the author of the bill, pointed out that the legislation passed the House with a "super-majority" in a 292-130 vote that garnered the support of all the chamber's Republicans and 57 Democrats.

"You talk about bipartisanship, our country wants bipartisanship and here is a bill that was passed by the super majority of the House of Representatives in April and it is held up by one member of the United States Senate from moving to the floor," Gibbs said yesterday.

Gibbs said that the new permits will affect an estimated 365,000 pesticide users and cost more than $50 million to implement.

Republicans have also used the measure to score political points.

In early September, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) highlighted H.R. 872 in a letter to President Obama as example of bipartisan bills passed out of the House. They cast the legislation as a "jobs bill."

"None of the jobs measures passed by the House to date have been taken up by Democrat-controlled Senate," they wrote.