Agriculture interests fighting new clean water permitting for pesticides

The agriculture industry is petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a lower court ruling requiring anyone spraying pesticides on or near water to hold a Clean Water Act permit.

Earlier this year, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that farmers who apply pesticides near or over water need to apply for permits. At the time, environmental groups celebrated the victory:


“Time and again during these past eight years EPA has walked into federal courts and tried to defend absolutely indefensible rules like the one vacated today,” said Waterkeeper Alliance Legal Director Scott Edwards. “And time and again they’ve been sent back to the drawing board to rewrite these unlawful rules. Hopefully, EPA’s days of pandering to industry and other polluters and wasting taxpayers dollars in illegal rulemaking are drawing to a welcome close.”

“This is a significant victory for our nation’s waters. More than eight million pounds of pesticides are applied each year in the Bay Area alone,” said Sejal Choksi, program director for San Francisco Baykeeper. “These toxic chemicals enter our creeks harming numerous species of fish, frog and other aquatic life and will now be regulated under the Clean Water Act.”

But now, farming interests are fighting back:

Several industry groups want the nation’s highest court to overturn that decision, arguing that the lower court overstepped its authority. They worry the ruling will result in an additional layer of regulations and spur more environmental lawsuits aimed at widening the scope of the ruling.

For example, the decision could be understood to apply to pesticide applications near drainage ditches or fields near wetlands.

The American Farm Bureau, one of the interests who filed the petition, says a permit process would be too cumbersome for farmers:

“Allowing the lower court ruling to stand would pose serious challenges to farmers battling pests,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman. “When pests strike, time is of the essence, and any length of time waiting for permit approval for products that are already approved would be disastrous.”

CropLife America, a pesticide industry group, argued, somewhat vaguely, that pesticides protect the nation’s waterways:

CLA CEO and President Jay Vroom says that existing pesticide regulations ensure that America’s waters are adequately protected and help preserve activities crucial to modern agricultural production.

“Not only will the 6th Court’s action, if left intact, undermine the benefits of those products but it will also threaten the traditional foundation of well established and functioning Clean Water regulatory activities that also protect our nation’s food supply and public health.  This consequence should be of great concern to millions of American consumers, farmers, pest control managers and officials charged with the protection of our forests, waterways, parks and a multitude of other critical, real-life and everyday situations,” Vroom concluded.

Although the Supreme Court fields roughly 10,000 petitions every year, it hears only roughly 100 cases.

Hat tip to High Country News

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Katie Redding

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