Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Brasher: Farmers wait for EPA to decide what pesticide ruling means

A court ruling could require growers and pesticide applicators to have permits for some uses of herbicides and insecticides on farms.

A court ruling could require growers and pesticide applicators to have permits for some uses of herbicides and insecticides on farms.

Farm groups are buzzing over an appeals court ruling that could require growers and pesticide applicators to have permits for some uses of herbicides and insecticides.

The ruling, which struck down a Bush administration decision, said insecticides and herbicides should be regulated as a pollutant when they are sprayed over or near ponds, streams and drainage ditches.

The Obama administration declined to appeal the ruling but has asked the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to give the Environmental Protection Agency two years to implement it.

How big a deal this is, and to whom, remains to be seen.

Jim Pray, a Des Moines lawyer who represented the Agribusiness Association of Iowa in the case, said most farm pesticide usage in the Midwest should be exempt from permits.

“It’s a very limited ruling, which is great for us and Iowa agriculture,” Pray said.

Still, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack warned EPA last month that the ruling “will have profound implications for American farmers” and require them to have permits for “almost any pesticide application.”

The American Farm Bureau Federation worries that farmers could be sued under the Clean Water Act when their pesticides are found in streams.

“It’s going to open up farmers to a lot of liability. It would be very disruptive,” said Don Parrish, who follows environmental issues for the Farm Bureau.

At issue in the case was whether pesticides should be considered a water pollutant under the Clean Water Act. The Bush administration said they shouldn’t be. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed.

Even so, there’s an exemption in the water law for pollution that results from storm runoff from farm fields, including chemicals that wash off crops.

That means Midwest farmers shouldn’t need a permit for treating their corn, soybeans, wheat or similar crops. However, EPA officials, who are still studying the ruling, said aerial spraying might require a permit.

In a recent court filing, EPA listed a series of pesticide applications that would be covered for sure, including mosquito control, spraying weeds in ditch banks, and “wide-area” insect control programs.

EPA plans to work with states to develop consistent requirements for general permits that would track the restrictions already spelled out on pesticide labels, said Michael Shapiro, an EPA administrator on water policy.

Applicators would have to comply with the restrictions but wouldn’t need to apply for individual permits, a process that triggers public notices and comment periods.

The possibility that permits for insecticide and herbicide use could vary from state to state has some in Congress expressing concern.

“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,” the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Democrat Tom Harkin of Iowa, and the committee’s top Republican, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, said in a letter to EPA.

A lot of eyes will be on EPA to decide what the ruling means.

Philip Brasher is a reporter for The Des Moines Register. E-mail: pbrasher@dmreg.com

Citizen Online Archive, 2006-2009

This archive contains all the stories that appeared on the Tucson Citizen's website from mid-2006 to June 1, 2009.

In 2010, a power surge fried a server that contained all of videos linked to dozens of stories in this archive. Also, a server that contained all of the databases for dozens of stories was accidentally erased, so all of those links are broken as well. However, all of the text and photos that accompanied some stories have been preserved.

For all of the stories that were archived by the Tucson Citizen newspaper's library in a digital archive between 1993 and 2009, go to Morgue Part 2

Search site | Terms of service