SALEM, Ohio — The American Farm Bureau Federation and CropLife America last week bypassed the Environmental Protection Agency, asking to have the courts review a ruling that would require permits for pesticide use on farms nationwide.
In early January, the Cincinnati-based Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals said common farm pesticides are pollutants and will require farmers to secure a Clean Water Act permit before they can apply crop protection chemicals.
Many farm groups pushed the Environmental Protection Agency to demand a rehearing on the matter, but EPA has decided to leave the ruling as-is and forced the ag groups to take action on their own.
Instead of a rehearing, EPA has requested a two-year delay before the new permits for legal, label-approved applications would be required. The agency said it would take that long for it and state authorities to develop and implement the permitting program.
Not all members of the Obama administration supported EPA’s decision not to seek a rehearing of the court’s decision; Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack previously stated support for a full rehearing.
In his March letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Vilsack explained how the decision would have “profound implications for American farmers.”
“Failure to obtain a timely permit for pesticide application could cripple American farmers’ emergency pest management efforts and hamper their ability to respond quickly to new pest infestations or threats of infestations, thus increasing the risk of crop losses,” he wrote.
“The Sixth Circuit’s decision encumbers the American farmers’ and [USDA’s] ability to do business, while reaping little or no environmental benefit in exchange.”
On April 9 — the deadline for EPA to seek a rehearing — the Farm Bureau, CropLife America and other industry groups filed a petition to have the full Sixth Circuit court review the decision.
In the original case, National Cotton Council v. EPA, the three-judge court panel reversed an EPA rule that would have clarified that Clean Water Act permits are not required for pesticide application near waters, so long as the application complies with pesticide labeling laws.
Instead, the court overturned EPA policy and said that pesticide applications made to, over, or near water bodies will require NPDES permits.
A closer look
CropLife America, an industry association of crop protection product manufacturers and developers, is asking the court to take a closer look at specific parts of its ruling.
Among them are the court’s definition of “point source” that’s contrary to 30 years of EPA analysis and the determination that all biological pesticides are pollutants under the Clean Water Act.
Jay Vroom, president and CEO of CropLife America, said if the panel’s findings stand, activists could file lawsuits that impede beneficial pest control activities necessary to maintain the health and welfare of Americans.
The Farm Bureau expressed disappointment and said the decision could lead to additional needless regulations on the use of crop protection tools.
“Farmers should not need a permit under another law when they already are following an existing law,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman.
“We are disappointed that EPA has decided not to seek a legal remedy for this situation. The decision made by the three-judge panel in January will complicate farmers’ ability to farm, and raise their expenses without improving the environment.”
Other groups who filed the petition included the American Forest and Paper Association, National Cotton Council and other industry petitioners.
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