The Environmental Protection Agency’s plans for finalizing and implementing its NPDES general permit for applications of pesticides over water are “overly optimistic” and could result in a number of adverse consequences, one of the agency’s critics says.

According to reports, EPA now hopes to complete its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit for applications of pesticides over water by December. EPA and most of the states would then begin implementing and enforcing the permit program starting next April.

Testifying at a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing, the president of CropLife America said not only do many believe EPA and the states won’t meet that schedule, but they worry that the permitting system will impose hardships on small businesses and negate many of the public health achievements of recent years.

“We are very skeptical about this overly optimistic timetable,” said Jay Vroom, the CropLife America president. “Even if things go smoothly, for the federal government and individual states to get all this work done well before April — and then for the regulated community to have time to get up to speed on compliance — seems nearly impossible to achieve.”

Vroom, whose members produce and sell most of the crop protection and biotechnology products used in the United States, said EPA might not be up against the April 2011 court-imposed deadline if it had been willing to fight harder to defend its previous position that the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act was the governing document for pesticide use.

“Never in the 62 years of FIFRA nor 38 years of the Clean Water Act has the federal government required a permit to apply pesticides ‘to, over or near’ waters of the U.S. for control of such pests as mosquitoes, forest canopy insects, algae, or invasive aquatic weeds and animals, like Zebra mussel,” he said.

“As a matter of fact, Congress specifically omitted pesticides in 1972 when it enacted the CWA, and despite major rewrites since, never looked beyond FIFRA for the regulation of the regular, label-approved uses of pesticides.”

That is, until last year when the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned EPA’s 2006 rule which specifically exempted from the Clean Water Act, NPDES permitting of aquatic pesticide applications.

“Agriculture and the rest of the pesticide user community are still baffled by the federal government’s choice not to more rigorously defend the 2006 rule,” said Vroom in testimony delivered on Sept. 23. “CropLife America believes the Sixth Circuit got it wrong, and EPA should have done more to defend its previous rule.”

Aside from the legal precedent, Vroom notes the permit will add performance, recordkeeping and reporting requirements to an estimated 1.5 million pesticide applications per year and pre-empt the science-based ecological review of pesticides and label requirements for uses regulated under the FIFRA.