On Thursday, the House passed HR 872 (“Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2011”), which targeted a 2009 court ruling requiring National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits for the application of pesticides to, or near, water. The bill – which would eliminate the need for the new permits as long as applications adhere to EPA-approved labels -- passed on a bipartisan basis and is expected to be taken up by the Senate in coming months.

For more, see House targets NPDES permits, EPA seeks delay.

“Thanks largely to the support of key leaders in the U.S. House, our policymakers have worked together to establish a return to order and dedication to sound policy,” said Jay Vroom, president and CEO of CropLife America (representing developers, manufacturers, formulators and distributors of plant science products for agriculture and pest management in the United States). “This achievement represents an important step not just for U.S. agriculture, but demonstrates that they are working to set a new path forward – a process which can only be achieved through bipartisan collaboration.” 

The National Corn Growers “greatly appreciates the support of Republicans and Democrats in the House to pass this legislation in less than a month since its introduction,” said Bart Schott, NCGA President and North Dakota farmer. “We strongly endorse this legislation and are pleased to see Congress understands how significantly farmers could be impacted by burdensome NPDES permits for pesticides.”

Agriculture groups and state agencies that would be responsible for much of the permitting process were especially critical of the court decision regarding the new permits. Many claimed the court had stepped in unnecessarily, as the spraying requirements were already covered under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and Clean Water Act (CWA).

For more, see EPA slammed in House hearing.

Originally, the court ruling – which centered on National Cotton Council v. EPA – called for the EPA to have the NPDES process in place by April 9. In early March, the EPA asked the court for a six-month extension of the deadline, which was granted on March 28. The new deadline is October 31.

Shortly after HR 872’s passage, Delta Farm Press spoke with Keith Menchey, who covers science and environmental issues for the National Cotton Council. Menchey -- speaking from the Texas Cotton Ginners Show in Lubbock – welcomed the vote and pointed to the most likely Senate hang-up for the legislation. Among his comments:    

On the vote…

“We got the bill passed in the House this afternoon – 292 to 134 on suspension calendar. That is tremendous news.

“We’re already hearing from (Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman, Michigan Sen. Debbie) Stabenow’s office that they were very impressed with the numbers. That will make a very strong statement to the Senate.”

When will the Senate take it up?

“The court granted EPA another six-month extension on the effective date” for the permitting process to be in place. “That won’t put as much pressure on the Senate to (address the legislation) as it would if the (court-imposed) deadline was still April 9.  So, I don’t think we’ll see movement in the Senate very quickly.”

On the run-up to the House vote…

“We’ve been working our tails off for the bill. Not just the NCC staff based in D.C., but we’ve also put out a couple of action alerts to get our members to call their representatives. We’ve been working this one pretty hard.”

On how to approach the six-month extension…

“Our next step will be working in the Senate.

“The biggest obstacle will be (California) Sen. Barbara Boxer, of course, and how to work around (her). Sen. Boxer is chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which has oversight of the Clean Water Act.

“In the House bill both FIFRA and the CWA were amended. It went through both the House Agriculture Committee and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. In the House, Transportation and Infrastructure has jurisdiction over the CWA.”

Any contact with the EPA lately?

“EPA lawyers helped craft the House bill but took a neutral position on it. They neither supported nor opposed it but helped to write it.

“We know (EPA administrator) Lisa Jackson had a meeting (recently) with Stabenow and (Kansas Sen.) Pat Roberts. Basically, (Jackson told them) the EPA could still take care of the (NPDES situation) with permits, that it isn’t a big deal.”

For more, see NPDES.