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Clean water battle takes "perplexing" turn

Kristin Schafer's picture
Kristin Schafer
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Clean water river

Lawmakers are taking another run at weakening the national rules protecting our waterways.

This time, they're using the specter of West Nile virus to make the case for reviving a pesticide loophole that was recently closed. But their arguments simply don't (ahem) hold water, and PAN and our allies are calling on the Senate leadership to hold the line.

West Nile is — without a doubt — a serious threat to public health, and protecting communities should be top priority. But using this as an argument for gutting our water laws is both disingenuous and misleading.

A loophole that needs to stay closed

Here's the deal. Back in 2009, a judge ruled that our waterways were not adequately protected by our (old and weak) pesticide laws, and the longstanding exemption for pesticides under the Clean Water Act should be removed.

The pesticide lobby and some members of Congress tried for months to block efforts to carry out this ruling. But thanks in large part to widespread outrage voiced by PAN supporters and others across the country, their proposed legislation to reinstall the loophole stalled at the end of last year.

So as of January 1, pesticides applied on or near waterways require a permit under the clean water rules. This is a very good thing.

West Nile argument "perplexing"

Now, as West Nile makes news again with the onset of spring, an avalanche of articles have appeared across the country calling for rollback of the new waterway protections, and those looking to reopen the loophole are waving these articles around on Capitol Hill. 

Yet as EPA official Dave Smith told reporters at E&E News, "We're a little perplexed" about these concerns. It turns out that for bona fide public health emergencies, local agencies can apply for an exemption to the permit requirement. And as we know from on-the-ground evidence anyway, the most effective control measures rarely involve spraying for adult mosquitoes.

As our colleagues from Pesticide Watch point out in an OpEd in the Contra Costa Times:

Regulating pesticide discharge into water is without a doubt necessary to protect our waterways, public health, fish and wildlife. The best tool that we have to do this is the Clean Water Act. We should not, under any circumstances, undo the regulations that currently require pesticide applications over waterways to have permits.

Hear, hear.

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