Senate Democrats Question EPA Pesticide Rule

Jan. 1, 2007
An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule on aquatic pesticide applications has drawn fire in the U.S. Senate.

An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule on aquatic pesticide applications has drawn fire in the U.S. Senate.

EPA said its rule clarified two specific circumstances in which a Clean Water Act permit would not be required before pesticides are applied. One situation would be when pesticides are applied directly to water to control pests, including mosquito larvae and aquatic weeds. The other would be when the chemicals are applied to control pests that were present over or near water and a portion of the pesticide would unavoidably be deposited to the water.

“This clean water rule strengthens and streamlines efforts of public health officials and communities to control pests and invasive species while maintaining important environmental safeguards,” said Assistant Administrator for Water Benjamin Grumbles.

The agency noted that the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act requires that pesticides be tested to insure that, when properly used, they don’t harm human health or the environment. Applications of pesticides that violate the FIFRA labels are subject to enforcement.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who is expected to chair the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in the next congressional session, criticized the EPA rule.

“The Environmental Protection Agency adopts a regulation in the dead of night and suddenly it’s all right to spray pesticides over water,” she said. “We [the committee] are definitely going to look at rollbacks [in environmental protections].”

Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.), the senior minority-party senator on the committee, said EPA’s action was contrary to the CWA’s goal of protecting the nation’s waters.

“We must strengthen, not weaken, our policies and laws that prevent pesticides from polluting rivers, streams, lakes and our underground water supplies. Pesticide applications in or near water should not be exempt from Clean Water Act permitting, which is what the EPA has now allowed for. Residues from pesticides discharged into water are clearly pollutants within the meaning of the act,” he said.

Jeffords noted that last March a U.S. Geological Survey report said pesticide contamination is frequently present in U.S. rivers, streams and groundwater in concentrations that may harm aquatic life or fish-eating wildlife.

Democrats Taking Over Committee Leadership

Democrats had yet to set their priorities for water legislation on the eve of the 110th Congress.

Although committee leaders won’t formally be elected until Congress convenes, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) was expected to chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.) was in line to head the Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials, which has jurisdiction over the Safe Drinking Water Act. However, Rep. Solis could lose the seat to a more senior Democrat on the committee.

Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) will chair the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.) was expected to chair the Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment, which has jurisdiction over the Clean Water Act. But she also could lose the post to a more senior Democrat.

Oberstar has said one of his primary goals was to renew the state revolving loan fund for wastewater systems and sewage treatment plants.

Also, in the last several congresses Oberstar has introduced a bill to stipulate that Congress intended the CWA would apply to all U.S. waters, not just navigable waters. He was expected to hold hearings on that bill this session.

Boxer has promised “a sea change” on the Senate environment committee. She has advocated regulations controlling the use of perchlorate, which has contaminated some California drinking water sources.

Boxer also planned a series of hearings on global warming and climate change, an issue that former chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) had discounted.

Inhofe is expected to be the senior minority senator on the committee in the 110th Congress but Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) also was seeking that position.

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) would chair the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Water, which has jurisdiction over drinking water. Also, Erik Olson, who has headed the Natural Resources Defense Council’s drinking water advocacy program, will join the committee staff.

Tom Curtis, deputy executive director of the American Water Works Association, noted that Democrats have vowed to restore “pay-as-you-go” funding, requiring that tax cuts and spending increases be offset dollar-for-dollar by new revenues.

He said that “could complicate efforts to obtain significant increases in state revolving loan funds for water infrastructure.” He said Democrats were likely to seek a dedicated source of funding for water infrastructure funds.

Study Shows Great Lakes Threatened by Sewage

The Toronto, Canada-based Sierra Legal Defense Fund said that untreated urban sewage and effluents continue to threaten the Great Lakes ecosystem, a water supply for millions of people in the U.S. and Canada.

The group, which studied how 20 cities in the Great Lakes basin manage their sewage, said waters surrounding urban areas throughout the Great Lakes are still commonly unsafe for recreational use.

“The Great Lakes basin is one of the most important freshwater ecosystems on the planet - holding one fifth of the world’s freshwater,” said report author Elaine MacDonald. “Yet, the 20 cities we evaluated are dumping the equivalent of more than 100 Olympic swimming pools full of raw sewage directly into the Great Lakes every single day.”

The report said that many cities in the region have antiquated systems for collecting and treating sewage and regularly release untreated sewage into local waterways. It estimated that the 20 cities, representing a third of the region’s 35 million people, dump more than 90 billion liters of untreated sewage into the Great Lakes each year.

It gave Toronto, Syracuse and Hamilton below average grades and even worse ratings to Detroit, Cleveland and Windsor.

It said those cities had serious problems related to their combined sewers or have antiquated systems that combine storm water and sanitary sewer discharges and were prone to releasing raw sewage during wet weather.

Green Bay, Peel Region and Duluth were rated highly. All three had more sophisticated treatment processes that permit very little sewage to escape into the environment through combined sewer overflows, spills or bypasses.

Wastewater Plant to Serve Mexican Border Region

The U.S.-Mexico International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) was proceeding with plans to build of a wastewater treatment facility in Mexico to benefit the San Diego-Tijuana area.

Through its consultant, Bajagua LLC, the federally funded commission requested qualifications for firms to design the secondary wastewater treatment project.

Currently, IBWC provides advanced primary treatment of 25 mgd of wastewater from Tijuana at its existing South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant in San Diego. The commission planned a 59 mgd wastewater treatment plant in Tijuana to treat an additional volumes of raw sewage from the area.

The contract for the plant was expected to be issued by next May. It was due in operation by Sept. 30, 2008.

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