If an EPA-requested six-month extension is granted by the courts, the bulk of the 2011 cropping season will avoid onerous new pesticide permitting requirements long in development at the agency. Even if the EPA had not made the March 3 request, the new National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits are the target of a recent House bill.  

For more, see NPDES.

Until a Sixth Circuit Court three-judge panel ruling in early 2009, the EPA was content with exempting label-adhering pesticide applications from the permitting requirements of the Clean Water Act. That changed when the panel ruled pesticides are “pollutants” in regard to the CWA and the EPA must require farmers to obtain NPDES permits for applications made to, over or near bodies of water.Further complicating the situation: the new permits under CWA would be duplicative since pesticide applications are already regulated under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).

While environmental groups cheered the court decision, the burdensome NPDES permitting process quickly became a concern for, among others, producers, ranchers, consultants, applicators, commodity groups, those tasked with mosquito control, and state governments.

Over the last several years, the courts – including the U.S. Supreme Court – have provided no help to those opposed to the new permits. Meanwhile, the EPA has struggled to meet NPDES implementation deadlines.

In fact, the EPA has been called out repeatedly for an unwillingness to admit the length of time required to set up such a permitting system. Last September, Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln, then-Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, was pointed in her remarks to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

“CWA regulations are an unnecessary burden not only to applicators but to state regulatory authorities,” Lincoln told Jackson. “States like Arkansas are underfunded and struggle to keep up with existing laws and regulations and don’t need to spend time enforcing regulations that don’t improve the environment. … States are supposed to implement their permitting programs by April, 2011. Frankly, I’m amazed your agency expects states to implement that general permit into law in a mere four months time. … We’re at the end of September and the possibility of (adhering to the proposed EPA) timeframe become more and more bleak.”