Farm groups say time is running out for a legislative fix to stop the EPA from imposing stiff new Clean Water Act permit requirements next year. Recent ag group talks with EPA failed to clarify if the agency will require clean water permits covering pesticide use in a final rule due next April or May.
"One of the things that farmers and ranchers are focusing on is that April 2011 timeframe," said Don Parrish, a water regulation specialist for the American Farm Bureau Federation. "They're looking at EPA, who still hasn't gotten out a permit as to who is going to be covered under this permit, and they're basically ready to tell Congress it's time to get something done."
Unless action is taken Parish says farmers could be faced with lawsuits and huge fines. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Farm Bureau's appeal of a lower court pesticide case ruling earlier and now Farm Bureau and groups representing corn, cotton, wheat, rice and soybeans are seeking legislative relief.
"I think there is a legislative fix that basically takes us back before the courts started messing things up," Parish said. "It basically says it is Congress's policy, it is the law of the land, that when pesticides are registered under FIFRA you take into account everything from its toxicology to human health to its aquatic toxicology. That pesticide label is the law of the land and you don't need a federal Clean Water Act permit."
Three Ag Committee bills, two in the House and one in the Senate, would accomplish that. But Parrish admits with tax and spending issues front and center in the upcoming lame duck session it will be a Herculean task to pass a bill in this Congress. That leaves it up to a more Republican, anti-regulation Congress next year, which Parrish hopes will be more sympathetic when it comes to lawsuits and civil fines.
"It's not only the threat of that $37,500 a day," Parish said. "It's also the threat of having individual farmers, who are small businessmen, going up against trial lawyers and environmental activists just to defend what they've done for the last 35-years."
Farm Bureau also opposes a Chesapeake Bay clean-up bill that Parrish claims vastly expands EPA authority over agriculture and sets a precedent for EPA action state by state.