May 16, 2016

DeFazio Blasts Republicans For Using Zika Crisis to Gut Clean Water Act

Washington, D.C. – Today, Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR) blasted House Republican leadership for attempting to pass legislation that exempts commercial pesticide application from Clean Water Act regulation under the guise of protecting public health from the threat of the Zika virus. The legislation, renamed last week the “Zika Vector Control Act” (H.R. 897), does not actually mention Zika in the legislative text and was first introduced in 2009. The fast-tracked legislation required a two-thirds vote, and failed by a vote of 262-159.

“House Republicans have attempted to pass this blatant attack on the Clean Water Act three times in the past—using different public health and safety crises to justify its passage. Now, they are using the threat of the Zika virus to undermine the Clean Water Act and allow the application of pesticides without the need to monitor or report any potential harm caused by these products. Like these previous attempts, this bill has nothing to do with the protection of public and would likely have the opposite result. They should put their money where their mouths are and fully fund the fight to protect Americans from the Zika virus, not exploit this health crisis to give pesticides a free pass from critical rules that protect our clean water,” said DeFazio. See video of his floor statement here.

H.R. 897 is almost identical to H.R. 935, the “Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2014”, which Democrats overwhelmingly opposed and defeated under Suspension of the Rules in the 113th Congress. In fact, it was only late last week that Republicans decided to change the name of the bill to the “Zika Vector Control Act” and try to use the threat of Zika as the reason for passing this measure. This bill has absolutely nothing to do with preventing the spread of Zika or protecting public health. Instead, if passed, this legislation could have long-term negative impacts on human health and our environment by removing Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation of pesticide application that is intended to protect water quality.

Clean Water Act coverage in no way hinders, delays, or prevents the use of approved pesticides for pest control operations. In fact, the Clean Water Act permit provides a specific emergency provision to prevent outbreaks of disease, such as the Zika virus. Under the terms of the permit, pesticide applicators are covered automatically under the permit and any spraying may be performed immediately for any declared pest emergency situations. In most instances, sprayers are only required to notify EPA of their spraying operations 30 days after the beginning of the spraying operation.

Over the years, proponents of exempting pesticide spraying from the Clean Water Act have used the crisis-of-the-day as the reason to support this legislation. First, it was the threat of West Nile Virus, then it was fire suppression in the West, then it was protecting the Nation’s food supply and drought, and now, in 2016, the focus is on preventing Zika. Yet, in every instance, this legislation has been characterized as a “regulatory burden” to farmers and sprayers, despite the fact that no such burden has ever been documented for the Committees to review.

In fact, when the head of EPA’s Office of Water was asked at a Subcommittee hearing whether there were any specific problems associated with the Clean Water Act application to pesticide spraying, or if it was causing any significant impact on pest control operations – the answer was no. Yet, the modest notification and monitoring requirements are providing valuable safeguards against over-application of pesticides, which according to the U.S. Geological Survey and States, remain a leading source of pollution to our Nation’s waters – many of which are used as a local source of drinking water.