February 16, 2011

Joint Subcommittee Panels Hold Hearing on Pesticides and the Clean Water Act

Washington, D.C. – The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment and the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition and Horticulture today held a joint oversight hearing on pesticides and the Clean Water Act.

Below is the opening statement of U.S. Representative Timothy H. Bishop (D-NY), Democratic Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, as prepared for delivery:

Statement of
The Honorable Timothy H. Bishop, Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment
Joint Hearing on Pesticides and the Clean Water Act
Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Madam Chairwoman and Chairman Gibbs, thank you for inviting me to attend today’s joint hearing on the issue of pesticides and the Clean Water Act.

I hope that the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment is aware that the Rules of the Committee reserve the right for the minority to call witnesses of our choosing to attend its hearings.

Specifically, the Rules of the Committee state that “the minority party members on the Committee or subcommittee shall be entitled … to call witnesses selected by the minority to testify” with respect to the subject matter of the hearing.

By tradition of our Committee, this rule protecting the right of the minority to call witnesses has been honored by accommodating these witnesses on the same day as the majority witnesses.

Unfortunately, the process used in scheduling this hearing, and on honoring the minority’s request to have witnesses attend the hearing, seem inconsistent with both the letter and the spirit of our Committee rules, and with the better traditions of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.

Within 24 hours of learning of this hearing, the minority staff provided the majority staffs of both subcommittees with the names of two respected witnesses knowledgeable on the presence of pesticides in the nation’s surface and ground waters and on the potential beneficial impacts of Clean Water Act coverage of pesticide application.

The first witness we recommended was a representative of the U.S. Geological Survey to testify on its 2006 report related to the presence of pesticides in surface waters and ground waters throughout the United States.

In their 2006 report, USGS found that pesticides are frequently present in streams and groundwater.  USGS also found that pesticides have been found in streams at levels that exceed the human-health benchmark and that pesticide concentrations in many streams are having adverse effects on aquatic life or fish-eating wildlife.

Today’s hearing will discuss draft legislation that effectively relies on the status quo to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of pesticides.  It is, therefore, relevant that Members understand how, under current law, pesticides are showing up in U.S. waters and ground waters.

To that end, I ask unanimous consent that the USGS Circular on “Pesticides in the Nation’s Streams and Ground Water” be made part of the formal hearing record.

* * *

The second witness we had recommended was the lead attorney in the National Cotton Council case.  In my view, this witness would have been well suited to explain to the Subcommittee members why stakeholders challenged the 2006 rulemaking of the Environmental Protection Agency related to pesticides and the Clean Water Act.

Because of the relevance of this issue, I ask unanimous consent that Mr. Charles Tebbutt be given 5 legislative days to submit a written statement for the record.

* * *

The fact that the two witnesses recommended by the minority are not here to testify today represents a missed opportunity to address the important policy questions before us today.

From the title of today’s hearing, it seems apparent that members would like to discuss the implications of exempting pesticide application from the permitting requirements of the Clean Water Act – an issue which should fall squarely in the jurisdiction of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Yet, the lack of opposing views on the witness panel hinders our ability to even discuss the very issue that Members are struggling to understand – the potential benefits and drawbacks from regulating the discharge of pesticides into U.S. waters under either the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rotenticide Act (FIFRA) or the Clean Water Act.

The data gathered by USGS and the individual States clearly show that waters, throughout the United States, are already impaired by pesticides, and in certain places, at levels that pose an elevated risk to human health and the environment.  However, what the policy implications of this fact are seem less certain.

Does it mean that the status quo is protective of human health and the environment from the adverse effects of pesticides?  Or does this mean that the Clean Water Act could provide another tool for preventing these pesticides from entering U.S. waters?  Or does it mean that the current structure or enforcement of FIFRA may require strengthening?

If there is a desire for Members to undo the actions of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, I believe that it is in the best interests of our Members to fully understand what the implications of our actions might me.

It is my hope that future hearings on this important issue will more fully explore the challenging policy question of how best to address the issue of pesticides in the water-related environment.  I yield back the balance of my time.