The House on Wednesday passed a Republican-backed measure reversing an Environmental Protection Agency requirement that those spraying pesticides on or near rivers and lakes file for a permit.
The chamber voted largely along party lines to approve the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2017. In the preceding floor debate, the bill's supporters said the rule requiring a permit under the Clean Water Act before spraying pesticides is burdensome and duplicative. EPA already regulates pesticide safety under a different law that gives the agency authority to place restrictions on when and where spraying can occur.
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The current EPA rule was put in place after a lawsuit was filed by environmentalists and commercial fishermen. They claimed the agency was failing to adequately prevent pesticide contamination in protected waters. A federal appeals court agreed in 2009, forcing EPA to start requiring the permits.
Bill sponsor Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, said the permit requirement places an unnecessary burden on farmers and local health officials fighting mosquito-borne diseases.
The bill "eliminates a duplicative, expensive, unnecessary permitting process that helps free the resources for our states, counties and local governments better to combat the spread of Zika, West Nile virus and other diseases," said Gibbs, a member of the House Agriculture Committee.
Gibbs cited the support of CropLife America, a pesticide-industry trade group that spent $2.4 million on federal lobbying last year. Records show the group also made more than $260,000 in political contributions in 2016, some of it going to House members who spoke Wednesday in support of the bill.
Democrats overwhelmingly opposed the bill, which they derided as political favor to the chemical industry.
Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said in a floor speech that pesticide-maker Dow Chemical wrote a $1 million check to help support President Donald Trump's inaugural festivities. The company's chairman and CEO, Andrew Liveris, has been a staunch Trump supporter who now heads a White House working group on aiding manufacturing.
Dow AgroSciences, the Dow subsidiary that makes pesticides, declined to comment.
Last month, the Associated Press reported that Dow was pushing the Trump administration to ignore the findings of federal scientists who concluded that a family of widely used pesticides is potentially harmful to about 1,800 critically threatened or endangered species. That came after EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reversed an Obama-era effort to bar the use of Dow's chlorpyrifos pesticide on food after peer-reviewed studies found that even tiny levels of exposure could hinder the development of children's brains.
"The Republicans are again bending over backward to help corporations and the wealthiest among us, while ignoring science and leaving hard-working families to suffer the consequences," said McGovern, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Nutrition Subcommittee. "This administration's decisions have placed special interests and their financial contributions ahead of the health and safety of our citizens."
The bill now heads to the GOP-dominated Senate, where a similar version previously failed to pass under threat of a veto by then-President Barack Obama. Supporters now hope to send the measure to the desk of Trump, a Republican who has made rolling back government regulations a focus of his administration.
Follow Associated Press environmental writer Michael Biesecker at www.Twitter.com/mbieseck