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Effective Zika Response Requires Eliminating Redundant Pesticide Regs

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Tom Frieden and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy recently announced that aerial insecticide applications are an important tool for combating the spread of Zika on the U.S. mainland and territories.  This reiterates the need to enact legislation I introduced, along with a bipartisan group of senators including fellow Idaho Senator Jim Risch, that would remove redundant, time-consuming and costly permitting requirements on the nation's pest control professionals as well as farmers, ranchers, municipalities, water users and forest managers. 

I recently co-led a lettercalling on President Obama to support relief from the overregulation of pesticide users, including mosquito control authorities, to more effectively address current and future threats to public health.  As the legislative debate continues, the President must work with Congress to enact long-term pesticides regulatory reform to effectively respond to the Zika virus and future, similar health concerns.

The House of Representatives passed the Zika Vector Control Act, which contains the regulatory relief objectives in S. 1500, the Sensible Environmental Protection Act, that I introduced.  Members of the House and Senate worked with the Administration to create an agreement to address the spread of Zika that included some flexibility for mosquito control applicators to allow mosquito-specific pesticide spraying.  However, a filibuster by Senate Democrats prevented the bill from moving forward. 

In the letter, we asked the President to consider the comments and warnings of his Administration officials and expressed growing concern that, "If the Administration does not work with Congress to address this potentially life-threatening issue, the Zika crisis in Puerto Rico will certainly spread to the continental United States, threatening the health and safety of all Americans, especially women of childbearing age and millions of unborn children."  Administrator McCarthy commented that spraying can be accomplished "safety and effectively."  CDC Director Frieden said, the continental U.S. would have sprayed months ago if we had the alarming wide-spread Zika epidemic Puerto Rico is experiencing today.  

For more than 30 years, the EPA has implemented a comprehensive regulatory structure for pesticide applications under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).  The statute requires pesticides to be evaluated (undergoing more than 100 tests) and registered with the EPA.  Users must comply with agency-approved, uniform labeling standards.  In testimony before Congress in 2011, then-Director of the EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs Dr. Steven Bradbury characterized the EPA's intensive scrutiny of pesticides under FIFRA as "a rigorous battery of tests." 

Despite the extensive regulation, a 2009 court decision forced the agency to also require Clean Water Act (CWA) permits for certain applications of pesticides in or near water.  This duplicative regulatory requirement went into effect in 2011 resulting in mosquito and vector control organizations having to deal with duplicative federal regulations that divert staff time and budgets away from mosquito control.  S. 1500 would clarify congressional intent that CWA permits are not required for FIFRA-compliant pesticide applications in or near water. 

The more we learn about Zika, the more frightening the virus and its complications become.  As Congress debates the response to Zika, enactment of S. 1500 would provide needed regulatory relief that allows our mosquito control authorities to do their jobs and more effectively address the threat of Zika without creating adverse effects on the environment.  I will continue to work for approval of this legislation.

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