House Democrats Block Bill Aimed at Easing Pesticide Regulation to Combat Zika-Carrying Mosquitoes

By Lauretta Brown | May 19, 2016 | 11:18am EDT
(AP Photo)

( – Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio) argued on the floor Tuesday for his Zika Vector Control Act, formerly known as the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act, which would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from requiring permits to spray federally approved pesticides into new bodies of water.

Gibbs argued that the permit requirement is redundant, as the pesticides are already approved under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), and the additional permit process under the Clean Water Act is costly and burdensome.

House Democrats ultimately prevented the legislation from meeting the two-thirds majority needed for passage under a fast track measure. The bill failed 262-159.

“Protecting communities from Zika and other mosquito borne diseases has become difficult thanks to a burdensome and duplicative federal regulation that requires more time and money spent on compliance rather than protecting the health and safety of the American people,” Gibbs argued of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program required, under the Clean Water Act, in addition to FIFRA.

“Despite what the fear mongers suggest, all this expense comes with no additional environmental protection,” Gibbs added. “NPDES compliance costs and fears of expensive litigation associated with the requirements are forcing states, counties, mosquito control districts and other pest control programs to reduce their operations and redirect resources in order to comply with the regulatory requirements.”

“Let’s do this right and do it under the permitting process, but let’s have a process that works,” Gibbs emphasized. “It is absolutely irresponsible to allow a public health crisis to get to an emergency stage when we have the ability to prevent it before moving a simple regulatory barrier.”

The legislation was harshly critiqued by House Democrats, including Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), who compared the legislation to the herbicide Agent Orange, used by the U.S. military in the Vietnam War. He argued that the bill would “turn the applicators and the pesticide manufacturers loose on this country again.”

“This does nothing about Zika. It doesn’t do anything with the research that the president has asked the money for. What it does simply is turn the applicators and the pesticide manufacturers loose on this country again,” McDermott argued.

“I’ve been here long enough to remember all the problems with the bird eggs that had soft shells, and the birds were dying, and we couldn’t have all these animals dying all over the place because of DDT and all the things that happened with that kind of application freely in the society,” he added.

“I will remind you about something called Agent Orange,” he continued. “Guys like me who were around the Vietnam War saw that stuff sprayed all over the trees. People said, oh that doesn’t do anything - it’s just the leaves drop off, and then we had an epidemic of illnesses secondary to Agent Orange.”

Gibbs fired back that “comparing responsible pesticide use to protect the environment and protect human health to Agent Orange is just really over the top.”

“I do agree with one thing the previous gentlemen spoke about that we have to do more for Zika, and we’re going to do more in the House this week,” Gibbs said. “This is one tool in the toolbox to address this.

“This bit about spraying pesticides uncontrollably all over the place, you know, as a farmer I’ve heard that all my adult life,” he added. “It’s really bizarre, because pesticides cost a lot of money. What’s really bizarre in this case that to use these pesticides you have to be certified by the state, the EPA, and you have to be applying it by the label that the EPA already approved, so it’s a rigorous testing and regulation.”

“I’ll make this clear that this is not uncontrollable,” he concluded. “We have laws in place called FIFRA, and if you break that law, you break the law, and you should be punished and held accountable.”

Members of the American Mosquito Control Association
argued on Capitol Hill last week on behalf of the legislation, which was introduced in 2014 and passed the House but was never taken up by the Senate.   

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