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Supreme Court Lets Stand Ruling Protecting Waterways from Pesticides

Environmental Groups Strike Down Bush Rule That Exempted Many Pesticides From The Federal Clean Water Act

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Putting an end to the pesticide industry’s last attempt to salvage a Bush-era regulation restricting the scope of the federal Clean Water Act, the United States Supreme Court today declined to review a ruling by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals that struck down a 2006 rule exempting certain commercial pesticide applications from the Clean Water Act’s permitting process.  The Supreme Court’s denial of certiorari makes final the Sixth Circuit’s holding that aquatic pesticide residues and drift from aerial pesticide spraying constitute “pollutants” under that federal law and must be regulated to minimize impacts on human health and the environment.

The Supreme Court’s action is a defeat for the numerous agribusiness and industry trade associations that joined pesticide manufacturers in an attempt exempt a wide range of pesticide applications from Clean Water Act review.

With all appeals now resolved, virtually all commercial pesticide application to, over, and around waterways will require National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits.  NPDES permits allow for local citizen input, and require regulatory agencies to evaluate effects on fish and wildlife, and to monitor exactly how much of a pesticide application goes into each waterway.  The Environmental Protection Agency has pledged to develop permitting guidelines by April 2011, at which time the permit requirement formally will go into effect. 

“The Supreme Court has put the final seal on a victory for clean water, and for fish and wildlife,” declared Charlie Tebbutt, lead counsel for the environmental organizations and organic farms that challenged the rule.  “Furthermore, this decision adds to a long line of judicial rebukes to Bush administration policies that overstepped their statutory authority.  We look forward to working with EPA to protect the environment rather than the chemical industry,” continued Tebbutt.

“Today’s action by the Supreme Court ensures that, in communities across the country, invasive aquatic species and airborne pests like mosquitoes will be addressed in ways that protect both water quality and the public health,” noted Chuck Caldart of the National Environmental Law Center, one of the attorneys litigating the case on behalf of those challenging the exemption.  “The Court obviously was not buying the pesticide industry’s plea that it deserves a special exemption from the environmental review to which all other industrial dischargers of pollutants are subject,” added Caldart.

The organizations bringing the case to overturn the Bush Administration rule include Baykeeper, National Center for Conservation Science and Policy, Oregon Wild, Saint John’s Organic Farm, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, Waterkeeper Alliance, Environment Maine, Toxics Action Center, Peconic Baykeeper, and Soundkeeper.

These organizations are represented by Charlie Tebbutt, the National Environmental Law Center, the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic, the Columbia Environmental Law Clinic, and Waterkeeper Alliance.

Photo courtesy of Mercedes Gallagher, Centre Pond Weed Project