Rep. Schmidt, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee's Subcommittee on Nutrition and Horticulture, and Rep. Gibbs, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, held a joint public hearing to examine the regulatory burdens posed by a court decision in National Cotton Council v. EPA and to review related draft legislation.

Under the ’09 Sixth Circuit Court ruling, pesticide users, including farmers, forest managers, state agencies, city and county municipalities, mosquito control districts, and water districts, would have to obtain a permit under the Clean Water Act (CWA) for the use of pesticides. The court order becomes effective on April 9, ’11, at which time pesticide applications not covered by a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit are subject to fines of up to $37,500 per day per violation. In addition to the compliance costs, pesticide users will be subject to an increased risk of litigation under the citizen suit provision of the CWA.

The House subcommittees are considering a draft bill that would reinstate a ’06 EPA rule that exempted pesticides from CWA permits if the pesticides are applied according to the FIFRA label. EPA drafted the bill language at the request of House lawmakers but the agency has taken no official position on the bill.

Steven Bradbury, director of EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs, provided testimony about how the agency regulates pesticides under FIFRA but declined to answer questions about the agency's forthcoming general permit for pesticides which is being crafted by EPA’s Office of Water. Bradbury did say the FIFRA framework is capable of protecting waterways from environmental hazards posed by pesticides.

The bill’s proponents will have a short time to pass the measure through both chambers of Congress before EPA's pesticide general permit is set to take effect.