The USEPA recently released its General Permit for Discharges of Pesticides, under the NPDES (National Pollution Discharge Elimination System) program. If you’re suffering from insomnia, you can download a copy here. It is hard to overstate the ridiculousness contained therein. Every time you think that Obama’s EPA has pushed the envelope of bureaucratic nonsense as far as it can go, they manage to do something even dopier.
A little background first. The NPDES program was designed to regulate discharge of wastewater streams into bodies of water like rivers and lakes. That’s reasonable. People figured out that silt run off that occurred during construction projects could also affect bodies of water, so the NPDES program roped in construction activities as well. (This is why you now see silt fences around construction sites). OK. That’s a little more intrusive, but doable. Now, as the result of some court decisions made over the last few years, the NPDES program has been expanded to include pesticide runoff from – well – just about everything. Under the new regulation, both the people applying pesticide and the “decision makers” (the land owner in most cases) get roped into the NPDES program if pesticide run off can makes its way to waters of the United States.
The numbers are staggering. Estimates vary, but at least 350,000 farmers, forestland owners and public land managers are now subject to compliance with the program. What does compliance mean for these folks? That brings us back to the afore-mentioned General Permit. Issuance of General Permits is a common tool used under the NPDES program. It’s essentially a generic permit that spells out the standards and requirements for a particular activity or industry. If you qualify, you don’t have to go through the (painful and lengthy) process of getting a site-specific permit. Instead, you notify EPA about what you are going to do and agree to comply with the applicable General Permit. General Permits are meant to be simple and easy to understand – they’re usually no more than a dozen pages or so, including attachments. Care to guess how many pages are in the General Permit for Discharges of Pesticides that this EPA came up with? Go ahead and guess – I dare ya.
The answer awaits – below the fold.
It’s one hundred and seventy four pages long.
Again – we’re talking the General Permit here. This is supposed to be the easy form of compliance with a rule. Instead, the EPA has created something so hideously complex that non-compliance will be the norm. Can you imagine a farmer going through the following procedure to determine if it’s OK to use pesticides to control mosquitos and other airborne pests? From Part 2.2.1(a) of the General Permit:
Prior to the first pesticide application covered under this permit that will result in a discharge to Waters of the United States, and at least once each calendar year thereafter prior to the first pesticide application for that calendar year, Decision-maker who is or will be required to submit an NOI must do the following for each pest management area, as defined in Appendix A:
1. Establish densities for larval and adult mosquito or flying insect pest populations or identify environmental condition(s), either current or based on historical data, to serve as action threshold(s) for implementing Pest Management Measures;
2. Identify target pest(s) to develop Pest Management Measures based on developmental and behavioral considerations for each pest;
3. Identify known breeding sites for source reduction, larval control program, and habitat management;
4. Analyze existing surveillance data to identify new or unidentified sources of mosquito or flying insect pest problems as well as sites that have recurring pest problems; and
5. In the event there are no data for the pest management area in the past calendar year, use other available data as appropriate to meet the permit conditions in Part 2.2.1.a.
Then, it’s time to go through your Pest Management Options (Part 2.2.1(b)):
Prior to the first pesticide application covered under this permit that will result in a discharge to Waters of the United States and at least once each calendar year thereafter prior to the first pesticide application for that calendar year, any Decision-maker who is or will be required to submit an NOI must select and implement efficient and effective means of Pest Management Measures that minimize discharges resulting from the application of pesticides to control mosquitoes or other flying insect pests. In developing the Pest Management Measures for each pest management area, the Decision-maker must evaluate the following management options, including a combination of these management options, considering impact to water quality, impact to non-target organisms, feasibility, and cost effectiveness:
1. No action
3. Mechanical or physical methods
4. Cultural methods
5. Biological control agents
Assuming you are successful in justifying not choosing procedures like “No action” and “cultural methods”, you can make your way down to choosing pesticides. Hooray! However, then you have to go through the pesticide application protocol (Part 2.2.1(c))
If a pesticide is selected to manage mosquitoes or flying insect pests, and application of the pesticide will result in a discharge to Waters of the United States, any Decision-maker who is or will be required to submit an NOI must:
1. Conduct larval and/or adult surveillance in an area that is representative of the pest problem or evaluate existing larval surveillance data, environmental conditions, or data from adjacent areas prior to each pesticide application to assess the pest management area and to determine when the action threshold(s) is met;
2. Reduce the impact on the environment and on non-target organisms by applying the pesticide only when the action threshold(s) has been met;
3. In situations or locations where practicable and feasible for efficacious control, use larvicides as a preferred pesticide for mosquito or flying insect pest control when the larval action threshold(s) has been met; and
4. In situations or locations where larvicide use is not practicable or feasible for efficacious control, use adulticides for mosquito or flying insect pest control when the adult action threshold(s) has been met.
Those are just a few highlights from one, very small part of the 147 page general permit. There are procedures that apply to weed control, algae control, animal control and forest management canopy control. There are monitoring procedures. There is the requirement to develop a detailed Pesticide Discharge Monitoring Plan. There are records to keep and reports to file. And, if you spot a dead fish in the stream, you have the obligation to report the “incident” within 24 hours of discovery if you suspect pesticides might have contributed to the fishes untimely demise, lest you face the wrath of the EPA.
I’m sure that nobody in the current administration sees anything wrong with any of that. They’ve never met a regulation that they don’t like. But this rule is so bad, so complex and so pointless that it’s almost like the most over-the-top parody of the bureaucratic mindset ever. And yeah, the EPA had to produce some kind of rule to meet the court order to get pesticides regulated under the NPDES program. But, they didn’t have to produce this ridiculous monstrosity that’s so over-reaching and complex that it practically guarantees non-compliance.
As a means of enabling EPA inspectors to collect fines from farmers for meaningless procedural and paperwork violations, the EPA has outdone itself with the new pesticide rules. As far as doing anything to actually improve the environment or help ease the regulatory burden that is such a drag on our economy? Not so much.