Sixth Circuit Court Ruling Impedes Agricultural Sprays

Recently, a federal appeals court overturned an EPA rule on spraying of pesticides on waterways and nearby fields. The previous ruling protected farmers and applicators as long as they applied pesticides in compliance with the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). The court ruling, in the case of the National Cotton Council vs. the EPA, finds that agricultural pesticides are considered a “pollutant,” and thereby subject to the Clean Water Act (CWA). This means that potentially thousands of farmers would need to obtain CWA permits to make important pesticide applications.


In a petition for a rehearing on the decision, Secretary of Ag Tom Vilsack has sent Lisa Jackson, EPA’s administrator, an urgent letter on the far-reaching impact the court ruling could have on American agriculture.

In part, Vilsack’s letter states:

“The Sixth Circuit’s decision encumbers the American farmers’ and the agencies’ (USDA) ability to do business, while reaping little or no environmental benefit in exchange. Subjecting FIFRA-compliant pesticides to the additional regulatory regime of the CWA is duplicative and will not help protect the environment. FIFRA mandates that the EPA approve and issue a registration for a pesticide product only after the EPA has determined the product will not cause ‘unreasonable adverse effects on the environment.’ The pesticide registration and re-registration process under FIFRA considers the effects of pesticides on both human health and aquatic resources. If the EPA has concluded that a pesticide satisfies FIFRA and will not have an ‘unreasonable adverse effect on the environment,’ then it is reasonable to exclude the application of that pesticide from permitting requirements of the CWA.

“In short, I am concerned that the court’s decision will compromise American farmers’ and USDA agencies’ ability to respond efficiently and effectively to emergency threats, while providing little or no additional environmental protection in return.”

To read Secretary Vilsack’s full letter to the EPA, click here.

For additional background information, click here.