By Zeke Grader
What is with Congress and the environment? It seems like they are consistently turning their backs on our shared environment to serve the interests of big industry and corporations. A stark reminder of this inappropriate loyalty is a recent bill that aims to greatly weaken pesticide regulations. The bill would allow agricultural growers to spray harsh pesticides near our vital creeks, rivers and streams.
The U.S. Geological Survey has already documented the presence of many harmful pesticides in salmon-bearing streams throughout the western states, largely due to agricultural runoff. Armed with this info, fishing and conservation groups won court orders requiring the government to consider the effects on federally-protected fish species when authorizing use of these deadly poisons near rivers, creeks and streams– a win for humans and the environment.
However, these court orders upset the pesticide industry and have caused them to ramp up their lobbying efforts. As a result, the U.S. House of Representatives passed HR872, the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2011. A similar bill, S718, has been introduced in the U.S. Senate where it has already cleared the key agriculture committee. This legislation would halt efforts to reduce the quantity of pesticides entering our streams, lakes and coastal waters, and would allow pesticide dischargers to dodge the protections for imperiled fish and wildlife required by the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Such a legislative maneuver would allow pesticide applications next to streams, including those that support endangered fish, without oversight or mitigation from fisheries experts.
In California alone, this would put hundreds of miles of salmon-bearing streams at risk– a gamble that commercial fishermen, recreational anglers, and the industries they support cannot afford to take. West Coast salmon are already on the ropes because of massive and unchecked water diversions and dam operations. The discharge of more pesticides into their spawning streams could knock them out completely.
This is not an insoluble dilemma: we can assure the survival of our salmon and agricultural prosperity simply by requiring and enforcing streamside buffer strips. The National Marine Fisheries Service has proposed this solution, and many organizations support it. Blocking reasonable pesticide regulations benefits no one except corporate agribusiness and pesticide manufacturers.
Citizens can act to protect themselves from the coming pesticide deluge by contacting your representatives in Congress, especially your Senators, who still have a chance of stopping HR872 and S718. You can also take simple steps in your daily lives to promote the health of our watersheds. By using Integrated Pest Management techniques, like planting flowers to attract beneficial insects that eat pests, you can ensure that you are creating a healthy environment for yourself and your community.
Photo credits (from top): bnet.com, Michael Carl, paflora.org