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Act Now to Stop Senators' Consideration of Misguided Bill

Act Now to Stop Senators' Consideration of Misguided Bill

Beyond Pesticides

A group of U.S. Senators has drafted and sent a letter to the offices of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in an attempt to convince them to set aside time in the Senate schedule for consideration of the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2011, H.R. 872.

Action is needed to show Sens. Reid and McConnell that the public does not want this bill and that pesticides should not be exempted from critical safety and environmental protections. Consideration of this bill would take valuable time out of the Senate’s schedule to debate a bill that would weaken important policies that protect human health and the natural environment.

The letter, dated Dec. 8, aims to communicate a sense of bipartisan agreement that the issue should move forward. It was drafted by Sens. Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Kay Hagan (D-NC) and was signed by 13 other Republicans and 10 other Democrats. However, despite this apparent bipartisan support, many Senators have expressed serious concern regarding the effects that would result from passage of the bill.

Your help is needed. Call the offices of Sens. Reid and McConnell today and tell them that you do not want the application of pesticides to be exempted from common sense health and environmental review and that the Senate should not be spending time to consider weakening protections for public health and safety. Here are the phone numbers for the senators’ Washington, D.C. offices:

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid – Nevada: (202) 224-3542
U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell - Kentucky: (202) 224-2541

When you speak with the senators’ legislative aides, consider these points in communicating your message:

  • Much misinformation is swirling about the Clean Water Act general permit at issue. The permit, which took effect Nov. 1, 2011 but will not be enforced for 120 days, will have no significant effect on farmers. The permit will in no way affect land applications of pesticides for the purpose of controlling pests. Irrigation return flows and agricultural stormwater runoff will not require permits, even when they contain pesticides. Existing agricultural exemptions in the Clean Water Act will remain.
  • This Clean Water Act general permit simply lays out commonsense practices for applying pesticides directly to waters that currently fall under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.

Background on HR 872 / S 718

The so-called “Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2011,” would ensure that Clean Water Act (CWA) permits are not required for the application of pesticides. The bill states, “A permit shall not be required by the administrator or a state under [the Clean Water Act] for a discharge from a point source into navigable waters of a pesticide authorized for sale, distribution, or use under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), or the residue of such a pesticide, resulting from the application of such pesticide.”

FIFRA and CWA are complementary laws. The two statutes have fundamentally different standards and methods in determining whether a pesticide will have unreasonable adverse effects on the environment and/or human health. The CWA statute is more stringent than FIFRA. CWA has a “zero discharge” standard, meaning any amount of discharge, no matter how small, without a permit, constitutes a violation of the CWA. Risk assessment, on the other hand, used under FIFRA, is weaker than a “zero harm” standard. Risk/benefit allows a certain amount of pollution (i.e. risk) in exchange for controversial calculations of benefit and use a threshold of harm that can vary upon EPA discretion. Since the CWA statute is more stringent in its oversight of U.S. waterways, FIFRA should not be allowed to override the CWA.

In March 2011, HR 872 passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 292-130. The bill, introduced by Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH), seeks to amended FIFRA and CWA to eliminate provisions requiring pesticide applicators to obtain a permit to allow pesticides or their residues to enter waterways. It would reverse a 2009 Sixth Circuit court decision which ruled that, under FIFRA and CWA, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must require such permits.

EPA first proposed draft language in June 2010 for a Pesticide General Permit (PGP) in response to the court ruling. Its decision to issue a permit stems from the 2009 court decision in the case of the National Cotton Council et al. v. EPA in which the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that pesticide discharges into water are pollutants and require CWA permits. This ruling overturned the Bush administration policy that exempted pesticides from regulation under the CWA, and instead applied the less protective standards of FIFRA. CWA uses a kind of health-based standard known as maximum contamination levels to protect waterways and requires permits when chemicals are directly deposited into rivers, lakes and streams, while FIFRA uses a highly generalized risk assessment that does not consider safer alternatives.

The PGP went into effect in November, when negotiations for a compromise bill in the Senate broke down.

EPA will issue permits in territories, Indian Country Lands, six states, and the District of Columbia where the agency is the NPDES permitting authority. EPA is working closely with the other 44 states as they develop their own permit regulations. The PGP does not authorize coverage for discharges of pesticides or their degradates to waters already impaired by these specific pesticides or degradates or discharges to outstanding national resource waters. These discharges will require coverage under the individual NPDES permits, rather than a general permit. Also outside the scope of this permit are terrestrial applications to control pests on agricultural crops or forest floors. Irrigation return flows and agricultural stormwater runoff do not require NPDES permits, even when they contain pesticides or pesticide residues, as the CWA specifically exempts these categories of discharges from requiring NPDES permit coverage.

Under the PGP, pesticide applicators will be required to reduce pesticide discharges by using the lowest effective amount of pesticide, and prevent leaks and spills, in addition to reporting any adverse incidents. Pesticide applicators that exceed annual treatment area threshold would also be required to apply integrated pest management (IPM) practices, as defined by the agency. EPA’s brand of IPM is “a program of prevention, monitoring, and control, that when done correctly can greatly reduce or eliminate the amount of pesticides used.” Before the application of a pesticide, the applicator would be required to identify the specific pests, and causes of infestation. The pesticide applicator must evaluate following management options—(1) no action, (2) preventive measures, (3) mechanical control, (4) cultural methods, and (5) biological control agents; before selecting a pesticide. EPA estimates the regulations will affect 365,000 pesticide applicators that use an estimated 5.6 million pounds of pesticides annually.

For more information, click here.

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The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

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But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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