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An Aedes aegypti mosquito, which can transmit the Zika virus.

GOP Lawmakers Capitalize on Zika Threat to Pass Bill Dubbed 'Making Pesticides Great Again' Act

House Democrats and Obama administration, meanwhile, criticize bill's assault on Clean Water Act

Andrea Germanos

The Republican-controlled U.S. House on Tuesday passed legislation—newly rebranded with the word "Zika" in it—that Democrats say is in fact not at all about the addressing the threat of the virus but making it easier for pesticides to contaminate the nation's waterways.

Previously called the "Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act," the "Zika Vector Control Act" passed the House 258-156.

According to House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (Md), H.R. 897 "is nothing but a Trojan horse, with practically nothing to do with Zika."

It was sponsored by Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio), who, as Cleveland.com reported last week, "For years [...] has tried to get Congress to change permitting requirements for pesticides sprayed near water."

The Obama administration issued a statement earlier this week saying (pdf) that it "strongly opposes" the legislation, as it "would weaken environmental protections under the Clean Water Act." Indeed, the Act's summary states that it

establishes exemptions for the following discharges containing a pesticide or pesticide residue: (1) a discharge resulting from the application of a pesticide in violation of FIFRA that is relevant to protecting water quality, if the discharge would not have occurred but for the violation or the amount of pesticide or pesticide residue contained in the discharge is greater than would have occurred without the violation; (2) stormwater discharges regulated under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES); and (3) discharges regulated under NPDES of manufacturing or industrial effluent or treatment works effluent and discharges incidental to the normal operation of a vessel, including a discharge resulting from operations concerning ballast water held in ships to increase stability or vessel biofouling prevention.

Gibbs, The Hill notes, "said it would help to eliminate a 'duplicative and unnecessary permitting regulation' that has made it more difficult for some local governments to spread for mosquitoes."

Journalist and documentary filmmaker Leighton Woodhouse, for his part, referred to the bill as "Straight up #disastercapitalism."

Representative Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.)., meanwhile, said it "is a sham."

"It is nothing but trying to weaken the environmental regulations. It exempts, a broad exemption, of toxic pesticides from the Clean Water Act," she said to PBS Newshour Monday, adding that the bill stands to "pollute our rivers and contaminate our water."

Rep. Grace F. Napolitano (D-Calif.) spoke out against the measure on the House floor Tuesday, calling it "misguided" and "harmful."

"I am very concerned about the effect of these pesticides on the health of our rivers, on our streams, and especially the drinking water supplies of all our citizens, including pregnant women," Napolitano added.

Slamming the repeated iterations of the bill that threatens "to undo protections that safeguard our environment and public health," Hoyer said that to "bring the same bill back to the Floor last week and again today, renamed with 'Zika' in the title, is one of the most egregious displays of dishonesty I've seen while serving in the House."

"It is an act that seeks to provide political cover for Republicans who refused to act on President Obama's urgent request for funding to address the Zika outbreak in a serious way. House Republicans might as well bring this bill to the Floor and rename it the 'Making Pesticides Great Again' Act, because in truth it would remove virtually all federal oversight concerning the use of chemical pesticides to ensure they do not end up in our water supply," he charged.

The bill also met outrage from Natural Resources Defense Council's government arm, which tweeted:

 

The Associated Press notes that the Obama administration's statement "stopped short of threatening a veto" of the bill.


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