Energy & Environment

GOP repurposes EPA pesticide bill for Zika

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House Republicans are renaming a bill that fights environmental regulations on pesticides and reframing it to fight the Zika virus.

The House is planning to vote Tuesday on the Zika Vector Control Act, which up until late last week was known as the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act.

{mosads}With the national spotlight on Zika, and the GOP under harsh criticism for not taking bold action against the virus, Republicans are using the anti-Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation bill to show they care about the Zika fight.

“EPA regulations under the Clean Water Act actually make it harder for our local communities to get the permits they need to go and kill the mosquitoes where they breed by sources of water,” House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) told reporters Tuesday.

“So this is an important bill as part of a package to make sure that we’re combating Zika.”

Along with an appropriations bill to redirect $622 million toward fighting Zika and away from Ebola, Republicans say they’re taking the virus seriously.

Zika can cause severe birth defects for newborns if the mother gets infected while pregnant. Symptoms are more minor for adults and other patients.

The pesticide bill, introduced last year by Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio), would prohibit the EPA from requiring permits to spray pesticides near bodies of water as long as the application has been approved by a state and the pesticides themselves are federally approved.

A spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) blasted the renaming as “dishonest.”

“In a brazenly political act, the Republican leadership is trying to mask gutting the Clean Water Act as having something to do with fighting Zika,” Drew Hammill said in a statement.

“This bill has nothing to do with Zika and everything to do with Republicans’ relentless special interest attacks on the Clean Water Act,” he said. “It will do nothing to stem the growing threat of the Zika virus.”

Rep. Peter DeFazio (Ore.), the top Democrat on the House Transportation Committee, said in a letter to colleagues Monday that the bill “has absolutely nothing to do with preventing the spread of Zika or protecting public health.”

He further argued that the legislation is unnecessary, and the Clean Water Act “in no way hinders, delays, or prevents the use of approved pesticides for pest control operations.” The Transportation Committee has jurisdiction over the bill through its authority on the Clean Water Act.

Democrats want the GOP to approve President Obama’s request for $1.9 billion in new funding to fight Zika.

But Dallas Gerber, a spokesman for Gibbs, said the reframing is entirely appropriate, since the bill would allow more spraying to kill the mosquitoes that carry Zika.

“It’s an appropriate addition to the fight against Zika,” Gerber said. “When people are taking up a lot of their time on [National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System] permits, that’s money and time that’s being spent on paperwork and administration, not on spraying.”

Gerber confirmed that other than the title and a new expiration date, the bill has not changed since it was known as the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act.

The House vote Tuesday will be under suspension of rules, requiring a two-thirds majority to pass. The bill previously passed the House in 2014 under a standard majority vote.

— Scott Wong contributed to this story.

— This story was updated at 12:25 p.m.

Tags Bob Gibbs Clean Water Act Environmental Protection Agency Nancy Pelosi Pesticides Steve Scalise Zika virus
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