The decision brought immediate criticism from an environmental watchdog group and from a senator involved in environmental issues. They said it would make it easier to pollute the nation's lakes and streams.
But the EPA said the two specific circumstances in which clean water permits no longer will be needed will add to public health by allowing for better eradication of pests.
"This clean water rule strengthens and streamlines efforts of public health officials and communities to control pests and invasive species while maintaining important environmental safeguards," said Benjamin Grumbles, the EPA's assistant administrator for water-related issues.
Under the rule, pesticides can be applied directly into water or sprayed nearby or onto foliage over water without a pollution permit if the application is needed to control aquatic weeds, mosquitoes or other pests.
Sen. Jim Jeffords, I-Vt., the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the permitting exemption will lead to more toxic pollution getting into lakes and streams. He said a billion pounds of pesticides are used annual in the United States "and much of it ends up in our waterways."
"We must strengthen, not weaken, our policies and laws that prevent pesticides from polluting rivers, streams, lakes and our underground water supplies," Jeffords said in a statement.
Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, a private public health and environmental advocacy group, called the ruling a weakening of federal protection because the Clean Water Act set limits on the maximum contamination levels that would be allowed to protect waterways.
"More protection is needed from pesticides, not less," said Feldman.