Wednesday, August 23, 2017

What led EPA to decide farmers could keep using a pesticide banned for residential use since 2000?

Here's a story that highlights the importance to reporters of Freedom of Information Act requests and meticulous research.

"In the weeks before the Environmental Protection Agency decided to reject its own scientists’ advice to ban a potentially harmful pesticide, Scott Pruitt, the agency’s head, promised farming industry executives who wanted to keep using the pesticide that it is 'a new day, and a new future,' and that he was listening to their pleas," Eric Lipton and Roni Rabin report for The New York Times.

The Times found this information after obtaining more than 700 pages of internal agency documents through an FOIA request. The documents show that EPA staff appointed by President Trump were instrumental in getting long-time staff to agree to reject a petition from environmentalists to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos. Chlorpyrifos has been produced by Dow Chemical since the 1960s and is still widely used, but it has been banned for residential use since 2000 because of evidence that it damages the brains of fetuses, infants and children. Because chlorpyrifos dries up and drifts on the wind after it has been sprayed on crops, it is being blamed for causing sickness in 47 farmers near Bakersfield, Calif., on May 5.

"Three days before Donald J. Trump’s inauguration, Dow Chemical had separately submitted a request to the agency to reject the petition to ban chlorpyrifos, calling the scientific link between the childhood health issues and the pesticide unclear," the Times reports. The trail of internal memos and emails seems to show that new EPA staff were listening — not just to industry executives, but to interested parties in the White House and the Department of Agriculture, which tends to be more industry-friendly than the EPA. Melanie Benesh, a legislative attorney at the Environmental Working Group, told the Times, "What is clear from these documents is that Administrator Pruitt’s abrupt action to vacate the ban on chlorpyrifos was an ideological, not a health-based, decision."

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