Friday, July 19, 2019

EPA rejects ban of widely used pesticide linked to brain damage in children; clears way for likely court challenge

The Environmental Protection Agency has decided not to ban chlorpyrifos, a controversial pesticide linked to neurological damage in children. In a Federal Register notice filed Thursday, the agency rejected a petition from environmental and public-health groups seeking a ban. In rejecting the petition, the EPA echoed its earlier arguments for keeping the pesticide on the market, saying that the data was insufficient to conclude that chlorpyrifos is dangerous, Brady Dennis and Juliet Eilperin report for The Washington Post. In April a federal appeals court ordered EPA to make a final decision within 90 days on whether it would ban the pesticide.

For now at least, the decision is a coup for agriculture and pesticide lobbyists who have been working for years to keep chlorpyrifos on the market. The EPA proposed a total ban in the Obama administration, but President Trump's first EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, reversed that decision using the same argument: that the science was inconclusive, the Post notes. In the weeks leading up to Pruitt's decision, internal documents obtained by The New York Times show he had secretly promised farm lobbies that he was listening to their concerns.

Pesticide lobbyists had also convinced Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, then the deputy secretary, to block a 2017 Fish and Wildlife Service study that found that chlorpyrifos was so toxic that it threatened the existence of more than 1,200 endangered species. Some states, like California and New York, are in the process of banning chlorpyrifos, but many farmers say they want to keep it legal because it works, the Post reports.

Though the EPA's decision angered groups who have pushed for a chlorpyrifos ban, "the decision to deny the petition could bring the country closer to final resolution of a decades-long battle," since "critics can now challenge the EPA’s conclusion that the pesticide is safe," the Post reports.

"This is the entry ticket to the actual main event," Kevin Minoli, an attorney who served in the EPA’s Office of General Counsel under Republican and Democratic administrations, told the Post.

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