It was only 12 months ago that Dow Chemical was facing double-barrel trouble regarding its brain-damaging, endangered species-killing pesticide, chlorpyrifos.
So compelling was the evidence that the highly toxic organophosphate caused permanent brain damage and learning disabilities in children, that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced in November 2016 that it would be banning use of the pesticide on crops.
The evidence of risk was overwhelming, indicating with high certainty that the pesticide was killing and/or harming hundreds of protected species, including bighorn sheep, caribou, Florida panthers, grizzly bears, frogs, toads, salamanders, butterflies, bees and dozens of fish and bird species.
Then Donald TrumpDonald TrumpFormer New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver dead at 77 Biden, Democrats losing ground with independent and suburban voters: poll Bipartisan Senate group discusses changes to election law MORE took office.
Within days newly appointed EPA chief Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittTrump's relocation of the Bureau of Land Management was part of a familiar Republican playbook Understanding the barriers between scientists, the public and the truth Overnight Energy & Environment — Biden makes return to pre-Trump national monument boundaries official MORE announced he was reversing the planned ban on chlorpyrifos.
But what about the damning research on the pesticide’s widespread harm to protected species? How do you just make it disappear?
If you’re Dow, and you just donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural fund, no worries. You simply ask the Pruitt-led pro-industry EPA to ignore the legally required biological evaluations that revealed the widespread off-target killing tendencies of one of your most popular products.
And as 2017 barrels to a close, by all signs the EPA is working hard to do just that.
Earlier this month the agency asked a judge to postpone by two years court-ordered deadlines for completing the damning biological opinions — evaluations that the EPA had initially claimed would be finalized more than six months ago.
And now, the pesticide giant that over the past six years has donated $11 million to congressional campaigns and political action committees, and spent an additional $75 million lobbying Congress, is looking to cash in its congressional chip as well.
A draft bill pushed by Dow that’s now floating around the halls of Congress would forbid the EPA from even assessing the harms pesticides pose to endangered species unless the maker of the pesticide requests those assessments.
The bill has yet to find sponsors willing to give the draft a home in either house of Congress. But in an era when Trump administration and Republican leaders in Congress have repeatedly demonstrated their willingness to gut protections for not only endangered plants and animals but for clean air and water, it seems open season on Capitol Hill for granting industry’s every wish.
Because pesticides are designed to kill things, the trick has always been to try to limit their damage to things you presumably don’t want to kill or harm — people and endangered wildlife, for instance.
That’s why, before approving new pesticides for use, the EPA is required to assess their risk of harm to people and our most imperiled plants and animals.
But because pesticides don’t just kill pests but rake in billions of dollars in profits for their makers, it’s never been a very clean process. Under relentless pressure from the multi-billion dollar pesticide industry, the EPA has routinely dragged its feet when it comes to doing these important assessments for thousands of pesticides.
It took a lawsuit from the conservation group I work for to force the agency several years ago to finally jumpstart the process of evaluating the harms posed to endangered wildlife by chlorpyrifos and two other dangerous organophosphates – malathion and diazinon.
As a result of a legal agreement in that case the EPA pledged that by Dec. 31, 2017, it would fully evaluate the three pesticides’ harms and pose methods of preventing those harms.
Now, in the make-believe world of the Trump administration, Dow is working hard to convince the members of Congress to simply look the other way and pretend the risks don’t exist.
In the meantime, Dow will continue to profit from the sale of 5 million pounds of chlorpyrifos annually in the U.S., where it will continue to routinely be sprayed on crops like almonds, walnuts, grapes, broccoli, oranges, corn, peanuts, plums and wheat.
And thanks to the dangerous pesticide’s tendency to volatilize and drift up to a mile after being applied, it will continue to routinely find its way into the bloodstreams of hundreds of endangered species and the brains of children living near fields where the Trump EPA insists the risks are worth the profits.
Brett Hartl is the government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity.