Energy & Environment

Court orders Trump EPA to ban controversial pesticide

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A federal appeals court has ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which former Administrator Scott Pruitt refused to do last year.

The decision is a major win for environmentalists and health advocates. The EPA’s own research, as recently as 2016, linked chlorpyrifos to developmental and neurological disorders, especially in children and infants.

The Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit said the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, the federal law governing pesticides, requires the EPA to ban the allowance of a pesticide on food if it finds any harm from exposure to it.


Since the EPA’s research found such harm, the Trump administration violated the law when Pruitt didn’t act to revoke “tolerances” of chlorpyrifos, the regulatory term for amounts of pesticide residue allowed on food.

“There was no justification for the EPA’s decision in its 2017 order to maintain a tolerance for chlorpyrifos in the face of scientific evidence that its residue on food causes neurodevelopmental damage to children,” Judge Jed Rakoff wrote in the 2-1 opinion in the case, titled League of United Latin American Citizens v. Andrew Wheeler.
He accused EPA of an “utter failure” to respond to objections to Pruitt’s denial.
“The time has come to put a stop to this patent evasion,” wrote Rakoff, who was nominated to the bench by former President Clinton.

Rakoff was joined in his opinion by Judge Jacqueline Nguyen, whom former President Obama tapped for the court.

The court ordered the EPA to revoke both the residue tolerances for chlorpyrifos and all approvals for use of the pesticide within 60 days.

Judge Ferdinand Fernandez, a President George H.W. Bush nominee, dissented from the majority. He argued that the appeals court doesn’t have jurisdiction over the issue and that it should have gone to a lower court first.

Chlorpyrifos is a pesticide commonly used on crops like corn, almonds and cotton. It was developed in the 1960s by Dow Chemical Co., and Dow remains one of its top marketers.

Pruitt decided against banning its use in March 2017, reversing the EPA’s previous proposal under the Obama administration to ban it.

He said at the time that blocking the pesticide’s use would harm farmers and cited Agriculture Department research that differed from the EPA’s findings.

While that decision responded to a 2007 petition for a ban from environmental groups, the EPA is separately in the midst of a longer-term review of chlorpyrifos that could also result in a ban.

EPA spokesman Michael Abboud said the agency is reviewing the court’s decision.

Abboud said the EPA has been having difficulty obtaining the data behind research from the Columbia University Center for Children’s Environmental Health on chlorpyrifos. That research has underpinned much of the argument against the pesticide, including the appeals court’s decision.

“The Columbia Center’s data underlying the court’s assumptions remains inaccessible and has hindered the agency’s ongoing process to fully evaluate the pesticide using the best available, transparent science,” Abboud said.

The EPA has posted on its website email conversations with the center trying to get the data. Linda Fried, a public health professor there, told the agency earlier this year that it had to “clarify the information requests” regarding chlorpyrifos before the center could abide.

Democrats and environmentalists cheered Thursday’s ruling.

“Today’s decision represents a monumental victory for the health and safety of children and farmworkers — and an unequivocal repudiation of the Trump administration’s unjustifiable refusal to ban chlorpyrifos,” Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), who has been leading the charge in the Senate against the pesticide, said in a statement.

“The science on chlorpyrifos is settled: it is a toxic, nerve agent pesticide that damages children’s brains and causes serious health issues in workers exposed to the chemical on the job. Scientists and pediatricians tell us there is no level at which the use of chlorpyrifos on food is safe.”

Erik Olson, senior director for health and food at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said it is a win for children.

“Some things are too sacred to play politics with — and our kids top the list,” he said in a statement. “This is a victory for parents everywhere who want to feed their kids fruits and veggies without fear it’s harming their brains or poisoning communities.”

—Updated at 5:04 p.m.

Tags Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt Tom Udall

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