Energy & Environment

EPA to allow use of weedkiller until July 31 after court overturns approval

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) late Monday said it will allow farmers to continue to use a weedkiller chemical for about two months after a court ruling overturned the agency’s approval of the chemical for certain uses. 

A federal court ruled last week that the EPA “substantially understated risks that it acknowledged and failed entirely to acknowledge other risks” when in 2018 it approved the use of dicamba for genetically modified soybean and cotton farming.  

The dicamba weedkiller has been linked to certain cancers and the herbicide has also been shown to damage certain types of trees and other plants. 

After the ruling, the EPA canceled an order that allowed farmers to use three products containing dicamba, but the farmers are allowed to use the products until July 31. 

Advocates said this violated the court order and that these uses of dicamba must be stopped now.

“They don’t have the legal authority to do that. The court said what it said and held what it held and now they’re trying to relitigate that, which is improper,” said George Kimbrell, the legal director of the Center For Food Safety, which was one of the groups who challenged the approval in court. 

“In the face of clear evidence that this stuff drifts offsite and has caused damage to crops and other plants, EPA’s just pushing forward to continue to allow that to happen,” said Stephanie Parent, a Center for Biological Diversity attorney who is co-counsel in the case.

Both Parent and Kimbrell have said they will challenge the EPA’s new order in court. 

The agency, however, said in a statement that its order provided “clarity” for farmers.

“At the height of the growing season, the Court’s decision has threatened the livelihood of our nation’s farmers and the global food supply,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement.

“Today’s cancellation and existing stocks order is consistent with EPA’s standard practice following registration invalidation, and is designed to advance compliance, ensure regulatory certainty, and to prevent the misuse of existing stocks,” he added. 

The EPA estimated in its ruling that about four million gallons of dicamba could be “in the channels of trade. ”

The agency in 2018 reapproved the use of dicamba to control weeds on cotton and soybeans that have been genetically engineered to tolerate it. Opponents of the move argued that other crops that are not resistant to dicamba may be impacted by its usage. 

Possible harm to humans from the chemical were not part of the case, but Center for Biological Diversity Senior Scientist Nathan Donley said the case could have implications for human health. 

“EPA’s allowance of using existing stocks, if that remains…that’s going to basically reverse any benefits that the court’s ruling may have,” Donley said, referencing a study published this year that linked weedkiller to certain cancers in people who use it. 

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