Every day we read about how EPA or OSHA announced their intention to roll back this protection, or failed to act on that long planned initiative. And every day a little bit of our spirit dies.

Heat Farmworkers chlorpyrifos
Photo by Earl Dotter www.earldotter.com

But don’t despair:

Seattle, WA — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must ban a widely used organophosphate pesticide linked to brain damage in children, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today.  The appellate court ordered EPA to finalize its proposed ban on chlorpyrifos based on undisputed findings that the pesticide is unsafe for public health, and particularly harmful to children and farmworkers.

“The Court ended EPA’s shameful actions that have exposed children and farmworkers to this poison for decades,” said Earthjustice attorney Marisa Ordonia. “Finally, our fields, fruits, and vegetables will be chlorpyrifos-free.”

Chlorpyrifos is a dangerous nerve agent pesticide that can damage the developing brains of children. Prenatal and early life exposure to chlorpyrifos is linked to lower birth weight and neurodevelopmental harms, including reduced IQ, loss of working memory, attention disorders, and delayed motor development. It is also acutely toxic to farmworkers — routinely sickening workers and sending them to the hospital.

EPA had been on course to ban that pesticide before fromer EPA Administator Scott Pruitt, over a year ago, reversed EPA’s position — shortly after meeting with the head of Dow Chemical, which is the largest manufacturer of chlorpyrifos. Why? Pruitt claimed that the science behind chlorpyrifos was still “unresolved.”

 “If Congress’s statutory mandates are to mean anything, the time has come to put a stop to this patent evasion.”

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was not amused and today ordered EPA to finalize its proposed ban on chlorpyrifos based on undisputed findings that the pesticide is unsafe for public health, and particularly harmful to children and farmworkers.  The court explained that enough was enough. Judge Jed S. Rakoff, who authored the majority opinion, concluded that “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.”

He wrote that “If Congress’s statutory mandates are to mean anything, the time has come to put a stop to this patent evasion.”

The lawsuit was brought by the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the United Farmworkers and 8 other organizations.  The groups groups have been trying to ban chlorpyrifos since 2007. The California Farm Bureau Federation, which opposes banning the pesticide “said the chemical is used on about 1.3 million acres of state farmland and is a crucial tool in controlling pests that harm almonds, apricots, cotton and scores of other mainstay crops.” The panel vote was 2-1, with Jacqueline H. Nguyen and Rakoff supported the ban, and Ferdinand F. Fernandez dissenting, arguing that the court had no jurisdiction.

The pesticide has a long and sordid history:

Chlorpyrifos was introduced in 1965 by Dow Chemical as an alternative to the controversial pesticide DDT, which was banned several years later. As health concerns rose, the federal government negotiated a settlement with the chemical industry to eliminate its use in most residential settings in 2000, but it was still permitted in agriculture. Although several companies manufacture it, Dow is still the biggest marketer of the product, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

According to the EPA’s website, high doses of chlorpyrifos can cause nausea, dizziness and confusion. A 2017 report in the Journal of Neurochemistry said exposure to the chemical can lead to “neurological deficits that range from cognitive impairments to tremors in childhood.”

Things Aren’t As Bad As They Seem

Despite the claims of the Trump administration that they are rolling back regulatory protections right and left, the long administrative process and court decisions have slowed much of the destruction.  A recent “fact checker” in the Washington Post awarded three Pinocchios to Vice President Pence’s claim that This president has actually repealed 22 federal regulations for every new federal rule put on the books.” The problem is that it takes a new regulation to repeal an old regulation, and the process does not work very quickly.

A long article in Politico last April argued that

Pruitt has not yet killed or rolled back any significant regulations that were in place when President Donald Trump took office. While Pruitt is often hailed (or attacked) as Trump’s most effective (or destructive) deregulatory warrior, the recent spotlight on his ethics—allegations of a sweetheart housing deal; pay raises for favored aides; lavish spending on travel, furniture and security; and retaliation against underlings who questioned him—has arguably overshadowed his lack of regulatory rollbacks during his first 15 months in Washington. The truth is that Scott Pruitt has done a lot less to dismantle the EPA than he—or his critics—would have you believe.

But, they warn “It’s not for lack of trying. Pruitt has taken aim at just about every major Obama-era EPA rule.”

Meanwhile, inquiring minds want to know what progress EPA is making on banning methylene chloride and whether the courts will step in eventually if no action is taken.

So, the message here is “Don’t Despair.” Keep fighting the rollbacks of environmental, worker and consumer protections everywhere you can.  File lawsuits, participate in regulatory hearings, submit comments, talk to the press. And most important, vote this November for representatives that promise to enforce the law, and to hold oversight hearings about why this Administration is failing in its mandate to protect the American people.

Remember, there are only 88 days, 21 hours and 9 minutes until election day.


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