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Policy Summary
According to a new report, Andrew Wheeler, administrator of the EPA, has declined to ban chlorpyrifos, a chemical known to be dangerous to children’s health. The decision defies a court order to ban the chemical and will face legal challenges.

The chemical chlorpyrifos is largely used as a pesticide by the agricultural industry. The pesticide is widely used in the United States. In 2016, in California alone, over half a million acres of farmland were treated with chlorpyrifos, which was used to treat over 50 types of crops.

Several Studies, based on the science of epidemiology, were released showing that exposure to the chemical posed a threat to children’s brain development. The first study was a 2016 peer-reviewed report authored by the agency showing that the pesticide had links to damage brain in children. Additionally, a 2012 study by Columbia University showed that exposure to chlorpyrifos by pregnant mothers was associated with developmental delays in their children.

Under the Obama administration, the EPA issued a ban of chlorpyrifos. In 2017, before coming into effect, the ban was rolled back by Scott Pruitt. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the EPA must reinstate the ban. The majority opinion was written by judge Jed S. Rakoff, who stated 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.”

As Patti Goldman, a lawyer for Earthjustice, stated, “by allowing chlorpyrifos to stay in our fruits and vegetables, Trump’s E.P.A. is breaking the law and neglecting the overwhelming scientific evidence that this pesticide harms children’s brains.” Wheeler’s failure to ban chlorpyrifos will face legal challenge.

Policy Analysis

The EPA’s broad roll back of environmental regulations are often accomplished by undermining the scientific bases they rest on.

Under Pruitt’s guidance, the EPA changed its method of assessing scientific studies. The agency stated that it would no longer accept scientific studies as the basis of regulations without having access to the underlying data that supported these studies. This policy was made in the name of transparency. Pruitt claimed that making data publicly available would improve the quality of the science the agency bases its policies on.

However, Pruitt’s  policy is disingenuous. There is a reason that the reports that have been excluded by the EPA do not make their underlying data public. Reports that show a connection between exposure to chlorpyrifos and health problems are epidemiological. They are based on data that was collected under non-disclosure agreements to protect the privacy of health information. This is exactly the data Pruitt wanted to be released.

Wheeler and Pruitt are leading an illegal action at the EPA. They disregarded a court order to ban chlorpyrifos, then attempted to cover-up, spin, and justify the illegality of their action by attacking to science that supported the court’s decision. The EPA shows an extreme disregard for the consequences of the use of chlorpyrifos to public health. By refusing to ban the pesticide, children’s lives and health are sacrificed for an increase in profit.

The Trump EPA decision  also should be seen as part of systematic racism. Agro-businesses like Monsanto joined up with their former lobbyer, Andrew Wheeler to push the harmful externalities of crop dusting onto the largely Latino and immigrant communities who make up many of the laborers who administer chlorpyrifos. This is a more systematic pattern of white Americans profiting by harming communities of color. Environmental justice is one of the three pillars of sustainability. Profit is not sustainable if it is gained through externalities shouldered by communities of color and other vulnerable populations.

The systematic exploitation of Latino communities gives Pruitt’s call for transparency a sinister air. The very studies that Pruitt rejected had collected data from Latino farm workers. Pruitt’s decision to disregard these studies should be construed as silencing the voices and experiences of immigrants of color by making their experience and their lives inadmissible as the basis of policy decisions.

With this decision, the Trump EPA joins the growing group of federal agencies, especially ICE, who have scapegoated people of color to achieve their aims.

Resistance Resources

  • NRDC Pre-Written Letter to Trump and Wheeler—The Natural Resources Defense Council has drafted a letter that can easily been sent under your name. The letter asks President Trump and Andrew Wheeler to take the need for environmental regulation seriously. There is also a feature to add your own message.
  • Earthjustice—Earthjustice is an environmental law organization. They are responsible for many legal challenges to the Trump administration’s environmental policy. They also provide an action section where they provide resources for engagement.
  • Indigenous Environmental Network—The Indigenous Environmental Network works to protect the environment from the perspective of indigenous communities. This organization aims to protect the environment through the use of indigenous knowledge. There are useful resources for developing your conceptual toolkit as an activist and to help understand the intersection of social and environmental justice.
  • The Pesticide Action Network—PAN has resources available for activists seeking to get involved with the fight for workers’ rights in the agricultural industry. They focus on the health effects of pesticides on people. They also provide a page that provides action resources. They’ve also drafted a letter for you to send to the EPA.
  • Friends of the Earth—Friends of the Earth work to protect farmworkers from the pesticides. They have an action page that provides resources for understanding the need for organic agriculture and the effect that agriculture has on their health.

Photo by unsplash-logoRawFilm

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