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House Dems Accuse Pruitt, Trump of Catering to Big Ag on Pesticide

WASHINGTON – A pair of House Democrats on Wednesday accused EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and the Trump administration of catering to big-business agriculture at the cost of human safety by refusing to ban a widely used pesticide known to cause developmental disorders among children.

“The EPA is not supposed to be an agent of big business and industry,” Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) said during a press conference on Capitol Hill. “They are supposed to be an agent of public good, and yet under Scott Pruitt and the Trump administration, they’re doing the bidding of companies and polluters to advance their interests and not the interests of the American people.”

Ellison joined Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.) in introducing the Pesticide Protection Act of 2017 this past July. The legislation, which would cancel the registration of the pesticide in question – chlorpyrifos – has garnered 42 co-sponsors, including one Republican, Rep. Chris Smith (N.J.).

Chlorpyrifos is a pesticide that has been in use since 1965, when the Dow Chemical Co. began selling it. According to the EPA, the pesticide is used for agricultural uses and non-agricultural uses, with the largest market being the corn industry. About 6 million pounds of the pesticide is sprayed on American crops each year, including asparagus, peaches, strawberries, apples, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cranberries and walnuts. The pesticide is also used on golf courses, turf and greenhouses, and as a poison for mosquitoes, roaches and ants, according to the EPA.

Chlorpyrifos has had harmful impacts on children, as well as farm workers. According to the EPA, it can cause nausea, dizziness and confusion, as well as respiratory paralysis and even death in high doses.

The Obama administration in 2015 moved to eliminate use of chlorpyrifos after fielding a petition from the Natural Resources Defense Council and Pesticide Action Network North America. In November 2016, EPA scientists concluded in a risk assessment memo that there is “a breadth of information available on the potential adverse neurodevelopmental effects in infants and children as a result of prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos.” According to an Associated Press report from June, Pruitt met with Dow Chemical leadership in March about 20 days before reversing course on Obama’s 2015 directive.

“Pruitt has ignored his own scientists’ recommendations to withdraw it as an acceptable chemical,” Pesticide Action Network executive director Kristin Schafer said on Wednesday.

According to Schafer, the EPA studied chlorpyrifos’ application in four key states -- Iowa, Minnesota, California and Hawaii – and determined that the pesticide was contaminating water supplies and that it can cause harm even in low-level doses.

“This administration’s agenda is radically anti-environment and willfully ignores science,” Velázquez said.

Ellison said that Pruitt’s refusal to restrict the use of chlorpyrifos and Trump’s repeal of Obama’s Clean Power Plan are just two instances in which the administration has set the country back decades in terms of environmental stewardship. The EPA’s core mission is to protect the environment and American communities, he added.