On Pruitt, pesticides & progress | Pesticide Action Network
Reclaiming the future of food and farming

On Pruitt, pesticides & progress

Kristin Schafer's picture
Scott Pruitt resigns

It was clear from the minute he was appointed that Scott Pruitt was a wildly inappropriate choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA.) Last Thursday, after months of public pressure and outrage, he finally submitted his resignation.

Though we know the work continues, we want to take a moment to celebrate this win. Over the past year, PAN supporters joined hundreds of thousands across the country who pushed back against Pruitt — and won.

Corporate interests at play

While Pruitt's ethical lapses got most of the attention in recent months, his policy decisions were the real scandal. Under his watch, the agency put on hold or rolled back dozens of basic health and safety measures, and science was aggressively undermined and sidelined.

From the very beginning, Pruitt made clear that he would be serving corporate interests rather than protecting human health or the environment. In one of his first decisions as administrator, he reversed course on the planned ban of the brain-harming pesticide chlorpyrifos, against the advice of the agency's own scientists.

That’s why it’s so encouraging that in recent months, both state policymakers and judges have been stepping up to protect communities and children from the harms of pesticides like chlorpyrifos. Now is the time to build on this momentum.

See ya in court, EPA

Earlier this week, final arguments challenging EPA’s refusal to ban chlorpyrifos nationally took place in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. We were part of a coalition of labor and health organizations that asked a panel of three judges to overturn Pruitt’s decision.

Honestly, it's absurd that we have take a federal agency to court to force it to do its job. Scientists have known for years that chlorpyrifos puts the health of farmworkers and children in danger. Yet Pruitt's EPA chose to ignore this evidence, and do Dow Chemical's bidding instead.

Here's our Earthjustice lawyer Patti Goldman on the gist of the case:

   EPA has repeatedly found chlorpyrifos too toxic to be on our food and fields. By failing to ban chlorpyrifos in the face of these findings, EPA is flouting the law and putting children in harm's way.

Seven states have joined the chlorpyrifos suit, stepping up to argue that the children, workers and communities in their states deserve protection. You can watch a video of Patti arguing the case here, and as you’ll see, the judges asked EPA lawyers some very tough questions. We expect the court to issue a decision in the coming weeks.

State policymakers step up

Meanwhile, we’re seeing real progress at the state level too. In mid-June, Hawai'i made history when Governor David Ige signed Senate Bill 3095 into law. The first-in-the-nation law bans all uses of chlorpyrifos, and puts small protective buffer zones in place around schools to help protect children from pesticide drift.

In California, the state pesticide agency recently revised its assessment of the risks of chlorpyrifos, and found that children are exposed to unacceptable risk of harm from the pesticide in food residues, water and drift — laying important groundwork for more restrictions, or a ban.

Bills banning chlorpyrifos were also introduced in Maryland and New Jersey this spring. Across the board, this progress is the result of tenacious organizing by and with the communities most affected by pesticide harms.

Looking forward

We’ll continue to support this momentum for progress on pesticides at the state level, while we also keep an eye out for industry efforts to undermine states’ authority to protect their communities.

We’ll also keep showing up in court with our lawyers, pressing federal officials to actually do their job as the law requires.

And as to EPA leadership? Unfortunately Pruitt’s replacement may be even more problematic than he was. Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler, for example, is a seasoned industry lobbyist with years of experience making deals behind closed doors, and he is much less likely to earn headlines for ethics scandals.

So we know there are more challenges ahead. But for now, we’re taking a moment to celebrate progress — and to thank all those in the PAN community who have spoken up, and made a difference.

Photo: Gage Skidmore | Flickr

Kristin Schafer
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Kristin Schafer's picture

Kristin Schafer was PAN's Executive Director until early 2022. With training in international policy and social change strategies, Kristin was at PAN for over 25 years. Before taking on the Executive Director role in 2017, she was PAN's program and policy director. She was lead author on several PAN reports, with a particular emphasis on children's health. She continues to serve on the Policy Committee of the Children's Environmental Health Network. Follow @KristinAtPAN