It’s no secret that the chemical industry holds undue influence over regulatory processes in the US – corporations wield incredible power in agency processes to create the guidelines that are supposed to protect the health of our communities and the environment.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is no exception. In reviewing the health and environmental impacts of pesticide products, EPA often relies on industry-funded studies, with this corporate science rarely available for public review. Further, chemical companies commonly sit on panels and committees that “advise” regulators.
One of the most effective strategies Big Ag uses to sway regulators may be the “revolving door,” in which former agrichemical industry executives, lawyers and scientists serve in the government agencies that are charged with overseeing their industries – and vice-versa. Former EPA employees use their intimate knowledge of regulatory processes to help industries navigate them. How deep does this problem go?
The culture of the agency
You might think a former EPA employee would gravitate towards continued work in conservation, but the opposite is the norm – leaving public service for a lucrative career in extractive industries is practically tradition at the agency. According to an analysis by The Intercept, since 1974, all seven of the EPA pesticide office’s directors who continued to work after leaving the agency went on to make money from the pesticide companies they used to regulate.
These directors have accepted university positions funded by Monsanto, Bayer, and Syngenta. Some of them have worked as attorneys for the industry or served as board members of agrochemical companies.Other EPA officials have left the agency to work directly for the agrochemical industry:
- Stephen Johnson: EPA administrator and assistant administrator for the Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substance → Joined the board of Scotts Miracle-Gro, which markets the pesticide glyphosate in the U.S.
- Linda Fisher: Assistant EPA administrator → Moved on to work for Monsanto and DuPont.
- John Todhunter: Assistant EPA administrator in charge of pesticides → Went on to become a pesticide consultant.
- Bill Jordan: Deputy director of the pesticide office → Now a consultant to pesticide companies.
- Steven Jellineck: Former assistant administrator for toxic substances → Founded a consulting firm that would eventually employ many other former employees of the pesticide office and represented Monsanto, Dow, FMC, and the Chemical Manufacturers Association, among other agrochemical companies.
This flow of experts from the EPA to pesticide companies doesn’t just enable dangerous chemicals to evade regulatory scrutiny – it also shapes the culture within the agency, and explains why regulation problems have persisted through changes in presidential administrations. Center for Biological Diversity’s Lori Ann Burd said she’s noticed only minor changes in the agency’s approach to pesticides under President Joe Biden. “They’re taking a slightly different tone. But in our litigation, it’s the same brass knuckles, fight to the death over everything.”
Better protective laws
The enormous influence of chemical corporations has hampered meaningful regulation of pesticides in the US,leaving communities exposed to harmful chemicals not tolerated in many other countries. While PAN continues to shine a light on corporate capture of our regulatory agencies, another way to ensure we get the protection we need is to update the main law that applies to pesticide oversight.
The current law, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) was originally passed in 1947 and contains provisions that prioritize pesticide industry interests. According to the statute, EPA can only refuse to reregister a pesticide if the risks it poses to human health, wildlife, and the environment are greater than the economic benefits it provides.
A proposed replacement, the Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act (PACTPA) addresses many of FIFRA’s shortcomings. The bill provides significant protections for communities that bear the brunt of pesticide exposure, prohibits the use of old stockpiles of banned pesticides, and requires the listing of inert ingredients on all pesticide products, which are often as dangerous as the active ingredients.
Please urge your Senators to co-sponsor and support passage of PACTPA today. In the face of EPA’s revolving door, we really need it.