Ridding Washington of Pests

Some pro-lifer that Scott Pruitt is, eh?

The new head of the Environmental Protection Agency refused Wednesday to ban a commonly used pesticide that the Obama administration had sought to outlaw based on mounting concerns about its risks to human health.

The chemical compound chlorpyrifos, also known as Lorsban, has been used by farmers for more than a half-century to kill pests on crops including broccoli, strawberries and citrus. The EPA banned its spraying indoors to combat household bugs more than a decade ago. But only in recent years did the agency seek to ban its use in agriculture, after mounting scientific evidence that prenatal exposure can pose risks to fetal brain and nervous system development.

On Wednesday, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt decided the answer would be no.

This year marks the 110th anniversary of the birth of Rachel Carson, whose 1962 book Silent Spring (about the hazards of the pesticide DDT) compelled America, at least for a while, to prioritize environmental concerns. Pruitt obviously either never read the book, or read about five pages before he threw it across the room, dismissing it as anti-capitalist propaganda. It’s all about growth for Pruitt–the growth of polluter profits, the growth of the power of disinformation, the growth of injury and injustice to the poor.

Dow Agrosciences, the division [of Dow Chemical] hat sells the product, also praised the ruling, calling it in a statement “the right decision for farmers who, in about 100 countries, rely on the effectiveness of chlorpyrifos to protect more than 50 crops.”

But Jim Jones, who ran the chemical safety unit at the E.P.A. for five years, and spent more than 20 years working there until he left the agency in January when President Trump took office, said he was disappointed by Mr. Pruitt’s action.

“They are ignoring the science that is pretty solid,” Mr. Jones said, adding that he believed the ruling would put farm workers and exposed children at unnecessary risk.

The ruling is, in some ways, more consequential than the higher profile move by Mr. Trump on Tuesday to order the start of rolling back Obama administration rules related to coal-burning power plants and climate change.

Speaking of Trump’s executive order on climate, it is morbidly humorous that Pruitt is now viewed as a RINO by conservative activists because Pruitt argued, during the crafting of the executive order, that federal courts are unlikely to buy the argument that carbon emissions pose no threat at all. Despite his public denial, Pruitt presumably knows damn well what the scientific verdict is on the causes of climate change, and knows damn well that peddling Heartland Institute talking points in front of the federal courts is a doomed strategy. If Pruitt’s arguments cannot woo the wingnuts, nothing can.

Considering the controversy surrounding him, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Pruitt is the next Trump official to hightail it out of the administration. It’s one thing to take heat from anti-Trump progressives; it’s quite another to be blasted from both the left and the right. Pruitt is expendable; Trump could nominate any right-wing fossil-fuel fetishist even more perverse than Pruitt to replace him, and the GOP-controlled Senate would easily confirm that replacement. Of course, the appointment of an EPA Administrator who actually gives a damn about the agency’s mission may not occur until 2021, at the earliest…or even (perish the thought) 2025.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.