Escalating a fight over a pesticide popular on California farms, environmentalists took President Donald Trump’s administration to court Wednesday in a renewed effort to get the chemical banned.
The Natural Resources Defense Council and Pesticide Action Network filed a court motion demanding that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ban the pesticide known as chlorpyrifos, which is used in almond and pistachio orchards, orange groves and elsewhere. A week ago EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt halted the agency’s plans to prohibit chlorpryifos’ use, rejecting findings by EPA scientists under the Obama administration.
The scientists said chlorpyrifos, a toxin that can affect the nervous system, is harmful to farm workers and can compromise food safety.
In a filing with the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, the environmental groups demanded that the EPA follow the conclusions reached by its scientists. Pruitt’s decision was “remarkable in its utter silence as to EPA’s previous findings,” the groups said in their court filing.
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The chemical is used on 1.3 million acres of California farmland, mainly in Kern, Fresno and Tulare counties in the San Joaquin Valley. Chlorpyrifos also is used in Sacramento and Yolo counties. Environmentalists say California agriculture is far and away the largest consumer of the product in the country.
Pruitt’s decision to keep chlorpyrifos on the market was hailed by the California Farm Bureau Federation and other farm groups.
Pruitt’s decision set up more controversy between California officials and the Trump administration, which are already battling the state over climate change, immigration and other issues. The state Department of Pesticide Regulation has said it is considering a plan to restrict chlorpyrifos’ use on California farms, although it doesn’t expect to ban the product altogether. Chlorpyrifos has been banned for most household uses since 2001.
The environmental groups, along with organizations such as the United Farm Workers and the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, have been pushing the EPA for years to ban the chemical. They sued the EPA to force the issue and obtained a court order last fall directing the agency to act by the end of March.
Pruitt’s decision not to ban chlorpyrifos was “certainly not what this court ordered EPA to do,” the environmentalists wrote.