As Trump denies science, California needs to step in

President Donald Trump, with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Contempt for science has been a feature of Trump’s EPA.
President Donald Trump, with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Contempt for science has been a feature of Trump’s EPA. AP

Given the Trump administration’s adversity to science, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency director Scott Pruitt’s decision to allow the continued use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos seemed almost preordained.

In March, Pruitt concluded that the science addressing the neurodevelopmental effects of chlorpyrifos are unresolved, and put off a decision until 2022. It was a reversal.

Two days after the November election, the EPA under Barack Obama issued a statement saying that “expected residues of chlorpyrifos on food crops exceed the safety standard” under federal law, and that drinking water exposure “continues to exceed safe levels.” Obama’s EPA seemed prepared to recommend a ban on the widely used pesticide, based on toxicity to children and farmworkers.

Understandably, Dow Chemical Co., which manufactures chlorpyrifos, is fighting to keep the product on the market. It’s used on more than 60 crops, including almonds and wine grapes in California.

In 2015, the most recent year for which data exist, California farmers applied 1.1 million pounds of chlorpyrifos. That’s down from 1.9 million pounds a decade earlier. Clearly, Californians have an interest in whether its continued use is safe.

We don’t presume to be scientists. But the conflict between the EPA of Obama and the EPA of Trump makes clear that California needs to step in, as it has done in so many other instances since President Donald Trump took office.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra last month joined six other states led by New York in challenging Pruitt’s reversal. But the outcome of that challenge is uncertain.

So the states must take steps to responsibly regulate the chemical. And while California long has had common-sense restrictions on the pesticide in place, the state should determine whether more must be done.

In 2008, California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, having reviewed the science up to that point, declined to list chlorpyrifos as a reproductive or development toxicant. However, science evolves. The office, which is known for its integrity, should revisit the issue to determine whether the Obama EPA or the Trump EPA is right.

California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation, which already regulates chlorpyrifos, is revisiting its regulation to determine whether it should go further, as it should. Perhaps it should take a cue from Kern County, which places regulations on the chemical that go beyond what the state requires.

It would be one matter if Trump showed respect to civil servants who have devoted their careers to environmental protection. But the president and many of his top aides repeatedly have shown contempt for science, deleting language about global warming from government websites, proposing billions of dollars in cuts for research, and barring government scientists from attending important conferences.

Trump still hasn’t nominated a director for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Earlier this month, Trump added to the insults by nominating a talk radio host, Sam Clovis, to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s science division, a post that traditionally is held by a scientist, something Clovis is not.

Everyone is entitled to their opinions. But when it comes to human health and whether a pesticide threatens the reproductive health of workers and the development of children, science should dictate policy. Under Trump’s EPA, California is on its own.