EPA faces lawsuit for withholding records related to pesticide rule change
The Environmental Protection Agency is facing a lawsuit for failing to release records related to its decision to remove two rules aimed at protecting farm workers and children from harmful pesticides.
On Tuesday, Farmworker Justice and Earthjustice sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for refusing to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request related to the agency’s recent decision to revise two rules designed to protect farmers from dangerous pesticides. The two groups filed the lawsuit in federal court alleging that the EPA is withholding records of meetings and communications which led to the December 2017 decision to examine – and potentially remove – the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard and Certification for Pesticide Applicators rule.
Earthjustice attorney Carrie Apfel called the rules “tremendously important safeguards” which protect up to 2.5 million farm workers who handle pesticides. “Farmworkers and their families have a right to know who EPA met with and what was discussed leading up to this terrible decision,” Apfel stated in a press release.
The battle over these two rules goes back to November 2015 when the EPA finalized the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard after 15 years of study and stakeholders meetings. Earthjustice’s lawsuit claims the EPA estimated the rule would avoid or mitigate up to 73 percent of reported pesticide poisonings each year and reduce “chronic health problems among workers and [pesticide] handlers by reducing daily exposures.” The rules, which were still being established in January 2017 before Donald Trump became president, created new guidelines for handling pesticides, including a minimum age requirement.
By December 2017, the EPA announced they would begin revisiting the Certification for Pesticide Applicators rule after delaying the rule’s effective date from March 6, 2017 to May 22, 2018. Only two days later the EPA also announced it would revise and possibly remove the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard. Immediately following this decision Earthjustice filed requests for emails, meeting notes, and other relevant records for eight EPA employees. Earthjustice is also seeking records relating to EPA communications with farm lobby groups the American Farm Bureau Federation and CropLife America.
“These documents may be key to understanding why EPA suddenly decided to reject safeguards that it took decades to study and approve,” said Virginia Ruiz, director of occupational and environmental health at Farmworker Justice. “The fact is, there is no justification for delaying common-sense measures to prevent pesticide poisonings and deaths.”
In March the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled the EPA had illegally delayed implementation of the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard and Certification for Pesticide Applicators rule. Earthjustice applauded the decision at the time. However, the court’s recognition that the EPA has been acting illegally by delaying implementation of the safety measures does not guarantee the agency will be forthcoming with documents requested by Earthjustice. For the moment, the American public remains in the dark regarding the reasoning behind the EPA’s resistance to protect farm workers and children from dangerous pesticides.