CAPITAL PRESS – DON JENKINS – A meeting in March between the Washington Farm Bureau and the Environmental Protection Agency has been thrust into the limelight.
The head of the Washington Farm Bureau said Tuesday that he left a March meeting with the Environmental Protection Agency without twisting arms and without knowing whether the agency would prohibit chlorpyrifos, though The New York Times recently reported the meeting as a sign that sympathetic Trump appointees collaborated with agriculture to save the pesticide from being banned.
“There was no undue influence,” the bureau’s CEO, John Stuhlmiller, said. “It’s what you would hope would happen with good government. People affected by regulations talked about the regulations with the regulators, and the director said, ‘We’ll look into it.’”
The Times highlighted the March 1 meeting in Washington, D.C., in a story posted Aug. 18 about the EPA’s contacts with farm groups in the weeks before rejecting a decade-old petition to ban chlorpyrifos, the most widely used pesticide in U.S. agriculture.
The Times reported obtaining more than 700 pages of EPA correspondence through a Freedom of Information Act request. The EPA redacted many pages, citing attorney-client privilege. The records did include EPA notes from the meeting at EPA headquarters with the Washington Farm Bureau’s 10-person delegation. According to The Times, “agriculture industry executives pushed” Pruitt to not remove any more pesticides from the market.
The Times story was picked up by environmental websites and other news outlets. CNN posted a story Tuesday under the headline: “EPA documents fuel criticism that politics played part in pesticide decision.”
“We don’t twist arms,” Stuhlmiller said. “The fact is they granted us an audience and heard our concerns. We walked away without any assurances. There was no doubt in my mind they could still ban” chlorpyrifos.
The meeting came one month before a court-ordered deadline for a decision on whether to ban chlorpyrifos. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, tired of delays, had originally ordered the EPA to act by the end of 2016, but the Obama administration, which had proposed a ban, won a three-month extension that pushed the final decision onto the Trump administration.
White House adviser Don Benton, a former Washington state senator, hosted the meeting with Stuhlmiller and the rest of the delegation. According to the EPA’s notes, Benton said the new administration wanted to be transparent, inclusive and “help farmers comply with the law in a way that makes sense.”
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt joined the meeting briefly, telling the delegation that it was “a new day, a new future, for a common sense approach to environmental protection.”
The Times drew on the remark for its headline: “EPA Promised a ‘New Day’ for the Agriculture Industry, Documents Reveal.”
Stuhlmiller agreed with The Times that the EPA has promised a “new day” in its relationship with agriculture. The meeting with EPA officials at the agency’s headquarters was unprecedented, he said.
“We were just asking for a fair shake in the policy process, which hadn’t happened, particularly in the past eight years,” Stuhlmiller said.
According to EPA notes, the Washington delegation’s concerns included complicated regulations, the availability of pesticides and EPA support for What’s Upstream, a lobbying campaign to mandate 100-foot buffers between farms and waterways in the state.
On chlorpyrifos, the delegation asked for “a reasonable approach to regulating this pesticide and would like the farming community to be more involved in the process.”
Stuhlmiller said the notes accurately reflected the meeting, which he said lasted about 30 minutes.
Four weeks later, the EPA said the science was unresolved on whether the pesticide poses a risk to fetuses and infants at even low levels. The agency said it will continue with a congressionally ordered review of the pesticide due in 2022.
The EPA issued a statement Monday criticizing The Times for not reporting that the USDA and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture opposed banning chlorpyrifos. Those positions, including the USDA’s, were taken during the Obama administration.
The EPA also chastised the newspaper for not reporting that the circuit court declined in July a motion by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Pesticide Action Network to overrule the EPA.
The circuit court said it only ordered EPA to make a decision, not arrive at a particular outcome.
Published on August 23, 2017 8:56AM
Don JenkinsCapital Press http://www.capitalpress.com/Washington/20170823/washington-farm-bureaus-dc-trip-cited-in-pesticide-furor?utm_source=Capital+Press&utm_campaign=ecb2fd2081-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_08_23&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_3bfe2c1612-ecb2fd2081-234518297
Picture: Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt