SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency refuses to release records on its decision to potentially scrap two rules that protect farm workers from harmful pesticides, two labor and environmental groups claim in a new lawsuit.
Farmworker Justice and Earthjustice sued the EPA in federal court Tuesday, claiming the agency is withholding records on meetings and communications leading up to its December 2017 decision to revise two pesticide rules: the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard and Certification for Pesticide Applicators rule.
Both rules provide “tremendously important safeguards” that protect 2.5 million farm workers and others who handle pesticides, according to Earthjustice attorney Carrie Apfel.
“Farmworkers and their families have a right to know who EPA met with and what was discussed leading up to this terrible decision,” Apfel said in a statement Tuesday.
The Agricultural Worker Protection Standard was finalized in November 2015 after 15 years of study and stakeholders meetings, according to the lawsuit. 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 Certification of Pesticide Applicators Rule was finalized in January 2017 days before President Donald Trump’s inauguration. The rule creates new handling requirements for registered pesticides and creates a minimum age for handling certain pesticides. The EPA previously found the rule could prevent up to 1,000 pesticide-related illnesses each year.
The EPA announced on Dec. 19, 2017 that it would start the process of revising the Certification for Pesticide Applicators rule after delaying the rule’s effective date from March 6, 2017 to May 22, 2018.
The agency then announced on Dec. 21, 2017, that it would also revise and potentially rescind the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard.
On Dec. 22, 2017, Earthjustice requested emails, meeting notes and other records for eight EPA staff members, including EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, relating to the EPA’s decision to revise both rules.
The plaintiffs also requested records on all EPA communications with farm industry groups, including the American Farm Bureau Federation and CropLife America.
As of Tuesday, the EPA had not disclosed the requested records.
“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.”
The plaintiffs seek a court order directing the EPA to turn over all records on its decision to potentially rescind the pesticide rules.
The plaintiffs are represented by Stacey Geis of Earthjustice in San Francisco.
An EPA spokesman declined to comment on pending litigation.