OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – A federal judge sided with environmental protection advocates and farmworker unions Wednesday, saying the Environmental Protection Agency “has created substantial risk” for delay of critical protections for people exposed to dangerous pesticides.
A coalition of farmworker unions and conservationists led by Pineros y Campesinos Unidos Del Noroeste sued the Environmental Protection Agency in June 2017 over delays of the effective date of the Certification of Pesticide Applicators Rule, which they said “violated procedural rulemaking requirements, constituted arbitrary and capricious rulemaking, and was contrary to law.”
Northern California District Judge Jeffrey White vacated delay rules issued by the EPA, saying the agency “created a threat” by delaying implementation of the pesticide rule and the regulatory protections it provides to farmworkers, their families and other people exposed to crop pesticides.
“If implementation of the Pesticide Rule is delayed, [PCUN] members will continue to be exposed to these dangers and will not benefit from the more stringent regulations provided by the Pesticide Rule,” White said.
In January 2017, under the Obama administration, the EPA issued new rules strengthening regulations for certification and use of “restricted use pesticides.” That same month, on President Trump’s first day in office, the White House issued a memo directing federal agencies to postpone all pending final rules. The EPA then issued a series of rules delaying enactment of the pesticide certification requirements.
EPA chief administrator Scott Pruitt, who repeatedly sued the agency as attorney general of Oklahoma, has pushed for deregulations at the agency he now runs.
Earth Justice, an environmental law organization, said the EPA had been “unnecessarily reconsidering the minimum age protections that prohibit children from applying pesticides, and protections for workers and bystanders from pesticide drift through ‘application exclusion zones’.”
The EPA has argued that “good cause” for delay existed because more time was needed for “further review and consideration of new regulations” and confusion could result if the rule went into effect but was “subsequently substantially revised or repealed.”
Judge White said the exception is reserved for situations when delay would do real harm.
“A new administration’s simple desire to have time to review, and possibly revise or repeal, its predecessor’s regulations falls short of this exacting standard,” White said.
White said EPA’s abrupt decision to delay the effective date has effectively prevented the regulatory process from even beginning.
“Over one-third of the contemplated three year implementation period has now been lost to delay,” White said.
The EPA argued that farmworkers would not be deprived of the protections of the pesticide rule as a result of a delay of the rule’s effective date.
Judge White said the court was “unconvinced by EPA’s assurances” and that the agency has consistently stated it “intended to delay the actual implementation of the Pesticide Rule, not just its effective date.”
White said the EPA violated the Administrative Procedures Act by failing to provide public notice and opportunity for comment before delaying the Pesticide Rule’s effective date.
In their June 2017 complaint, labor advocates said the EPA failed to provide the reason for the agency’s action. In particular, they said the EPA failed to provide “any analysis of, or adequate justification for, the “unreasonable adverse effects to applicators, workers, the public, or the environment.”
On March 13, 28 lawmakers sent a letter to Pruitt, urging the EPA to preserve pesticide regulations that provide protections to farmworker youth, their families, and the general public from life-threatening pesticide exposure.
There are approximately half-a-million child farmworkers throughout the country, and as many as 20,000 workers are diagnosed with pesticide poisoning every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
PCUN, an Oregon-based non-profit public interest organization and farmworkers’ union, said proper certification and training was needed after widespread incidents of harm and even death due to improper application of dangerous pesticides.
PCUN represents year-round and seasonal agricultural field workers; irrigators; nursery and reforestation workers; and cannery workers, many of whom are Mexican and Central American immigrants, and mono-lingual Spanish or indigenous language speakers.
The EPA did not immediately respond Wednesday to an email seeking comment.