New York Leads Multistate Lawsuit Against EPA Pesticide Rule Changes

In this Nov. 19, 2019 file photo, New York State Attorney General Letitia James speaks during a news conference at her office in New York. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

(CN) — New York officials announced Friday they are leading a coalition of five states in a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency, claiming the agency illegally weakened protections for farmers from pesticides.

“Pesticides are often essential to the preservation of agriculture, but they’re also extremely dangerous to the health of farming communities,” New York Attorney General James said in a press release. “Trump’s EPA knowingly increased the risk that farmworkers, their families, and others will be exposed to these dangerous chemicals.”

California, Illinois, Maryland and Minnesota are joined in the lawsuit.

The complaint digs at a rule the EPA adopted in October that allows for pesticides to be applied even if farmers or bystanders are within the Application Exclusion Zone.

The new rule allows for anyone not employed by the establishment to be within the AEZ during pesticide application and only allows for AEZ enforcement on the farm’s property. 

The states argue this strays from the previous rules enacted in 2015 for pesticide protections that required there to be no personnel within the 100-foot circular area of the AEZ while pesticides were being used.

The 33-page lawsuit says that from 1998 to 2011 there were nearly 10,000 reported cases of pesticide related health issues.

Health effects of exposure to pesticides range from skin irritation to impaired vision or seizures.

The EPA justified the changes by saying that it does not violate the “do not contact” rule of the Worker Protection Standards, a rule that is meant to “assure that no pesticide is applied so as to contact, either directly or through drift, any worker or other person, other than an appropriately trained and equipped handler.”

However California Attorney General Xavier Becerra stands firm that the change to the rules is illegal.

“The Trump Administration’s decision to undercut existing public health protections for these workers is not only reprehensible — it’s illegal. We’re going to court to prove it,” Becerra said in a press release.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh also expressed his distaste for the rule change.

“It is EPA’s job to protect farmworkers, their families and others who are exposed to pesticides,” Frosh said in a press release. “These regulations prioritize killing bugs over protecting people.”

The EPA has most recently faced pushback for its failure to ban certain pesticides, such as chlorpyrifos, which many states have banned, including California. The EPA opted to allow the pesticide to be used on commercial crops last year per an order from the Ninth Circuit. 

Earlier this month it announced new rules for using chlorpyrifos, which is particularly toxic to children, calling for more protective gear to be worn by those using it.

The EPA declined to comment on the suit, noting they do not comment on pending litigation.

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