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Congressional Democrats Request Inquiry into EPA’s Chlorpyrifos Decision
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By Lisa M. Campbell, James V. Aidala, and Margaret R. Graham

On April 27, 2017, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ) sent a letter to Inspector General Arthur Elkins, Jr. at the Office of Inspector General (OIG) at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requesting the OIG to conduct an investigation into EPA’s March 29, 2017, order denying the September 2007 petition of the Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) requesting that EPA revoke all tolerances and cancel all registrations for the pesticide chlorpyrifos.  The letter refers to the March 29, 2017, order as “Administrator Scott Pruitt’s order,” and asks OIG to address questions specifically targeting the rationale, communications, and consideration that Administrator Pruitt took prior to reaching the decision.   

The letter states that Administrator Pruitt's “hasty reversal of this decision … appears not to be based on EPA’s existing recent scientific findings about the risk, or any new information that contradicts the findings about the health and safety risks of chlorpyrifos.”  Further, the letter asserts that “it does not appear to be consistent with the law, which requires that pesticide products cannot be used unless ‘there is reasonable certainty that no harm will result from the aggregate exposure to the pesticide chemical residue.’”

  1. How did Mr. Pruitt reach the decision he announced on March 29, 2017? What was the timeline leading up to this decision? With whom did he communicate within EPA, the White House, or elsewhere in the Administration? With which outside entities did he communicate? Specifically, did Mr. Pruitt have any communication with staff or representatives of Dow Chemical or any pesticide industry trade groups including CropLife America?
  2. What was the rationale for Mr. Pruitt's decision, and why did he reverse an agency decision that had been years in the making? How was this rationale developed? Was it based on any new information or evidence?
  3. Was Mr. Pruitt's decision consistent with the requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act? Did he provide appropriate notice and comment and appropriately consider all relevant comments and information?
  4. Was Mr. Pruitt's decision consistent with the requirements of the FFDCA, which establishes a standard that, to maintain a pesticide tolerance, there must be "reasonable certainty that no harm will result from the aggregate exposure to the pesticide chemical petitition to revoke tolerances.pdf residue"? Has the EPA met the "reasonable certainty [of] no harm" standard in the law? Why did Mr. Pruitt note that chlorpyrifos was "widely used" when he announced his decision? Was this "wid[e] use" a factor in Mr. Pruitt's decision, and, if so, was this appropriate under the law? What other factors were taken into consideration by Mr. Pruitt?
  5. Is the EPA accurately and transparently presenting information to the public with regard to previous EPA actions concerning chlorpyrifos? For example, the EPA website for chlorpyrifos on January 2, 2017 contained information indicating that EPA "proposed to revoke all chlorpyrifos tolerances," and contained a link with detailed information about the health risks and the reasons for the EPA action.  This reference to the proposed ban, and the link to the detailed EPA analysis are no longer available on the chlorpyrifos web page, and the link to the analysis (as of April 3, 201 7) now gives a "Page Not Found" error.

Commentary

This letter not surprisingly continues the debate over the appropriate regulatory status of chlorpyrifos.  Those disappointed by the recent EPA decision, apparently including Senator Warren and Representative Pallone, want to press EPA to explain in more detail not only the reasons for the decision not to revoke chlorpyrifos tolerances at this time, but also the rationale EPA used to rebut what they believe to be the decision-making record that EPA had accumulated over the last two to three years.

The explanation that the arrival of new leadership at EPA with the Administration led to a change in position is perhaps only part of the answer.  The change in Administration did not change the underlying statutory requirements governing EPA’s registration, reregistration, and tolerance decisions, and EPA relied on these requirements as the basis for its decision not to make a decision at this time, as discussed in EPA Denies Petition to Ban Chlorpyrifos.

EPA’s response to any investigation initiated by this letter, as well as the OIG response, will be watched closely by all stakeholders.