Federal Court Orders EPA to Ban Pesticide

Published October 29, 2018

A federal appeals court ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to impose a ban on the pesticide chlorpyrifos.

Arguing research indicates chlorpyrifos poses a danger to human health, environmental activists filed petitions asking EPA to ban the pesticide, which the agency proposed doing in 2016.

In 2017, under then-new EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, the agency reversed course, denying the petitions and deciding not to ban chlorpyrifos. In announcing the decision, Pruitt noted farmers have used chlorpyrifos safely for decades and that in 2016, under President Barack Obama, EPA’s own science advisory panel found the main study environmental groups cited in their petition to ban the pesticide was seriously flawed.

The federal appeals court said Pruitt’s decision was unjustified, ruling the relevant law requires EPA to proceed with the ban.

In a two-to-one decision, on August 9, a three judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled EPA violated provisions established in the 1938 Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act requiring the agency to ban any pesticide found to harm human health if it is ingested on food.

‘No Sound Science’ Behind Ban

Angela Logomasini, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News, says Pruitt was on solid scientific ground when he halted the Obama-era decision to ban the pesticide.

“EPA did not argue the science at the court,” said Logomasini. “They made a procedural argument for reversing the ban, which the court rejected. Maybe EPA should have argued for reversing the ban on the merits, on which point they should prevail because there is no sound science supporting the activists’ claims of health problems related to chlorpyrifos.

“As commonly used, chlorpyrifos is a low-risk pesticide, yet based on a single study, activists claimed it causes birth defects and developmental problems,” Logomasini said. “Despite EPA’s science advisory board saying the study was highly flawed and not useful for drawing conclusions, Obama’s EPA proposed banning chlorpyrifos anyway, a decision EPA, under Trump, tried to reverse.”

‘Quite Crazy’ Order

Chlorpyrifos’ manufacturer, Dow Chemical, is asking the full court to hear an appeal of the panel’s split decision, says Logomasini.

“The court ordering EPA to issue a ban seems to me quite crazy and is certainly not based upon the science,” Logomasini said. “My understanding is Dow Chemical Company, the manufacturer, is asking a larger panel or the full court to review the decision, which came from a somewhat activist three-judge panel, in the hope reason will prevail.”

EPA appealed the decision on September 25, asking the entire Ninth Circuit court to hear the case, putting the ban on hold. The U.S. Department of Agriculture supported EPA’s appeal.

“The costs of an incorrect decision on chlorpyrifos are expected to be high and would cause serious impacts to American farmers working to feed, fuel and clothe the United States and the world,” Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a statement. “For some crops and target pests, chlorpyrifos is the only line of defense, with no viable alternatives.”

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.


Angela Logomasini, “EPA Denial of Chlorpyrifos Ban Sets Pro-Science Precedent,” Competitive Enterprise Institute, August 10, 2017: https://heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/epa-denial-of-chlorpyrifos-ban-sets-pro-science-precedent