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EPA Administrator Met Privately with Dow Chemical CEO Before Reversing Pesticide Ban

By Leon Kaye


Update: The AP is reporting that the scheduled meeting never happened. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s schedule showed he was slated to meet with Dow CEO Andrew Liveris on March 9 for about a half-hour at a Houston hotel. Rachelle Schikorra, a spokeswoman for Dow, said the formal meeting “never happened due to schedule conflicts.”

According to the Associated Press, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt met privately with Dow Chemical’s CEO Andrew Liveris during an early March conference held in Houston. Less than three weeks later, Pruitt announced that he would deny a petition filed to prohibit Dow’s chlorpyrifos pesticide from being sprayed on agricultural products.

When the EPA made its final decision on chlorpyrifos March 29, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) attacked the ban reversal, insisting that the pesticide has links to the increased risk of behavioral problems and learning disabilities in children. “Pruitt’s decision contradicts the guidance from experts within the agency itself, reflecting a stark refusal to follow the science,” the NRDC said in a terse public statement that same day.

The NRDC has long maintained that exposure to low levels of the pesticide comprises a serious public health threat.

Despite Pruitt’s reversal, the EPA still publicly disclosures risks related to chlorpyrifos, which has been used for agricultural and other uses since 1965. Dow has marketed the chemical, branded as Lorsban, since 1972. The EPA acknowledges that high doses of the pesticide can overstimulate the central nervous system, cause symptoms such as nausea and dizziness and in high doses can lead to respiratory paralysis and even death.

But even though there is evidence that residues of chlorpyrifos on food and in drinking water have appeared exceeding the safety standards set by the U.S. Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act (FFDCA), the EPA defended its March decision. “No-spray buffers around surface water bodies,” as well as reductions in overall agricultural use, were enough to reduce the “environmental burden” of chlorpyrifos.

“We will continue to review the science addressing neurodevelopmental effects of chlorpyrifos as part of the ongoing registration review,” concluded the EPA, noting that it had until October 1, 2022 to amend this decision.

Dow Chemical, in addition to some scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) insist that exposure to chlorpyrifos at levels set by the EPA is safe. "Dow AgroSciences remains confident that authorized uses of chlorpyrifos products offer wide margins of protection for human health and safety," spokesman David Sousa told CNN in late March. "This is the right decision for farmers who, in about 100 countries, rely on the effectiveness of chlorpyrifos to protect more than 50 crops."

Incidentally, last month Dow was named as one of the EPA’s “Safer Choice Partner of the Year” for its “increasing confidence in chemical technology” and being at the “forefront” of developing sustainable and safer alternatives” to other chemicals on the market.

Discussion over the science of whether exposure to chlorpyrifos is safe or risky notwithstanding, what is more than just raising eyebrows is yet another example of the Trump Administration’s cozy relationship with selective leaders of the U.S. business community. The EPA has strenuously denied that chlorpyrifos was a topic of discussion between Pruitt and Liveris, but some observers are not buying that line.

One who objects to the administration's actions around the time Pruitt and the EPA reached a decision on chlorpyrifos is Rhett Jones of the tech blog Gizmodo. Jones pointed out that when Trump signed an executive order declaring that for every new regulation created, two must be eliminated, Liveris was the recipient of one of the pens used at the signing ceremony. Dow also reportedly donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration fund. Not that this administration cares about how it conducts itself, but once again, the optics look bad – especially when considering that when the EPA was asked about the decision in April, a spokesperson for the agency denied any such meeting occurred in the first place.

Image credit: Roy Luck/Flickr

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye