The Associated Press WASHINGTON (AP) — For 37 mostly female farmworkers in California’s Central Valley, U.S. policy under Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt became personal not long after sunup one day in May 2017.
Picking cabbage that morning, the workers noticed a tarry smell drifting from a nearby orchard. Mouths and lips tingled or went numb. Throats went dry. Soon some workers were vomiting and collapsing.
Officials in California’s farm-rich Kern County, where the workers fell ill, concluded that the harvesters were reacting to a pesticide, chlorpyrifos, misapplied at the neighboring orchard.
Five weeks before, in one of his first acts at the EPA, Pruitt had reversed an Obama-era initiative to ban all food crop uses of the pesticide, which damages the brain and nervous system of fetuses and young children and has been prohibited as a household bug-killer since 2001.
While the new ban would not have gone into effect by the time of the Central Valley incident, Pruitt’s action postponed any further consideration of barring the popular bug-killer on food crops at least through 2022. Chlorpyrifos is crucial to agriculture, and the farms using it need “regulatory certainty,” Pruitt’s EPA said in announcing his March 2017 decision, using a phrase that would become a watchword for his business-friendly environmental rulings.
In all, the Trump administration has targeted at least 45 environmental rules, including 25 at the EPA, according to a rollback tracker by Harvard Law School’s energy and environment program. The EPA rule changes would affect regulation of air, water and climate change, and transform how regulatory decisions are made.
Pruitt, who resigned Thursday after months of ethics scandals, announced many of the policy changes quickly, and former EPA officials and environmental group predict that his proposed rollbacks will be vulnerable to court challenges.
“The world is focusing on Pruitt and his indiscretions, but they’re minuscule when you look at the impact of that change” on decision-making, said Chris Zarba, who quit this year as coordinator of two of the agency’s science advisory panels.
He was referring to allegations, now the subject of several federal investigations, about Pruitt’s lavish spending on travel and security, including a $43,000 soundproof telephone booth, and claims that he misused his office for personal gain, including seeking a fast-food franchise for his wife.