E.P.A. Promised ‘a New Day’ for the Agriculture Industry, Documents Reveal

In the weeks before the Environmental Protection Agency decided to reject its own scientists’ advice to ban a potentially harmful pesticide, Scott Pruitt, the agency’s head, promised farming industry executives who wanted to keep using the pesticide that it is “a new day, and a new future,” and that he was listening to their pleas.

Details on this meeting and dozens of other meetings in the weeks leading up to the late March decision by Mr. Pruitt are contained in more than 700 pages of internal agency documents obtained by The New York Times through a Freedom of Information request.

Though hundreds of pages describing the deliberations were redacted from the documents, the internal memos show how the E.P.A.’s new staff, appointed by President Trump, pushed the agency’s career staff to draft a ruling that would deny the decade-old petition by environmentalists to ban the pesticide, chlorpyrifos.

Chlorpyrifos is still widely used in agriculture — on apples, oranges, strawberries, almonds and many other fruits — though it was barred from residential use in 2000. The E.P.A.’s scientists have recommended it be banned from use on farms and produce because it has been linked to lower I.Q.s and developmental delays among agricultural workers and their children.

Ryan Jackson, Mr. Pruitt’s chief of staff, wrote to another political appointee that he had “scared” the agency’s career staff, suggesting that he had made clear the direction that the political staff wanted to go — and given the career staff explicit verbal orders to prepare documents explaining why the agency had shifted its position.

“I think I did scare them or surprise them,” Mr. Jackson wrote to Samantha Dravis, Mr. Pruitt’s political appointee to oversee E.P.A. policy. “They are getting us information for Friday but they know where this is headed and they are documenting it well.”

As the draft of the order rejecting the ban of the petition was being written, political staff at the E.P.A. continued to organize meetings with agriculture industry officials. An email on March 10 said: “Basic info for meeting. Purpose is to reset relationship with ag leaders.”

(Excerpted from New York Times 8/18/17)