Pesticide Ban Stalls When Critics Claim Feds Should Make Call

Tom Johnson | November 27, 2017 | Energy & Environment
Obama administration recommendation to stop using chlorpyrifos reversed by Scott Pruitt, new head of EPA

The state’s efforts to ban a controversial pesticide stalled when critics questioned whether lawmakers had the expertise to prohibit its use in New Jersey when the issue is still unresolved at the national level.

Bowing to the uncertainty, the Senate Environment and Energy Committee held off action on the bill (S-3405), which would no longer allow the use of chlorpyrifos in the state.

The insecticide, widely used on crops like apples, grapes, and soybeans, is a restricted-use product in New Jersey, and can be purchased and used only by certified and licensed pesticide applicators.

Near the end of the Obama administration, scientists at the federal Environmental Protection Agency recommended the product be banned, a decision reversed by Scott Pruitt, the new EPA administrator. Pruitt cited uncertainties about its impact on human health.

Opponents of the bill, and even some senators on the panel, questioned why the Legislature is moving to ban the product when there are unresolved questions about the science behind a ban.

“There is no scientific proof that it needs to be taken out of our tool box,’’ argued Ed Waters, of the New Jersey Green Industry Council, a trade group. He called the pesticide a safe and effective product.

The proposed ban also drew opposition from the farming community, including Steve Lee IV, a sixth-generation cranberry farmer in Burlington County. “It will put us at a competitive disadvantage,’’ Lee told the committee. “This will absolutely kill New Jersey’s cranberry industry if you do this.’’

Lee said he had no issue with looking at the science behind the use of the pesticide but contended it ought to be done on the national level.

Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Mercer) disputed the argument that a ban should only be considered in Washington, saying it is something that could be done in New Jersey.

Ed Wengryn of the New Jersey Farm Bureau disagreed. “Scott Pruitt made the call … It’s disconcerting to see a legislative committee make a decision that affects a lot of growers in the state,’’ he said.

But Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, urged the committee to act up, saying the reversal by the Trump administration of a nationwide ban is symbolic of its attacks on public health and the environment. “It’s time for New Jersey to step up,’’ he said, citing research that has found too much of the chemical in the food system and blood supplies.

In the end, Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), the chairman of the committee, decided to hold the legislation, at least until its next meeting. An identical bill already has been approved by he Assembly and Solid Waste Committee in May.

Chlorpyrifos, manufactured by Dow Agrosciences, a subsidiary of Dow Chemicals, was voluntarily phased out of residential use in 2001 under an agreement with the EPA.