We now have an admission of guilt from EPA that it wrongly issued 2018 dicamba registrations for Bayer's XtendiMax herbicide, BASF's Engenia herbicide and Corteva's FeXapan herbicide. New acting assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Michal Freedhoff said as much to EPA staffers in an internal e-mail on March 10 that read in part:
“In 2018, OCSPP senior leadership directed career staff to: (1) rely on a limited data set of plant effects endpoints; (2) discount specific studies (some with more robust data) used in assessing potential risks and benefits; and (3) discount scientific information on negative impacts. This interference contributed to a court’s vacating registrations based on these and other deficiencies, which in turn impacted growers’ ability to use this product.”
In other words dicamba registrations were not issued on based on scientific merit but the political calculations of the White House perhaps looking to curry favor with farmers ahead of the 2020 election.
Which is pretty much how the courts saw it in taking the shocking step of vacating dicamba during the 2020 growing season:
“The EPA made multiple errors in granting the conditional registrations…the EPA substantially understated the risks it acknowledged, and it entirely failed to acknowledge other risks.”
The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling essentially left dicamba twisting in the wind for the 2021 growing season. That is until the EPA and the same set of bad actors issued new five-year dicamba registrations to Bayer, BASF and Corteva last October. Those new registrations have drawn pending lawsuits from the National Family Farm Coalition, Center for Food Safety, and Center for Biological Diversity and Pesticide Action Network; the same coalition that successfully got dicamba registrations vacated last June.
And even farmers are suing saying spraying requirements are too restrictive.
Given how the EPA and courts have acknowledged EPA's lack of oversight in issuing 2018 dicamba registrations why would anyone think EPA was dealing from the top of the deck when it reissued registrations last October?
Yes there is yet again a new spraying label that EPA hopes will fix dicamba's drifting issues. The label requires dicamba to be mixed with an EPA-approved pH-buffering agent to reduce drift. But EPA has also acknowledged its only 90 percent confident the label changes will work in limiting dicamba spray damage.
Given the new lawsuits and EPA's own hesitancy to say the new dicamba registration label will work would the public not be better served to take a one-year pause on dicamba spraying to take a deep-dive into the science?
Freedhoff implied in early March to pesticide regulators at the annual conference of the Association of American Pesticide Control Officials dicamba will be green lighted for 2021:
“I think we felt like we need a growing season worth of data under our belts to see what happens and make sure the measures put in place in 2020 were the right ones, and we will be better able to assess states' requests after that.”
Pardon me if I am skeptical because the record on dicamba has been dismal. Millions and millions and millions of dollars in damages over the past four growing seasons. Expect more of the same this summer as EPA plunges ahead.
About Dave Dickey
Dickey spent nearly 30 years at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s NPR member station WILL-AM 580 where he won a dozen Associated Press awards for his reporting. For 13 years, he directed Illinois Public Media’s agriculture programming. His weekly column for the Midwest Center covers agriculture and related issues including politics, government, environment and labor. His opinions are his own and do not reflect the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.