NRDC Sued to Force Administration to Release Documents
WASHINGTON (December 16, 2003) - Former Senator Bob Dole lobbied a high-ranking White House official to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from restricting the use of a hazardous weed-killer, according to White House documents recently obtained by NRDC (the Natural Resources Defense Council). The White House released the documents after NRDC sued to force disclosure of all records of industry interference with EPA's assessment of atrazine, the most widely used weed-killer in the country.
In the final weeks leading up to a crucial EPA decision about atrazine's safety, Dole met with White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin as part of a pesticide industry lobbying effort to prevent any restrictions on the herbicide. Dole's September 24 memorandum urged the White House to ignore public health and environmental concerns raised by NRDC, and to pressure EPA to make an announcement of atrazine's safety as quickly as possible.
The pesticide industry's lobbying efforts succeeded: EPA announced on October 31 that agribusiness could continue to use atrazine, despite the fact that the herbicide has contaminated drinking water and streams across the country. Further, the agency announced that it would entrust Syngenta, atrazine's leading manufacturer, with the responsibility for monitoring waterways for contamination. The company's stock price immediately jumped after EPA's decision.
"This memo is further proof that Bush administration officials and pesticide industry lobbyists met behind closed doors to work out an agreement on atrazine that would benefit the industry's bottom line," said NRDC attorney Aaron Colangelo. "EPA's decision about atrazine's safety should have been based on science. Instead, it appears the White House and high-powered lobbyists forced a political decision that will threaten the health of millions of Americans."
The European Union recently announced it will ban atrazine over the next 18 months because of its risks. The chemical already is banned in at least four European countries and is tightly restricted in Switzerland, Syngenta's home country.
A number of scientific studies link atrazine to high rates of prostate and other cancers in human beings and sexual deformities in frogs. Despite this scientific evidence, atrazine continues to be used heavily in the United States, especially on corn, sorghum, sugarcane and golf courses. (See June 2003 NRDC backgrounder for more information).
The Dole memo was one of a small number of documents the White House released after NRDC sued to force disclosure of records related to the pesticide industry's atrazine lobbying. The White House refused to release 83 documents, and "redacted," or blacked out, most of contents of the 22 documents it recently handed over to NRDC as a result of the suit. Colangelo said NRDC would continue to press for disclosure of all relevant documents.
NRDC filed the lawsuit against the White House and EPA under freedom of information laws in November. Public Citizen is representing NRDC in the case, NRDC v. White House Office of Management and Budget, et al., No. 03 CV 02345 (D.D.C.). Dole's memo was released by the White House's Council on Environmental Quality. (For a pdf file of the memo, contact Elizabeth Heyd at 202-289-2424 or [email protected].)
The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 550,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Related NRDC Pages
Toxic Herbicide Atrazine Contaminating Water Supplies, While EPA Cuts Special Deal with Manufacturer
October 14, 2003, EPA Failing To Protect Public from Weed-Killer's Cancer Threat, Says NRDC
October 31, 2003, EPA Refusal to Restrict Atrazine Despite Health Threat Ignores Scientific Evidence, says NRDC