Trump approves herbicide banned by federal court

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The Trump administration has again approved the use of the weed killer dicamba, skirting a federal judge’s concerns that the chemical threatens other crops and endangered species and that it could be carcinogenic.

Dicamba—which was developed by Monsanto and is now sold by its parent company Bayer—has always been a problematic herbicide. Monsanto began selling dicamba-resistant soybeans before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the use of the chemical itself, giving farmers an invitation to spray the chemical illegally, which some of them did. Trump’s EPA approved dicamba in 2018.

Although farmers enthusiastically embraced the herbicide, spraying it over 60 million acres of crops, evidence has mounted that dicamba is a danger to the environment and human health. In June, a federal court vacated the EPA’s approval of dicamba. The court concluded that the agency failed to consider that the herbicide would inevitably drift beyond the intended fields, and that it posed a substantial risk to sensitive crops, native plants, and vulnerable animal species. In addition, the judge ruled that the required “buffer zone” to protect wildlife and plants around sprayed fields, which the EPA arbitrarily set at 57 feet, had no basis in science.

To get around the court’s order, the Trump administration has now increased the size of that buffer zone, but again, there is very little scientific basis supporting the new measurement. And concerns remain that dicamba presents a cancer risk, particularly for farm workers who come into close contact with the herbicide.

EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler said the agency’s approval of two dicamba-containing herbicides will provide “certainty” to farmers. In fact, all it will do is bring the same litigants back to court. The only way to give farmers regulatory certainty is to base regulations on sound science and law. After four years, the Trump administration still hasn’t figured that out.

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