This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.
Chlorpyrifos is one of the most widely used pesticides in America, although it has been banned in the European Union. Last week, the Ninth Circuit took the extraordinary step of ordering the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) point-blank to ban or reduce traces of chlorpyrifos in food. A dissenter accused the majority of misreading the statute in question and abusing its discretion by limiting EPA's options so drastically and giving it only 60 days to act. Warning: The majority and dissenting opinions cover 116 pages, so I'll necessarily be leaving out a lot of details and nuances.
Who is right depends partly on how you read the statute and partly on whether EPA was acting in good faith. Judge Bybee thought that EPA had acted in good faith, while the majority clearly thought EPA had been intentionally dragging its feet for 14 years to avoid implementing its statutory mandate.
Given chlorpyrifos' widespread use, it is economically very important. That also means it is likely to be present in many foods. That's a big worry, since there's evidence that exposure to chlorpyrifos before birth can cause neurological problems in …