Responding to a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, a federal judge has ruled Friday that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) failed to justify withholding more than 140 documents on the harm to protected wildlife, including Whooping Cranes, from the highly toxic pesticide Enlist Duo.
The case involved the EPA’s controversial decision to approve use of Enlist Duo in 16 states even though the agency found the herbicide likely puts dozens of endangered and threatened species at risk.
Thursday’s ruling indicated the EPA must be much more forthcoming in revealing the science that underpins its decisions on pesticides’ harms to endangered plants and animals.
Calling the EPA’s reasons for withholding the documents on Enlist Duo “jumbled and disorganized,” the judge wrote that the agency inspired “little confidence” that it has “adequately kept track of each withheld document or fully considered, let alone explained, the basis for withholdings.”
“When the EPA claims a dangerous pesticide is safe, the agency needs to make its reasoning clear to the public,” said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center. “We’ve got a right to know how the EPA concludes that highly toxic concoctions like Enlist Duo are safe for people and wildlife when research shows otherwise.”
Enlist Duo’s maker, Dow Chemical, pushed the EPA to approve the pesticide to combat the superweed epidemic fueled by overuse of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup.
During research on Enlist Duo, a Center scientist discovered that Dow’s patent applications regarding the pesticide’s two components — 2,4-D and glyphosate — showed synergy, or heightened toxicity, between the two ingredients in 99 out of 99 experimental conditions. Yet after reviewing four Enlist Duo studies provided by Dow to the EPA the agency concluded there is no synergy between glyphosate and 2,4-D.
When the Center requested but failed to receive records of the EPA’s analysis, it was forced to sue the agency for failing to comply with the Freedom of Information Act.
In her ruling Judge Beryl Howell of the District Court for the District of Columbia ordered the agency to better justify why it is shielding the documents from public view or turn over the documents to the Center and the public within 30 days.
The judge rebuked the EPA for withholding what appear to be scientific, factual records as privileged and for failing to provide documents revealing the agency’s communications with industry and states.
The EPA has now expanded approval of Enlist Duo’s use to 34 states.