Attack of the Killer Weeds

Pesticide Hypocrisy on Capitol Hill

December 14, 1999

Attack of the Killer Weeds: Foreword


Hypocrisy on Capitol Hill? Not exactly a stop-the-presses rarity, we admit. But the example documented in this report has a quality and scale that distinguish it, in our view at least, from the day-to-day dissimulation and doublespeak the public has come to expect from politicians in Washington. We are talking about hypocrisy in the service of pesticide companies and at the expense of the health and safety of America's kids.

The story begins three years ago when, with front-page fanfare, both the House and Senate unanimously passed a landmark law to tighten pesticide regulation in order to protect children. At the time politicians of every stripe bragged about their support for the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 (FQPA). Republicans, in particular were strenuous in calling voters' attention to the new law. They saw FQPA as voting booth balm to soothe political wounds they had inflicted on themselves in the early months of the Gingrich revolution, before their many votes against the environment came to be seen as a serious electoral liability, especially with women voters.

By the end of 1999, however, dozens of "pro-FQPA" legislators in both parties have endorsed a bill that for all intents and purposes repeals FQPA. The bill would severely hamstring and delay the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from enforcing FQPA. Why the turnabout? Because pesticide companies have demanded it. And they sweetened the demand with sacks of re-election money.

The pesticide industry never much liked the law, though they have become more candid about their views in the past year. They especially do not like the way the EPA has begun to implement it in ways that could be very good for kids, but very bad for the pesticide business. Industry's lobbyists have mounted a disturbingly effective campaign to stop the law's implementation (an effort painstakingly detailed in a five-part series by the Portland Oregonian available by visiting the paper's home page,

Not wanting to suggest they oppose protecting children, pesticide companies have instead supplied politicians with a sound bite, attacking EPA at every turn for failing to use "sound science" and insisting that the agency forestall all regulatory action until pesticide companies have submitted endless more studies and "real world data" on health and safety effects. These arguments undergird he bill to weaken FQPA.

It turns out that many of these same politicians have lobbied EPA on behalf of chemical companies and farmers to permit the "emergency" use of dozens of pesticides, even though the health effects of the chemicals have not been fully studied, on crops that routinely end up on kids' plates. In a number of cases the emergency has consisted of weeds sprouting in farmers' fields year after year after year.

That's the hypocrisy EWG analyst Todd Hettenbach uncovered when he pored through reams of publicly available congressional correspondence to EPA from recent years. Politicians vote to protect kids with tougher pesticide regulation. Then they pressure EPA to allow incompletely tested pesticides to be sprayed on apples, pears, potatoes and other foods kids eat every day -- a hurried behind-the-scenes process that circumvents standard regulatory procedures. And then they rake in reelection money from the coalition of pesticide and agribusiness groups that wrote the bill that would destroy the original law protecting kids.

And what do they call this bill?

"The Regulatory Openness and Fairness Act of 1999."

We hereby submit it and its supporters as our entry in the Congressional Hypocrisy Hall of Shame.

Kenneth A. Cook
Environmental Working Group
Washington, D.C.