Gore Slows EPA Pesticide Review
By CURT ANDERSON
.c The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) - Caught between his longtime ties to environmentalists and
the political clout of farmers, Vice President Al Gore sided with agriculture
and the chemical industry by slowing a government review of pesticides.
The decision created a new advisory committee giving farmers and companies
greater input into the pesticide review that holds its first meeting today.
The move came last month after two Democratic congressmen warned Gore that the
possible loss of widely used pesticides was causing an uproar in key political
states like Iowa, Texas, Florida and California.
``There were some in the Environmental Protection Agency that appeared to be
running amok with their decisions on various chemicals,'' said Rep. Charles
Stenholm of Texas, senior Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee.
``(Gore) was getting the credit for these decisions,'' Stenholm added. ``I
don't think anybody that has aspirations for national office wants to take
credit for stopping technology in agriculture.''
Especially when the opposition has clout in virtually every state and
contributed more than $29 million to Democratic and Republican congressional
and presidential campaigns in 1995 and 1996, according to the Center for
Responsive Politics, a private watchdog group that tracks campaign finance
issues. Of that, farm chemical interests contributed more than $2 million.
In late March, Stenholm and Rep. Marion Berry, D-Ark., met with Gore to
describe a brewing revolt among farm and agribusiness organizations over the
future of a class of pesticides known as organophosphates.
These chemicals, sold under brand names including Dursban and Lorsban, have
been used for decades on fruit, vegetables and other crops to kill insects.
They were targeted first under a 1996 law aimed at updating the health effects
of pesticides on people. Some farmers feared the pesticides could be banned as
early as mid-May, right during planting time.
``We didn't believe he was aware of what was going on. As it turned out, he
wasn't,'' Stenholm said of the vice president. ``It was starting to cause
economic problems. With that, it becomes a political problem.''
On April 8, Gore issued an unusual memo directing EPA to work with the
Agriculture Department on the review, keeping in mind several principles,
including use of sound science, guaranteeing farmers a transition period into
alternatives if a chemical is banned and greater input from affected
``President Clinton and I will not waver in our commitment to protecting
children's health,'' Gore said in a statement. ``Nor are we willing to
sacrifice the strength and competitiveness of our agricultural communities.''
The memo resulted in creation of a 50-member advisory panel of representatives
of farm groups, the chemical industry and environmentalists that will meet
four times this summer.
One member, Ken Cook of the Environmental Working Group, an organization that
studies farm issues, said the Gore memo was the result of industry pressure
that began when preliminary EPA decisions on the pesticides appeared likely to
result in their eventual ban.
The new law requires that the health effects of similar chemicals in food be
looked at cumulatively, instead of one by one, and that children be given
``They just didn't like the way it was going,'' Cook said. ``The effect of it
has been slowing down the bureaucrats who are making these decisions.''
There was ``paranoia'' among chemical industry and agriculture groups after a
series of EPA leaks indicated the agency was adopting a strict approach to the
organophosphates, said Jay Vroom of the American Crop Protection Association,
a pesticide industry group, also a panel member.
EPA Deputy Administrator Fred Hansen said there never were plans to cancel any
pesticide uses this spring. But he acknowledged the agency wasn't doing a good
job of communicating clearly what was happening.
Despite the new hurdles, Hansen said EPA hopes to finish its review by August
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