Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration said Wednesday it is moving to “phase out” use of chlorpyrifos, a harmful pesticide used on food crops.
But advocates who for the third year are pushing for a state law banning chlorpyrifos accused the governor of attempting to block that legislation. It is set for a vote in a Senate committee later this week, and a key lawmaker said he expects it to pass.
Agriculture Secretary Joe Bartenfelder said the state is launching a process of developing “reasonable and responsible regulations that will accelerate the phase out of chlorpyrifos."
“This is in the best interest of the agriculture industry and the environment, and will protect the independence and integrity of our robust science-based regulatory framework while providing farmers time to identify alternative or replacement products," he said in a statement.
A coalition of environmental and public health advocates that have been pushing the state to outlaw chlorpyrifos did not welcome the move. They said the regulatory process could drag on for years and include exemptions that would allow chlorpyrifos exposure to persist. The pesticide has been linked to neurologic issues, autism and cancer in children, as well as breast cancer in women.
“The Hogan Administration’s sudden change of heart in favor of considering regulating the toxic pesticide chlorpyrifos is surprising, after three years of active opposition to legislation that would ban it," the Smart on Pesticides Coalition said in a statement. “The legislation that Maryland lawmakers have been working to pass would provide certainty about when, where, and how Maryland would finally ban chlorpyrifos. No regulatory attempt by [the Department of Agriculture] would provide such certainty or an immediate ban.”
For the third straight year, bills are pending in both the state Senate and House of Delegates to ban chlorpyrifos. One cleared the House last year, but it failed to advance out of committee in the Senate.
That chamber’s politics have shifted since to the left, and Sen. Paul Pinsky, a Prince George’s County Democrat who chairs the committee considering the bill, said he expects the panel to approve the measure on Thursday or Friday. Lead sponsors Del. Dana Stein, a Baltimore County Democrat, and Sen. Clarence Lam, a Democrat representing Baltimore and Howard counties, pledged to continue pursuing its passage.
“[The department’s] announcement reinforces the need for legislation because it recognizes that chlorpyrifos is dangerous, and that’s why I believe that it must be banned,” Lam said in a statement.
Jason Schellhardt, a spokesman for the state agriculture department, said the administration is not taking a position on the legislation, adding that farmers continue to rely on chlorpyrifos in fighting some pests.
Pinsky questioned why the department didn’t discuss its phase-out plans at a bill hearing earlier this month.
“What changed in two weeks?” he said. “It’s to undercut the legislation.”
Farmers and golf course managers have said they use chlorpyrifos sparingly, and that it is helpful when used in rotation with other pesticides to which insects can build resistance. It has been used since the 1960s, though its use was curtailed in the 2000s to reduce exposure in homes, public spaces and streams. It is approved for use on corn, soybeans, fruit trees and other crops, on golf courses, and on utility poles.
But evidence that the chemical is dangerous to humans has continued to grow. The Environmental Protection Agency moved to ban chlorpyrifos in 2015.
The agency began a process to reverse that decision two years later, after President Donald Trump took office.