SAN FRANCISCO—Center for Food Safety (CFS) filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit today against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for unlawfully withholding records about the impacts of dicamba, a major agricultural pesticide.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District court of Northern California, alleges that EPA withheld public records from an agency report showing that control measures in its 2020 dicamba registration decision failed to reduce the number, severity, or geographic extent of dicamba-related incidents compared to prior seasons.
"EPA's attempt to stifle the release of critical information on dicamba damage during the 2021 growing season reflects the agency's pattern of thwarting the public's access to information under FOIA," said Meredith Stevenson, staff attorney at Center for Food Safety. "The public deserves to know how EPA arrived at its decision last winter not to cancel or at least further restrict dicamba usage in light of the continuing widespread damage."
In June 2022, CFS submitted a FOIA request to EPA, seeking documents referenced in the agency's December 2021 report on dicamba. The EPA has yet to produce any records, prompting CFS to now sue under FOIA law.
The lawsuit comes amid CFS and allies' ongoing lawsuit challenging the legality of EPA's 2020 registration of over-the-top dicamba pesticide uses on dicamba-resistant cotton and soybeans.
A year after EPA's 2020 registration of dicamba, the agency issued a report admitting that more than one million acres of soybean crops were reported damaged in summer 2021—and that this was a major underestimate since most pesticide drift damage is not reported.
The agency noted damage to many other crops including beets, rice, sweet potato, peanuts, grapes, vegetables, cucurbits such as melon and squash, fruit trees, cranberries, cotton, tree nurseries, and timber, as well as harm to landscape plants, home gardens, non-fruit trees, and native plant species. This damage occurred on diverse properties including university research farms, cemeteries, churchyards, state fish and game properties, state natural areas, city and state parks, county and state roads, and included over 150,000 acres of national wildlife refuge lands.
EPA also admitted that at least 63 counties nationwide that are home to endangered species vulnerable to the pesticide's effects were harmed by dicamba drift this summer. The agency acknowledged that dicamba use continues to socially impact communities by harming relationships amongst neighbors and spurring threats of violence.
A coalition of farming and environmental groups led by CFS sued EPA in 2017, successfully arguing its approval of dicamba violated environmental laws. In June 2020, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rescinded EPA's dicamba approvals in a precedent-setting ruling. But the Trump Administration then re-approved dicamba in October 2020, just days before the presidential election. The coalition is currently challenging that decision. EPA subsequently admitted that the original dicamba approval was politically tainted, with politics trumping science and law, but has continued to defend its 2020 decision re-approving the pesticide.
CFS is committed to ensuring the public has access to information concerning government regulation of food production. CFS's FOIA program is committed to upholding the principles embodied in FOIA, such as maintaining an open and transparent government.
What is it
Dicamba is a plant-killing pesticide (herbicide) introduced in the 1960s that kills flowering plants of all sorts…