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Davis, California

Monday, April 15, 2024

Trump’s perverse reverse of chlorpyrifos ban proves his corruption (again)

Why “drain the swamp” when profits from toxic pesticides are on the line?

In the fifth season of Mad Men, Don Draper zealously pitches to executives at Dow Chemical in a desperate plea to prise their business away from a competing advertising agency. When the conversation reaches a perverse point on the virtues of napalm, Draper confidently says, “The important thing is, when our boys are fighting and they need it, when America needs it, Dow makes it, and it works.”

Fictional ad man Don didn’t win Dow’s business, but the real-life Dow Chemical Company certainly won the real-life madman Don. I’m of course referring to our president, Donald J. Trump, who selflessly (cough) accepted a $1 million donation from Dow Chemical for his inauguration committee. He subsequently decided to eliminate an Obama-era rule that would ban chlorpyrifos, a dangerous and poisonous organophosphate pesticide sold by Dow. Chlorpyrifos is one of the most heavily used pesticides on crops throughout the country and is linked with a myriad of health problems for people and animals. Despite this, Trump and his goons have been more than happy to serve at Dow’s behest. One could easily say, “The important thing is, when our boys are lobbying and they need it, when Dow needs it, Donald Trump does it, and it works.”

In other words, Trump is a corrupt cretin. But we knew this much already. This is settled science, so to speak. As Bill Maher recently joked, “The only time corruption bothers Trump is when he’s not in on it.” But Trump said he’d “drain the swamp,” and the chlorpyrifos story is as swampy as it gets. To be fair to Trump, it would’ve been unfair to think he’d actually stick to that silly “drain the swamp” promise. That statement itself probably sounds pretty unfair and, believe me, I want nothing more than to be fair to poor Trump. I really mean that. That’s why I’m obliged to mention the fact that Trump eventually distanced himself from this rhetoric before stacking his cabinet (season one) with former lobbyists, eventually admitting that he never really believed in the slogan — that it was merely an applause line

But those people who applauded deserve more credit than Trump. I’d like to believe that they were genuine in their desire to “drain the swamp” by ridding Washington of the corrupt insiders and lobbyists who are more than happy to sell out the American people. And even if their applause was disingenuous, I’m sure they don’t want to get poisoned from pesticides that make money for people who know their products are poisonous. 

As I previously mentioned, Dow gave Trump’s inauguration committee $1 million. This came right before Dow CEO Andrew Liveris was afforded great access to Trump and other Administration officials. At this point, then-EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt decided to deny a longstanding petition to ban chlorpyrifos given the mounting scientific evidence of its harm. In July of this year, current EPA Secretary Andrew Wheeler formalized the agency’s decision to reverse the proposed ban by the Obama administration. With the courts creating additional confusion, members of the House and Senate introduced bills to ban chlorpyrifos once and for all, but Dow has sprayed about 27 times more campaign cash at bill opponents as compared to bill supporters.

Throughout this process, Dow has influenced the EPA to ignore its own scientists on the danger of chlorpyrifos. Meanwhile, both of Trump’s heads of the Interior Department have intervened to block reports on the extreme negative impacts of chlorpyrifos on endangered species after Dow urged the administration to “set it aside.”

Reviews of Dow’s own chlorpyrifos research show that it is fundamentally flawed, with severe mistakes and omissions throughout. But this is in keeping with the Trump administration’s view on science, which is that it should pre-determine industry-friendly results. New “transparent science” rules will help to do as much. Against the advice of scientists, this will ban the government from making decisions by using scientific studies that cannot be independently reproduced, which means any studies that rely on private and confidential medical data could not be used. This is (for lack of a better word) bad, as the on-the-ground impacts of chlorpyrifos are horrifying

A recent study found that there is no safe level of chlorpyrifos exposure for children. The odor is so foul it can produce headaches, shortness of breath, teary eyes and vomiting, especially for high-exposure groups like schoolchildren and farmworkers.  Pregnant women near fields where the poison is sprayed have an increased risk of having a child with autism. It causes lower IQs, memory problems, decreased lung function and reduced fertility. I could go on.

Technically, this all means that the administration is violating a part of the Food Quality and Safety Act, which states that, “the term ‘safe’, with respect to a tolerance for a pesticide chemical residue, means that the Administrator has determined that there is a reasonable certainty that no harm will result from aggregate exposure to the pesticide chemical residue, including all anticipated dietary exposures and all other exposures for which there is reliable information.” This could result in more litigation against the Trump administration. 

This all sounds pretty damning. But all this information has been out there for some time, and it’s just another addition to Trump’s bed of nails of political scandals. On the bright side, California recently decided to ban chlorpyrifos by 2020.

But on the national level, what happened to the Rachel Carson-powered outrage that produced a national ban on the pesticide DDT? Americans should be in agreement on something as cut and dry as this. This is peak “swamp.” Yet the combined efforts of every cog in the Trump disinformation machine — from his allies at Fox to his media surrogates to his cabinet secretaries — have so far succeeded in obfuscating and even putting a positive spin on what is quite literally one of the most rancid cases of political swamp ass in history.

Written by: Benjamin Porter— bbporter@ucdavis.edu 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie


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