Washington Insider-- Wednesday

Glyphosate and Politics

Here's a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN's well-placed observer.

Industry Petitions Supreme Court Over Venue for WOTUS Challenges

A National Association of Manufacturers-led coalition has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether an appeals court or a district court is the right venue to hear challenges to the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS)/Clean Water Rule.

The question before the Supreme Court is whether the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit erred in holding itself as the court to hear 28 challenges to the WOTUS rule "even though the rule does not 'issu[e] or den[y] any permit' but instead defines the waters that fall within Clean Water Act jurisdiction."

That is because 33 U.S.C. S1369(b)(1)(F) applies to very specific Clean Water Act activities, including approvals and denials of effluent limits and discharge permits. "This Court's review is urgently required to determine where jurisdiction lies for the WOTUS Rule challenges, resolve the circuit split on Section 1369(b)'s meaning, and guide the federal courts in their future application of the provision," said the petition filed late Sept. 2.

ETBE Fuel Oxygenate Harms Kidneys, Possible Carcinogen: EPA

Ethyl tertiary butyl ether (ETBE), a fuel oxygenate found in some gasoline-contaminated soils and groundwater, harms kidneys and could cause cancer, according to a draft Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assessment.

The draft toxicological review of ETBE concluded that the chemical shows "suggestive evidence of carcinogenic potential" based on liver tumors found in male rats. Studies of male and female rats also showed ingestion or inhalation of ETBE could harm kidneys, EPA noted.

Petroleum companies used ETBE in U.S. gasoline from 1990 to 2006 to reduce pollution in vehicular exhaust, but other oxygenates, notably methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE), were used more commonly, EPA said. Neither of those oxygenates are still used in the U.S., primarily because of their potential to contaminate groundwater, EPA added.

U.S. ETBE production met 25% of global demand for the chemical in 2012, most was consumed in Western Europe with use in Eastern Europe and Japan also relatively high, EPA noted.

Information from a final ETBE analysis might be used to inform hazardous waste and groundwater cleanups. California maintains a database of contaminated sites that reported ETBE in groundwater at 607 sites between 2010 and 2013, the assessment said.

EPA will host a public science meeting October 23 to discuss ETBE's liver tumors and how that translates to the risk faced by humans. The agency will accept comments on the draft assessment through October 31.

Washington Insider: Glyphosate and Politics

The Hill is reporting this week that one Senate committee and three Congressional committees are demanding a decision from EPA on glyphosate safety. The herbicide is the world's most popular weed killer, and many in Congress think the agency has already found the pesticide to be "safe" and want it to say so publicly.

Glyphosate is under fire from the global environmental movement because it's applied to genetically engineered crops that environmentalists oppose. However, it also is widely and safely used on conventional farms, open spaces and home gardens around the world.

Still, green activists blame the herbicide for many things from honeybee deaths to cancer. In addition, they won a major victory in 2015 when the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the World Health Organization's cancer arm, declared glyphosate to be a probable carcinogen despite limited evidence of human carcinogenicity.

This led to a huge global outcry among scientists and glyphosate users and prompted a re-review by EPA. Last September, the agency's cancer review committee and issued a "final" report which said that glyphosate "is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans" and found no connection to a number of cancers including brain, colon, prostate and lung. The report also raised several concerns with IARCs study, including the use of shoddy data. Over the past year, other agencies including the European Food Safety Authority and WHOs FAO have determined glyphosate is non-carcinogenic.

However, EPA has raised concerns regarding its handling of the report which "could be a major blow to the anti-glyphosate campaign, The Hill says." The agency kept the report under wraps for seven months, then posted it online last April and then removed it a few days later. An EPA spokesman called the posting "inadvertent" and said that the assessment was still ongoing.

Well, that raised plenty of red flags on Capitol Hill, as you can imagine. Rep Lamar Smith, R-Texas, who chairs the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology said that the report's "mishandling may shed light on larger systemic problems occurring at the agency." Smith requested that all documents and emails about the glyphosate report be turned over to the Committee."

The agency did not comply. Last June, EPA administrator McCarthy appeared before Smith's committee which charged that EPA has become an agency in pursuit of a "purely political agenda." McCarthy acknowledged "it is a big deal to deal with glyphosate both in terms of its international context and the importance it has for US agriculture" and that the evaluation should be completed by fall.

It gets worse. In a move many interpret as an additional stall tactic, EPA announced a month later that it would invite another scientific advisory panel in late October — more than a year after the cancer committee report was thought to be finalized.

Smith blasted that development, saying his committee "continues to find evidence that EPA fails to recognize or acknowledge the science that its own agency conducts and instead appears to make politically motivated decisions."

Now, the stakes are high for all involved, The Hill says. Activists are pressing lawmakers here and around the world to curtail glyphosate use and the European Commission recently haggled for months over the relicensing it amid strong opposition from France and Germany. The Commission finally approved glyphosate for 18 months instead of seven years, the original timeframe.

Activists here are also trying to sway public policy. The FDA just announced it will start testing some food for glyphosate residue for the first time and California listed the herbicide on its list of dangerous chemicals. Quaker Oats is being sued for using glyphosate to dry its oats while claiming the oatmeal products are "natural."

All of these efforts hinge on the issue of whether or not glyphosate is dangerous. An EPA imprimatur that the herbicide is safe and doesn't cause cancer would devastate to the legislative and legal arguments against its use here and abroad.

And, it is hard to defend EPA's up and down signals, one of the worst examples of bureaucratic fumbling that comes to mind. However, the problem likely is more complicated than anyone wants and certainly was made much worse by the WHO report that redlined numerous food products commonly used safely, but which may have increased risks when over used. That re-ignited in a modest way the old war over whether appraisals of safety should recognize the importance of dosages.

So, now the issue is hyper-politicized and it is unlikely that Congress will be able to sort it out before the elections, even if it wants to. Still, the outcome is important to producers and should be watched carefully as it evolves Washington Insider believes.

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