After resisting legislation to ban the chemical for the past few General Assembly sessions, the Maryland Agriculture Department announced Wednesday that it would take steps to phase out chlorpyrifos, a powerful and controversial pesticide used on certain food crops and golf courses.
“In light of the department’s ongoing conversations with farmers, I have directed MDA to convene all interested stakeholders and begin the process of crafting reasonable and responsible regulations that will accelerate the phase out of chlorpyrifos,” Agriculture Secretary Joseph Bartenfelder said in a statement.
“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.”
But with bills to ban chlorpyrifos progressing through the House and Senate, environmental advocates panned the administration’s announcement.
Chlorpyrifos is a nerve-agent pesticide that has been associated with slowing children’s brain development as well along with environmental damage. It is often used by farmers and groundskeepers as a last resort, when other chemicals fail to fight off pests.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took steps to ban the chemical under the Obama administration, but those regulations have been rolled back during the Trump administration.
“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 group Smart on Pesticides Coalition said in a statement. “The Maryland Department of Agriculture’s proposal is not acceptable. MDA is simply not equipped financially or with expertise to develop and defend a regulation banning chlorpyrifos.”
House and Senate committees held hearings last week on bills to ban the pesticide
, but the state Agriculture Department only provided written information and did not weigh in directly on the legislation.
The sponsors of the measures, Sen. Clarence K. Lam (D-Howard) and Del. Dana Stein (D-Baltimore County) issued statements late Wednesday saying they intended to press ahead with their legislation.
“The Department’s proposal for a regulatory phase out could allow for numerous delays, exemptions, and loopholes that result in continued exposure to chlorpyrifos,” Stein said. “EPA scientists have concluded that there is no safe level for use of chlorpyrifos, and that’s why we need to take concrete steps to ban this product now.”
Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee Chairman Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s) said he hoped to bring the bill to a vote in his committee on Friday.
“I would like to because I don’t trust the regulatory process,” he said.