"There's a lot of fear, a lot of concern, on the part of a lot of people right now," Workplace Fairness Senior Adviser Paula Brantner said during a Legal Newsline interview. "The people who've been doing all this work on workplace issues and environmental issues, they're wondering if they're going to be pushed out and replaced by people with views more closely matched with those of the new director. I think they're right."
Workplace Fairness is a nonprofit that advocates for the preservation and promotion of employee rights.
Less than a month after November's General election, President-elect Donald Trump announced Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as his pick to head the EPA.
The choice of Pruitt is worrisome to Brantner given his past writings and positions about the EPA. Pruitt's observation in a May 17, 2016, National Review article that the climate change debate is far from settled, his part in a coalition of state attorneys general suing the EPA over its Clean Power Plan, and his LinkedIn Account that claims he "is a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda" was never going to be popular in some quarters.
An example of an EPA activity that might be undone is the agency's complaint against Syngenta Seeds. The EPA is seeking more than $4.8 million in civil penalties over an incident on Kauai Jan. 20, 2016, in which 19 workers entered a field too soon after it had been treated with Lorsban Advanced, an insecticide produced by Dow AgroSciences.
Syngenta is a global Swiss agribusiness and biotechnology company that produces agrochemicals and seeds and conducts genomic research.
"Syngenta has taken responsibility in this matter," Syngenta said in a statement provided to Legal Newsline. "No workers were injured in the incident."
The incident reportedly occurred when 19 workers entered a Syngenta cornfield to tag plants about 20 hours after Lorsban Advanced had been applied to those plants. However, a supervisor who noticed that the restricted entry interval for corn acres treated with Lorsban Advanced is 24 hours, according to its label, ordered workers out of the field. All of the workers washed their hands and took showers after leaving the field and were offered a medical exam, paid for by Syngenta. Ten accepted and three ended up staying overnight in a local hospital for observation but all returned to work the following Monday.
Syngenta reported the incident to the Hawaii Department of Agriculture the day of the incident.
"Since then, Syngenta has worked diligently with EPA to ensure information presented about the incident is factual," the company's statement said.
The EPA's complaint against Syngenta alleges Syngenta Seeds violated federal pesticide regulations.
"Bear in mind, the EPA had revised its policies on pesticides not that long ago," Brantner said. "They had not been revised since 1995. So, will the new director uphold these new standards, will they be enforced moving forward? The probability of that not happening is very high."
Last summer, an EPA hearing over a Syngenta application to extend its use of another pesticide was canceled after the company withdrew that application. Syngenta withdrew the application after the EPA announced its Agricultural Worker Protection Standard Revisions, which included pesticide guidelines. The final rule was effective Jan. 1, 2016, and agricultural employers had until Jan. 2 of this year to comply.
Those EPA revisions are among those that might be targeted under a Pruitt-led agency, Brantner said.
If Pruitt does become head of the EPA, the ramifications will also be felt in other agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Labor, Brantner said, pointing out that her activities with Workplace Fairness often concentrate on the Labor Department. Many of the agencies have set policy and made advances over the course of the Obama presidency, Brantner said.
"Is he going to undo everything, all that hard work, that's been done over the past eight years?" Brantner said. "There's a lot that remains to be seen."