In his latest weekly radio address, President Obama talked about jobs. "Too many Americans whose livelihoods have fallen prey to the worst recession in our lifetimes - a recession that cost our economy 8 million jobs - still wonder how they'll make ends meet," he said. Then Mr. Obama called for special measures to create more employment.
If the president means what he says, he may want to take a second look at the recent behavior of his own Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Several months ago, the EPA startled farmers with its decision to conduct an unplanned review of atrazine, a crop-protection herbicide we've been using for a half-century. Not only did the EPA jump the schedule to institute this year's review (in 2006, the EPA finished a 12-year reapproval process and review, reporting that atrazine posed "no harm"), one top agency official recently announced that the EPA would be reaching a decision in September, many months ahead of schedule.
It's been said that no molecule has received more intensive study than atrazine. Regulators have allowed it on the market because it's a safe product that does an excellent job of killing harmful weeds that would have reduced yields of field crops.
There has been increased concern that the EPA is taking its marching orders from special-interest groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which has called for a complete ban of atrazine. This activist organization doesn't have any scientific data to suggest that atrazine is unsafe. It's just a radical outfit that despises modern technology.
What would happen if the EPA were to accept the demands of the NRDC and outlaw atrazine? Don Coursey of the University of Chicago studied the question from an economic perspective. Using an economic model, he estimated that farming costs would increase so much that as many as 48,000 workers could lose their jobs in the corn industry alone. Additional losses would rip through the sorghum and sugar cane sectors.
It makes you wonder if anyone at the EPA has taken a look at the unemployment rate. This year, it has hovered around 10 percent. That doesn't count the number of people who have stopped searching for work. And it's even higher in many of the rural areas that depend on agriculture for their economic survival.
Mr. Obama discusses the jobs crisis at almost every opportunity - not just in his weekly radio address. "To every American who is looking for work, I promise you, we are going to keep on doing everything that we can. I will do everything in my power to help our economy create jobs and opportunity for all people," he said recently.
Yet a significant byproduct of an ideological crusade against atrazine would be the destruction of thousands of jobs.
None of this is to say that we should ignore safety or conservation. Quite the opposite. We need a regulatory process based on sound science - one that investigates every possible avenue of inquiry, no matter where it leads. If a product hurts human health or places an undue burden on the environment, it should not be approved for commercial use.
At the same time, our regulatory system must resist political mischief. If it doesn't, American farmers will find themselves in the sorry position of many of our European friends - watching the rest of the world adopt technologies that we reject because special-interest groups have applied pressure.
One of the great ironies of the push to demonize atrazine is that it's conducted in the name of environmentalism. Yet the loss of this product would hurt the environment. Without atrazine, farmers would have to find new ways to control weeds. Most would begin to till their land more intensely, producing additional soil erosion. It also would require a lot more time behind the wheels of tractors - and that would generate more so-called greenhouse gases.
This isn't a tough call. Atrazine is a thoroughly vetted product. It has been endorsed by scientific and regulatory agencies in the United States and all over the world. Banning it would toss thousands of Americans out of work and place more stress on the environment - and not produce even a tiny bit of good in return.
If the White House cares about farmers and workers, it will put a quick end to this foolish attack on crop protection.
Bill Horan grows corn, soybeans and grains in northwestern Iowa and is a member of the Truth About Trade & Technology Global Farmer Network.
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