The Environmental Protection Agency has 90 days to decide whether to allow farmers to continue using the pesticide chlorpyrifos, a federal court ordered Friday.
The 9th U.S. Circuit of Appeals issued the mandate at the request of environmental and labor groups, and seven states, including Washington and California, and the District of Columbia.
They claim chlorpyrifos must be prohibited because exposure causes unacceptable health risks, especially to young children. The court didn't rule on whether chlorpyrifos was safe, but it did say EPA must revisit its 2017 decision not to ban the pesticide.
"We commend the court for this ruling as it forces the EPA to stop stalling," Earthjustice attorney Patti Goldman said in a written statement.
Chlorpyrifos, which kills a variety of insects and worms, has been registered for use since 1965. It's used on more than 50 crops and has been effective and safe, according to farm groups and the USDA.
Anti-pesticide groups petitioned the EPA in 2007 to ban chlorpyrifos. The Obama EPA wrestled with the petition and proposed a ban, but ultimately punted the final decision to the Trump EPA.
While denying the petition, the EPA said it was continuing to review whether the pesticide is safe. The assessment is due to be completed in 2022.
The environmental and labor groups have continued to press in court for a ban, or at least force the EPA to move up its decision.
Friday's order will require the EPA to uphold or retract its reasons for rejecting the 2007 petition. At the time, the EPA said the science was unsettled.
"We are reviewing the court's order and will be taking final action on the administrative objections before the agency within 90 days," EPA spokesman James Hewitt said in a written statement.
A three-judge 9th Circuit Court panel last year ordered EPA to ban chlorpyrifos. The ruling was vacated, however. The EPA asked for a new hearing in front of 11 judges. At that hearing, in March, an EPA lawyer told judges the agency could meet a 90-day deadline.