Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried John Raoux / AP

By John Haughey/The Center Square

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a 2022 Democratic candidate for governor, is praising a federal panel’s repeal of federal approval for a pesticide growers say is pivotal in the state’s $8.6 billion citrus industry’s battle with the greening disease.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia last week overturned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) January approval of the use of aldicarb in the production of Florida oranges and grapefruit.

The EPA’s decision drew legal challenges in federal court from the Center for Biological Diversity, the Environmental Working Group, and the Farmworker Association of Florida, which argued aldicarb threatens the health of workers and wildlife.

In its ruling last week, the appellate panel found that the EPA issued its approval in January without proper review and public comment.

The EPA in April had asked to reevaluate with an Endangered Species Act (ESA) determination but did not want aldicarb’s approval reversed.

In a two-page order, the panel granted plaintiffs “vacatur.”

“Vacatur is further warranted in light of the seriousness of the admitted error and the error’s direct impact on the merits of the EPA’s registration decision given the agency’s finding as to the acute toxicity of aldicarb,” it said.

“In addition,” the order continued, “vacatur would not result in material disruption because aldicarb has not been authorized for use on oranges and grapefruit in Florida for nearly a decade and because at present the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has denied intervenor’s (AgLogic’s) application for state registration for the use of aldicarb on oranges and grapefruit.”

Florida first approved Aldicarb for use on oranges in 1978 under then-manufacturer Bayer CropScience’s registration, which has not been renewed since 2010.

In 2017, the state-approved AgLogic Chemical, LLC’s brand of aldicarb for the production of cotton and peanuts. In April, the state under Fried denied AgLogic’s application to use the pesticide, spurring the company to sue.

Fried said the ruling vindicates the state’s denial of AgLogic’s application and her continued opposition to aldicarb.

“This ruling acknowledges that the Trump administration’s registration of aldicarb violated federal law and that the pesticide’s environmental effects would remain unconsidered for years to come,” Fried said. “I remain fully committed to working with Florida’s proud citrus growers to support solutions for our state’s signature crop without risking human, animal, and environmental health.”

But Florida Citrus Mutual (FCM) and the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association (FFVA), and others in the state’s agricultural industry, maintain aldicarb is effective in combating citrus greening disease.

Florida citrus growers’ most pervasive challenge over the last decade has been combating greening disease, or citrus huanglongbing (HLB), an “unculturable bacteria” that originated in China and was imported from Brazil.

The FCM and FFVA filed friend-of-the-court briefs in April on behalf of the EPA, maintaining “the iconic Florida orange and its cousin the Florida grapefruit are being quickly annihilated” by citrus greening.

“Florida’s citrus sector stands at the deadly brink. (The EPA’s) conditional registration of aldicarb is a scientifically valid means of saving much of what remains of Florida’s citrus production,” the brief filed in the federal appeals court said.

AgLogic said it was “extremely disappointed” in the ruling and that it is considering its “next steps.”

“The Court’s decision centered on procedural Endangered Species Act (ESA) compliance issues and did not disagree with EPA’s registration decision on any other grounds,” AgLogic said. “Virtually all pesticides in Florida have the same ESA issue, yet our product was singled out. Unfortunately, this means that the threatened citrus industry may not have this critical tool to fight the disease that is devastating their crops.”

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