A new analysis of North Carolina’s primary pesticide regulatory agency at the state Department of Agriculture finds it lacks transparency and accountability, providing woefully weak control of highly toxic substances. That’s what award-winning environmental reporter Lisa Sorg concludes in her latest investigative article for NC Policy Watch.
It’s worth noting up front the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) are among the executive agencies answering to Gov. Roy Cooper. In contrast, the Department of Agriculture is a free-standing executive agency under the control of the separately elected state Commissioner of Agriculture. That commissioner is currently Steve Troxler, who is seeking re-election for another four-year term this November. North Carolina is one of several states which allow a high number of government departments to be controlled by independently elected officials, including the departments of Justice, Labor, Insurance, Treasury, State, Auditor, and Agriculture.
“By negligence or accident, pesticide drift harms humans, bees, fish, waterways, yards, private gardens and neighboring crops each year in North Carolina. However, the true extent of the problem is unknown because the state Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Section, which oversees the investigations, responds primarily to complaints,” Sorg writes.
“Nonetheless, when the Section does learn of an incident, pesticide violators are rarely punished in proportion to their offenses, a Policy Watch analysis of five years of data found. Anemic state standards and a lack of transparency have created a system in which pesticide applicators can violate the law without substantial consequence.”