State grain group director says atrazine suit subpoenas are intimidation

By Jennifer M. Latzke

Speak and you shall be heard.

Speak too loudly in support of farmers safely using atrazine and you’ll be subpoenaed. At least that’s how Jere White, executive director of the Kansas Corn Growers Association and Kansas Grain Sorghum Producers Association explains it.

In September White spoke out in support of atrazine during the Environmental Protection Agency’s Atrazine Science Advisory Panel in Washington, D.C. A day after his testimony and the publishing of a subsequent column he wrote about the harassment tactics lawyers have used to intimidate growers over atrazine, White was served with subpoenas for KCGA, KGSP and for himself as an individual in regard to the state lawsuit Holiday Shores Sanitary District v. Syngenta Crop Protection, Inc. and Growmark, Inc. A fourth subpoena for the Triazine Network, of which White is chairman, was issued after he spoke out in a blog posting about the previous three.

A state lawsuit

The Illinois state lawsuit began in 2003, White explained, when EPA determined it would move forward with the re-registration of atrazine, a chemical farmers use for weed control on corn and grain sorghum. In 2004 Holiday Shores filed a suit over standards for atrazine presence in drinking water. The attorneys in the case are what White refers to as “activist attorneys.”

“These folks are not just attorneys with a case, but are attorneys with an activist bias,” White said. “Steven Tillery, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, did an Earth Day press release in 2009 that said this wasn’t just about trying atrazine in the court of public law but in the court of public opinion. We think the decision for a lawsuit was made when it was clear the EPA was going to allow the continued safe use of the product under their determinations.” Despite 50 years of scientific data, regulation and review, this and a federal lawsuit put the fate of atrazine’s approval in the hands and at the whim of a judge, he added.

A federal case

On March 8 Tillery and his Dallas-based partner, the law firm of Baron & Budd, filed a lawsuit in the Southern District of Illinois on behalf of 17 cities in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Ohio and Missouri asking for Syngenta to pay for water filtration in their communities. Plaintiffs in the High Plains Journal/ Midwest Ag Journal area include Creston, Iowa, and Carbondale, Dodge City, Marion, Miami County, Oswego and Plains, Kan.

White pointed out that it’s interesting to note that a similar federal lawsuit was dismissed in 1999 because the judge ruled that removing safe and approved levels of atrazine from drinking water was unnecessary.

“We are disturbed cities like Dodge City and Plains would go this direction, mainly because they have no atrazine issue in their water,” White said. “And, they aren’t treating for an issue they don’t have now, but they still want money for treatment, even though their water meets all standards.” Most important, he asked, if these cities have to comply with regulations for their own discharges of water, which are based on scientific facts, then why isn’t it OK that the same science says the levels of atrazine in the water are not close to any levels of concern?

Read the rest of this article from the High Plains Journal here.