Aug. 22, 2019
An environmental group is suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for its decision to expand use of a pesticide the agency considers toxic to bees.
In July the EPA said it would allow sulfoxaflor to be used in ways barred during the Obama administration as well as on new crops where the pesticide had not been used before.
“Even for Trump’s EPA, which seems to measure success by pesticide-company profits, it’s stupefying to OK spraying a bee-killing poison across millions of acres of crops frequented by bees,” Lori Ann Burd, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s environmental health program, said in a statement. “While leading scientists and countries across the globe are calling for eliminating harmful bee-killing pesticides like sulfoxaflor, Team Trump is cheerfully promoting its use like a corporate PR firm. It’s nauseating.”
Burd said the pesticide will harm not just bees and butterflies but also plants that rely on them for pollination.
The EPA would not comment on the lawsuit but said the pesticide "provides benefits to growers and is supported by strong science that shows minimal risks for pollinators."
In previous documents, the EPA described sulfoxaflor as “very highly toxic” to bees, and a study published in Nature last year found sulfoxaflor inhibited bumblebee reproduction.
In a July call with reporters to announce the decision, a top EPA official emphasized the agency’s research on the pesticide's effects on bees and said the rule was designed with pollinators in mind.
“To reduce exposure to bees, the product label will have crop-specific restrictions and important pollinator protection language,” including limits on how close to bloom sulfoxaflor can be sprayed, the official said.
But it may be difficult to monitor whether the regulations spare bees as intended. Just before EPA’s decision on sulfoxaflor, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it was suspending one of the few remaining government data sets that monitor bee populations and loss.
The center’s suit, filed in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, argues the EPA failed to compile “substantial evidence” as required under law before approving sweeping new uses of sulfoxaflor. They say the EPA also failed to consult with other agencies to ensure the new regulation wouldn’t harm endangered species.
The suit is not the first on the pesticide.
It was temporarily barred after a lawsuit from beekeepers in 2015, pushing the EPA in 2016 to change its instructions for how to use the pesticide in a way designed to reduce the harm to bees.
EPA said it was spurred to reconsider uses of sulfoxaflor following numerous emergency requests from states — many of which the agency granted — to allow the use of the pesticide on certain crops. It contends sulfoxaflor is safer than the alternatives.
The regulation allows farmers to once again use sulfoxaflor on citrus, cotton and types of squash, and the pesticide can now be used on alfalfa, corn, cocoa, grains and pineapple, among others, for the first time.
In some cases, farmers will not be able to spray sulfoxaflor within three days of bloom, but bee activists say the pesticide can remain in the soil and harm bees.
Bees are key in the production of almost a third of U.S. crops, spurring a commercial bee industry that brings colonies from field to field to pollinate farmers’ fields.
The EPA said the economic plight of farmers was a factor in its decision. The agency said growers could see net revenue losses of up to 50 percent if they aren't able to use the pesticide.
But Burd said pesticides like sulfoxaflor are dangerous to bees because they attack the nervous system, causing bees to get confused and diminishing their appetite.
“They don’t respond as well to predators ... cognitive loss is causing them to die as they get lost in the field,” she told The Hill previously.