Energy & Environment

EPA sued again for expanding use of pesticide harmful to bees

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An environmental group is suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over a recent decision to expand the use of a pesticide the agency previously called “very highly toxic to bees.”

The EPA in July expanded the allowed uses of sulfoxaflor, saying the decision was made with pollinators in mind, as the pesticide is less harmful to bees than other alternatives.

In its suit, Earthjustice argues the agency relied too heavily on industry-funded studies when expanding use of the pesticide. 

“It is inappropriate for EPA to solely rely on industry studies to justify bringing sulfoxaflor back into our farm fields,” said Michele Colopy of the Pollinator Stewardship Council, which is being represented by Earthjustice. “Die-offs of tens of thousands of bee colonies continue to occur and sulfoxaflor plays a huge role in this problem. EPA is harming not just the beekeepers, their livelihood, and bees, but the nation’s food system.”

This is the second such suit over the decision, following one in August from the Center for Biological Diversity. 

The suits are just the latest chapter in a long legal saga by beekeepers. 

EPA first approved sulfoxaflor in 2013, but the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision, saying the EPA failed to obtain reliable studies on sulfoxaflor. The EPA reapproved sulfoxaflor in 2016 under the Obama administration, but gave farmers significant restrictions for how they could use the product.

The new rule from the Trump administration lifts those restrictions but also allows sulfoxaflor to be used on new crops.

The EPA said it would not comment on the lawsuit.

But the agency said in July 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. 

When pressed for more information on the studies that showed the new regulations would be safer for bees, an EPA official told reporters, “most of the studies that we used were indeed sponsored by industry. That is common practice in the pesticide program.”

The EPA official noted that companies are required to contract with outside labs and share their data with the EPA.

Companies are expected to cover the costs associated with their applications for approval of a pesticide.

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.

Lori Ann Burd with the Center for Biological Diversity, which also sued over EPA’s decision, 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.

Updated at 2:45.

Tags bees Environmental Protection Agency EPA sulfoxaflor

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