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Oregon Democrats push EPA to justify use of pesticide 'highly toxic' to bees

Oregon Democrats push EPA to justify use of pesticide 'highly toxic' to bees
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Oregon Democrats are asking the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to defend its decision to expand the use of a pesticide considered harmful 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.

But the agency has previously referred to the pesticide as “highly toxic to bees” — something that a number of Oregon Democrats in Congress had noticed.

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The lawmakers are asking the EPA to more fully explain the scientific rationale for their decision by Oct. 9, including its risk assessment of the pesticide for pollinators.

A spokesperson for the EPA said it would respond to the letter through appropriate channels.

The letter follows two recent lawsuits from environmental groups who say the EPA relied too heavily on industry studies when approving sulfoxaflor. 

An EPA official told reporters when the new policy was unveiled that “most of the studies that we used were indeed sponsored by industry. That is common practice in the pesticide program.”

EPA also 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.

Sulfoxaflor was banned by a federal court in 2015 in a suit brought by beekeepers, but the EPA has repeatedly granted emergency exemptions that allow farmers to use the pesticide.

The EPA’s Office of Inspector General wrote in a report last year that the agency did not have processes in place to determine how its emergency measures impact human and environmental health.

The Oregon Democrats also pushed the EPA to “reverse the trend of issuing emergency exemptions” that allow important restrictions on the pesticide to be circumvented.

Updated at 2 p.m.