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Environment & Energy Report

EPA Sued Over Decision to Reinstate Bee-Killing Pesticide

Aug. 20, 2019, 7:51 PM

A pair of environmental groups are challenging the Trump administration’s decision to approve use of a bee-killing pesticide on more than 190 million acres of crops.

The Center for Biological Diversity and Center for Food Safety filed a petition in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Aug. 20, over the Environmental Protection Agency’s July 12 decision to re-register sulfoxaflor.

Sulfoxaflor is an insecticide produced by Corteva Agriscience—formerly DowDuPont Inc.—and used to control aphids and other insects.

In 2015, a federal appeals court ordered the agency to remove sulfoxaflor from the U.S. market because of concerns that the chemical is harmful to bees and other pollinators.

“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,” said Lori Ann Burd, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s environmental health program. “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.”

The groups are asking the court to set aside EPA’s July 12, 2019 registration orders, alleging that EPA doesn’t have sufficient evidence to back up its unconditional approval of sulfoxaflor.

The groups also say the agency violated its duties under the Endangered Species Act by failing to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service to ensure that the chemical’s use won’t jeopardize endangered species or habitats.

An EPA spokesman said the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

Pesticide Science

While technically in a different class of chemicals, sulfoxaflor’s mode of action is similar to that of neonicotinoids, a nicotine-based group of pesticides that have also faced intense scrutiny over concerns about harmful impacts on bees.

Sold under the brand names “Closer” and “Transform,” sulfoxaflor’s court-ordered ban followed a lawsuit brought by beekeepers, honey producers, and environmental advocates.

In its decision to revoke sulfoxaflor’s registration, the federal appeals court cited the “precariousness of bee populations” and “flawed and limited data” provided by DowDuPont about sulfoxaflor’s effects.

In its order reinstating use of the pesticide on flowering crops such as alfalfa, corn, sorghum, citrus and cotton, the EPA said it was basing its decision on new science which showed the impacts of sulfoxaflor on bees were “minimal.”

In July comments, agency officials said the move was a huge win for U.S. farmers.

“EPA is providing long-term certainty for U.S. growers to use an important tool to protect crops and avoid potentially significant economic losses, while maintaining strong protection for pollinators,” said Alexandra Dapolito Dunn, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.

“Today’s decision shows the agency’s commitment to making decisions that are based on sound science.”

But attorneys for the petitioners disagree, claiming the Trump EPA rejected findings from a study published in the scientific journal Nature, which found even low doses of sulfoxaflor exposure had severe consequences for bumblebee reproductive success.

“This decision was pure pro-pesticide politics,” said George Kimbrell, legal director of the Center for Food Safety. “Trump’s EPA can’t justify throwing our already imperiled pollinators under the bus. That’s why the agency offered no chance for the public to comment. And that’s why we’re suing them.”

The case is Ctr. for Food Safety v. Wheeler, 9th Cir., No. 19-72109, 8/20/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Adam Allington in Washington at aallington@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Steven Gibb at sgibb@bloombergenvironment.com; Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloombergenvironment.com