The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Trump EPA OKs 'Emergency' to Dump Bee-Killing Pesticide on 16 Million Acres
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported last week that in 2018 it issued so-called "emergency" approvals to spray sulfoxaflor—an insecticide the agency considers "very highly toxic" to bees—on more than 16 million acres of crops known to attract bees.
Of the 18 states where the approvals were granted for sorghum and cotton crops, 12 have been given the approvals for at least four consecutive years for the same "emergency."
Last year the EPA's Office of the Inspector General released a report finding that the agency's practice of routinely granting "emergency" approval for pesticides across millions of acres does not effectively measure risks to human health or the environment.
"Spraying 16 million acres of bee-attractive crops with a bee-killing pesticide in a time of global insect decline is beyond the pale, even for the Trump administration," said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. "The EPA is routinely misusing the 'emergency' process to get sulfoxaflor approved because it's too toxic to make it through normal pesticide reviews."
Under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, the EPA has the authority to approve temporary emergency uses of pesticides, even those not officially approved, if the agency determines it is needed to prevent the spread of an unexpected outbreak of crop-damaging insects, for example. But the provision has been widely abused.
That widespread abuse was chronicled in the Center for Biological Diversity's recent report, Poisonous Process: How the EPA's Chronic Misuse of 'Emergency' Pesticide Exemptions Increases Risks to Wildlife. The report concludes that emergency exemptions for sulfoxaflor are essentially a backdoor authorization allowing for its ongoing use on millions of acres of crops where exposure to pollinators through contaminated pollen is high. In fact, the so-called "emergencies" cited are routine and foreseeable occurrences.
Previously, in response to a lawsuit by beekeepers, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the EPA's original registration of sulfoxaflor in 2015. The EPA's new 2016 registration for sulfoxaflor—purportedly designed to ensure essentially no exposure to bees—excluded crops like cotton and sorghum that are attractive to bees.
A compilation of federal register notices indicates that sulfoxaflor was approved on 16.2 million acres of cotton and sorghum crops in 2018 on an emergency basis. Emergency approvals were granted in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
"The EPA is far too eager to find loopholes to approve harmful pesticides when it should be focusing on keeping people and wildlife safe from those pesticides," said Donley. "The routine abuse of emergency exemptions has to stop."
A recent study published in Nature found that sulfoxaflor exposure at low doses had severe consequences for bumblebee reproductive success. The authors cautioned against the EPA's current trajectory of replacing older neonicotinoids with nearly identical insecticides like sulfoxaflor.
A major study published earlier this month found that more than 41 percent of the world's insect species are on the fast track to extinction, and that a "serious reduction in pesticide usage" is key to preventing their extinction.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Bijal Trivedi
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report on Nov. 13 that describes a list of microorganisms that have become resistant to antibiotics and pose a serious threat to public health. Each year these so-called superbugs cause more than 2.8 million infections in the U.S. and kill more than 35,000 people.
By Joe Vukovich
Under the guise of responding to consumer complaints that today's energy- and water-efficient dishwashers take too long, the Department of Energy has proposed creating a new class of dishwashers that wouldn't be subject to any water or energy efficiency standards at all. The move would not only undermine three decades of progress for consumers and the environment, it is based on serious distortions of fact regarding today's dishwashers.
By Emily Moran
If you have oak trees in your neighborhood, perhaps you've noticed that some years the ground is carpeted with their acorns, and some years there are hardly any. Biologists call this pattern, in which all the oak trees for miles around make either lots of acorns or almost none, "masting."
By Catherine Davidson
Tashi Yudon peeks out from behind a net curtain at the rooftops below and lets out a sigh, her breath frosting on the windowpane in front of her.
Some 700 kilometers away in the capital city Delhi, temperatures have yet to dip below 25 degrees Celsius, but in Spiti there is already an atmosphere of impatient expectation as winter settles over the valley.