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The Energy 202: EPA blocks a dozen products containing pesticides thought harmful to bees

with Paulina Firozi


The Environmental Protection Agency is pulling from the market a dozen products containing pesticides known to be toxic to a linchpin of the U.S. food system — the honeybee.

The agency announced Monday it has canceled the registrations of 12 pest-killing products with compounds belonging to a class of chemicals known as neonicotinoids, as part of a legal settlement.

For years, beekeepers and wildlife conversationalists alike have voiced concern that the widespread use of neonics, as the chemicals are commonly called, is imperiling wild and domesticated bees crucial to pollinating commercial fruit, nut and vegetable crops. 

The Trump administration's action was welcome news to some environmentalists. “Certainly we have a ways to go,” said George Kimbrell, legal director at the nonprofit advocacy group Center for Food Safety, whose lawsuit prompted the EPA’s action. “But it's an important first step in acknowledging the harm they cause.”

The EPA has pulled other neonics from market before, agency spokesman John Konkus said in an email. But close observers of the agency say such actions are rare.

“For the EPA to pull a previously registered pesticide is a pretty major step,” said Mark Winston, a professor of apiculture and social insects at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, B.C. “It’s not something they do very often.”

The decision follows five years of litigation in which the beekeepers and environmentalists pressed the agency to mount a response to the use of neonics as regulators in Europe and Canada have taken steps toward banning the chemicals.

Finally, at the end of 2018, three agribusinesses — Bayer, Syngenta and Valent — agreed to let the EPA pull from shelves the 12 pesticide products used by growers ranging from large-scale agricultural businesses to home gardeners. The legal settlement also compels the EPA to analyze the impacts of the entire neonic class on endangered species.

Two of the pesticide makers, Bayer and Valent, say their products are tested and safe to use, noting that the environmentalists and beekeepers won their case on the technical grounds that the EPA did not follow the right steps under the Endangered Species Act when registering their products.

“Neonicotinoids are rigorously tested before going to market to ensure they can be used safely and effectively,” said Steve Tatum, a spokesman for Valent, which makes four of the delisted products.

Bayer noted its two products targeted by the EPA action are not sold in the United States. But spokesman Darren Wallis added: “Growers rely on these critical pest-management tools because of their performance against destructive pests, as well as their favorable human and environmental safety profile.”

Concern over neonics has grown since 2006, when beekeepers first started witnessing the sudden and mysterious collapse of honeybee hives across the nation.

Researchers have shown the compounds to be harmful to bees in laboratory tests. But they have had less luck pinning down the pesticides’ effects on beekeepers’ colonies when they go about their work pollinating apple orchards and other farms.

In his second term Barack Obama, who had earlier approved installing a beehive on the South Lawn of the White House, launched an initiative to promote the health of honeybees and other pollinators.

But Rebecca Riley, legal director of the nature program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that the agency has failed often in the past to adequately consider the potential impact of its pesticide approvals on endangered animals — something every federal agency is supposed to do.

“EPA for years has been ignoring this requirement of the law,” she said.

That has led to a number of lawsuits, such as one the NRDC filed in 2017, asking a federal court to vacate the registrations of nearly 100 products that contain one of several insecticides that are harmful to various bees, butterflies, birds and insects. That case remains unresolved, even as the separate Center for Food Safety case led EPA to pull some pesticides from the market.

“This is a win for both the rule of law and also for bees, birds and other wildlife impacted by these pesticides,” Riley said of the latest case. “But the reality is there are hundreds of pesticide products on the market. So, this is important … but it does not get rid of the danger.”

Brady Dennis contributed to this report.


— EPA doesn't send rep to hearing: Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), chair of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations, criticized the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to send a representative to testify during a hearing about a Trump administration proposal to roll back Obama-era mercury regulations. “I am continually frustrated and surprised by the administration's refusal to send witnesses to Congress,” she said. “And the EPA's refusal to show up today is just another example of the efforts to block Congress from performing its oversight functions. And so we're going to have to move forward, but it would be really helpful if we had the agencies here to help us.”

— Nominee for top Interior Dept. lawyer advances: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee advanced the president’s pick to be the Interior Department solicitor, Daniel Jorjani, on a party-line vote. Jorjani advanced despite objections from Democrats including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who criticized the nominee during Tuesday’s panel meeting. “It concerns me Mr. Jorjani has spent the past two years he served as acting solicitor overturning prior interpretations of our public lands laws in a manner that is out of step with the congressional intent,” Manchin said in a statement. “The Solicitor must uphold the law above all else—above party, politics, and ideology.  That was not the sense I got from Mr. Jorjani’s responses to our questions.”

— Texas bill could penalize pipeline protesters: Under a new bill approved by both chambers in Texas’s state legislature, protesters who are found to have delayed pipeline operations or otherwise damaged equipment could face up to a decade in prison. “The Texas Oil & Gas Association applauded its passage and said the bill provides property owners and pipeline companies ‘greater protections against intentional damage, delays, and stoppages caused by illegal activity,’” Bloomberg News reports. “Environmental groups, meanwhile, called the measure an assault on free speech.” Cyrus Reed, interim director for the Sierra Club’s Texas chapter, said the bill is about “silencing protesters trying to protect their water and land.”


— “Flint is everywhere here”: California’s low-income farmworkers who pick crops in the state’s Central Valley are experiencing a water crisis that is affecting more than 1 million Californians. “Today, more than 300 public water systems in California serve unsafe drinking water, according to public compliance data compiled by the California State Water Resources Control Board,” the New York Times reports. “Though water contamination is a problem up and down the state, the failing systems are most heavily concentrated in small towns and unincorporated communities in the Central and Salinas Valleys, the key centers of California agriculture.”

— The reality of plastic pollution: A new study found there are about 414 million pieces of debris scattered across the remote Cocos Islands of Australia, which could be an underestimate because a lot of the waste is below the surface, NBC News reports. The findings could suggest the amount of plastic polluting the world could be much more than previously realized. “The scientists surveyed seven of the 27 islands, which made up 88 percent of the total landmass of the islands, and estimated that they were littered with 262 tons of plastic. A quarter of those pieces of debris were single-use or disposable items such as straws, bags and toothbrushes (about 373,000 of them). The researchers also identified about 977,000 shoes,” per the report.

— A wild spring storm: A powerful spring system drove a variety of extreme weather throughout the country on Monday and Tuesday, with serious flooding and more than 20 tornadoes blasting through the Southern Plains, The Post’s Jason Samenow reports. "Flash flooding proved to be more of a widespread hazard than the tornadoes,” he writes. “Flooding spread from the north and west sides of Oklahoma City northeast to Tulsa, where four to eight inches of rain fell in a short time. Roads were closed, and numerous high-water rescues were required.”


— BP investors vote to back climate proposal: Investors in the oil giant voted overwhelmingly in favor of calling on the company to report how its business is compatible with the Paris climate deal. “From next year, BP is set to bring its reports into line with the approved resolution, which was proposed by a group called Climate Action 100+,” Bloomberg News reports. “Climate Action 100+, whose members together manage more than $33 trillion of funds, has already persuaded Europe’s biggest oil company, Royal Dutch Shell Plc, to adopt short-term climate targets and convinced Glencore Plc to cut coal production.”



  • The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands holds a legislative hearing.
  • The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management holds a hearing on disaster preparedness.
  • Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will hold a legislative hearing on legislation to address risks associated with PFAS.

Coming Up

  • Rep. Paul D. Tonko (D-N.Y.) will hold a Climate Town Hall at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, N.Y. on May 28.

— A great white sign: The ocean life research group Ocearch announced that for the first time, it’s tracking a white shark in Long Island Sound, a sign of “cleaner waters full of the sea life that drew him in the first place,” The Post’s Alex Horton writes. “Chris Fischer, the group’s founding chairman and expedition leader, said the group was surprised to see Cabot so far west, CBS News reported, and speculated his presence was linked to environmental efforts to clean up the sound.”