In the latest confrontation between the bee industry and the Trump administration, a group of concerned beekeepers have sued the Environmental Protection Agency over its July decision to expand the use of a pesticide that’s known to harm bees and other pollinators.
The Pollinator Stewardship Council, the American Beekeeper Federation and beekeeper Jeff Anderson, who are represented by Earthjustice, have asked the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to review the EPA’s decision earlier this summer to rollback several restrictions around the pesticide sulfoxaflor, which were put in place under the Obama administration over concerns it might be contributing to plummeting bee populations.
Bees help pollinate a third of the crops we eat, including almonds, apples, avocados and grapes, and the steady decline in bee populations has caused alarm not just in the US but in Europe as well. Pollinators like bees are under threat because of parasites like varroa mites, widespread pesticide use, habitat loss and the climate crisis.
An EPA report from earlier this summer notes that some forms of the pesticide sulfoxaflor can be “very highly toxic” to bees. The EPA defended their decision at the time by citing studies that show the chemical disappears from the environment faster than other alternatives. But Earthjustice and other critics have attacked the EPA for relying on studies funded by industry groups.
“Honeybees and other pollinators are dying in droves because of insecticides like sulfoxaflor, yet the Trump administration removes restrictions just to please the chemical industry,” said Earthjustice lawyer Greg Loarie in a statement. “This is illegal and an affront to our food system, economy, and environment.”
The EPA did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.
Michele Colopy of the Pollinator Stewardship Council attacked the EPA reliance on industry studies as “inappropriate.”
“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,” she added.
In 2014, the Obama administration launched a program to address honeybee population losses, directing federal agencies to work toward preserving bee pollinator populations. The move was part of a wider government focus on protecting pollinators, including bees and butterflies, whose populations have plummeted in recent years.
The Trump administration has gone the other way, reversing an Obama-era rule meant to protect bees from neonicotinoids, a chemical family that can cause colonies to collapse and curtailing bee-related federal research. Earlier this summer, the US Department of Agriculture suspended data collection for its annual Honey Bee Colonies report for one quarter, undermining researchers’ ability to compare loss rates from year to year – one of the fundamental ways that experts and the honeybee industry can use the survey as they try to better understand why bee populations are declining.
The most recently available data shows that beehive loss reached its highest winter levels this past year, according to the Bee Informed Partnership’s most recent report.
CNN’s Anna Laffrey contributed to this report.