Can Pollinator Stewardship Council v. EPA Help Solve the Colony Collapse Disorder Crisis? – Pt. III
by Alexander Martone, Staff Contributor
The Environmental Protection Agency is in federal court again. What is the source of its troubles this time? Owners of coal-fueled power plants? Boosters of the spotted owl? Disposers of hazardous waste?
No. This time, it’s the honeybee.
Part I of this series looked at the importance of bees, the crisis of Colony Collapse Disorder, and attempts to respond to it. Part II addressed the allegations of the Pollinator Stewardship Council in its lawsuit seeking to roll back EPA approval of an insecticide allegedly implicated in the bee crisis, and the counter-arguments of the agency. Part III now considers the possible results of this still-pending case.
Part III: Can Pollinator Stewardship Council v. EPA Help Solve the Colony Collapse Disorder Crisis?
Briefs have already been filed in the Pollinator Stewardship Council v. EPA, but the case is only slowly wending its way to trial. Still, Pollinator Stewardship Council represents the most direct challenge yet to the EPA’s conservative approach to neonicotinoids, the class of insecticides that stands accused by some of causing Colony Collapse Disorder, the malady currently decimating bee populations.
Interestingly, regardless of how the case is decided, the Ninth Circuit’s ruling has the potential to significantly alter the way that scientists and governments tackle the crisis of Colony Collapse Disorder.
“…the Ninth Circuit’s ruling has the potential to significantly alter the way that scientists and governments tackle the crisis of Colony Collapse Disorder.”
If the Pollinator Stewardship Council succeeds in its challenge, the result will be at least two-fold. First, the EPA will have to re-evaluate how it evaluates pesticides. If the Court finds that harm mitigation practices – or at least these harm mitigation practices – are an insufficient substitute for scientific data that shows that a pesticide inherently causes at most a low level of harm to human health and the environment, then the EPA will likely have to change its Pollinator Risk Assessment Framework. The agency may also have to reconsider how it evaluates other types of pesticides, even those without a proposed connection to Colony Collapse Disorder, and future pesticides seeking registration may find it harder to rely on harm mitigation practices when seeking EPA approval.
Second, an adverse ruling would place significant pressure on the EPA to focus on neonicotinoids as the potential cause of Colony Collapse Disorder. If these pesticides are truly causing the disease, then the litigation will have done well to direct the agency’s gaze in that direction. But if neonicotinoids are ultimately not found to be the source of the disorder, then the redirection of the EPA’s efforts could worsen the bee crisis by diverting resources from investigating other candidate causes of the disease.
|Ruling in Favor of
Pollinator Stewardship Council
|Ruling in Favor of
Environmental Protection Agency
Conversely, if the EPA’s decision to register sulfoxaflor stands, it might inadvertently create a situation that helps to prove whether or not neonicotinoids are in fact causing Colony Collapse Disorder.
As described above, European Union regulators have already put a multi-year moratorium on neonicotinoid use within its 27 member states. On the other hand, the EPA has granted cautious approval to the use of a number of neonicotinoids in the United States. If the EPA wins Pollinator Stewardship Council, that neonicotinoid use in the United States will continue, even as the ban in Europe persists.
“If the EPA’s decision to register sulfoxaflor stands, it might inadvertently create a situation that helps to prove whether or not neonicotinoids are in fact causing Colony Collapse Disorder.”
This means that between the two continents that provide much of the honey bee’s habitat, a natural experiment will be created. If neonicotinoids are indeed the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder, then bee deaths should decline in the coming years in Europe, where these insecticides are banned, and persist in the United States, where these insecticides are permitted. If neonicotinoids do not cause Colony Collapse Disorder, then, all else being equal, incidence of the disease should remain the same on both sides of the Atlantic. Of course, if this experiment does prove that neonicotinoids are the source of the disorder, it will be at the expense of still more of America’s bee population.
While Pollinator Stewardship Council moves forward in court, beekeepers, farmers, scientists, and policymakers continue to study Colony Collapse Disorder and pursue new measures to keep the vital honey bee alive. At the same time, all those concerned about the plight of the bees should be abuzz about the Ninth Circuit’s ultimate decision.