Appeals court to hear case on EPA role in bee die-off

By Tiffany Stecker | 03/02/2015 12:49 PM EST

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed last week to hear the first case to challenge U.S. EPA’s role in the massive loss of bees in the last decade.

Petitioners in Pollinator Stewardship Council v. EPA filed the appeal in 2013 to request changes to EPA’s label for sulfoxaflor, a chemical in the neonicotinoid class of insecticides that have been linked to declining bee health and deaths. The petitioners include the Pollinator Stewardship Council, the American Honey Producers Association, the National Honey Bee Advisory Board, the American Beekeeping Federation, and beekeepers Bret Adee, Jeff Anderson and Thomas Smith. Dow Agrosciences, who developed and commercialized sulfoxaflor, has intervened on behalf of EPA.

The beekeeper groups will be represented by environmental law group Earthjustice. The case joined a number of pending legal cases on EPA’s pesticide decisions under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, the law that dictates the required language on pesticide labels, said Greg Loarie, one of the Earthjustice attorneys arguing the case.


"There’s very little case law in general challenging directly EPA’s decisions" regarding pesticide labels, said Loarie, compared to logging challenges, clean water disputes or other environmental cases.

Other recent challenges include two separate suits filed by Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council over the agency’s approval of the herbicide Enlist Duo, a combination of the defoliant 2,4-D and the weedkiller glyphosate that was also developed by Dow (Greenwire, Oct. 23, 2014).

In addition to the label, the beekeepers will challenge the Biological Economic Assessment Division assessment of the value of pollinators as it relates to the label approval, as well as EPA’s Risk Assessment Process.

EPA has stated in court documents that the benefits of sulfoxaflor — like the potential to replace older and more toxic pesticides and a lower needed dose — outweigh the risk to pollinators.

Even when they do not kill bees directly, pesticides can decrease navigation capabilities, impede their ability to forage for pollen and disrupt bees’ reproduction. While scientists acknowledge that pesticides, including neonicotinoids can pose a risk to bee health, many hesitate to point to pesticides as the single or main cause of colony collapse disorder (Greenwire, Feb. 17).

Under the law governing the 9th Circuit, petitioners are required to file their FIFRA claims in the court of appeals.

Pollinator Stewardship Council v. EPA will be heard April 14 in the James R. Browning U.S. Courthouse in San Francisco. Click here for the hearing notice.