Sixty members of the House of Representatives want the Environmental Protection Agency to get serious about protecting pollinators.
On Tuesday, the lawmakers sent a letter to EPA Head Gina McCarthy urging her agency to consider banning or restricting the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on crops, due to scientific evidence that these pesticides have adverse effects on bees, butterflies and birds. The letter notes that the Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced that it planned to phase out neonic use in National Wildlife Refuges by 2016, due to to the pesticides’ ability to potentially affect “a broad spectrum” of species in the refuges.
“We encourage you to follow the lead of FWS and respond to this troubling situation swiftly and effectively,” the lawmakers write in their letter.
Besides a call to restrict use of neonics on crops, the letter contains multiple policy recommendations for the EPA, including a request that the agency consider impacts on the more than 40 pollinator species listed as threatened or endangered by the federal government before registering new neonic pesticides. The lawmakers also say the EPA should restrict use of neonics in commercial pesticides, which can be applied by anyone, regardless of whether they have a pesticide licence or not.
“Protecting our pollinators is essential to the health and future of our environment and our species,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who was a signatory on the letter, said in a statement. “I’m going to keep hammering away on this issue until we can ensure that the products we are using in our backyards and on our farms are not killing pollinators.”
The letter highlighted an order signed this summer by President Obama, which created a national task force on pollinator health and also charged the EPA with assessing the impact pesticides have on pollinator health. As the EPA begins to comply with this directive, the letter states, it should bear in mind that recent research from the International Union for Conservation of Nature that found that pesticides like neonics are accumulating in soil and polluting waterways, and separate research that’s documented the steep decline in many species of pollinators.
One 2013 study found that three species of bumblebees experienced a “rapid and recent population collapse” from 1872 to 2011, and another study from 2011 found that four bumblebee species in the U.S. have “declined substantially” over the last 20 to 30 years. Butterflies, too, are under pressure: Monarch populations have declined by 90 percent over the last two decades, mostly as a result of deforestation, removal of the milkweed on which the butterflies depend and changing weather patterns.
Managed honeybees have also experienced major declines over the last few years, losses that have gotten widespread attention due to honeybees’ role as key pollinators of many U.S. crops. One of the main drivers of these losses, as the lawmakers’ letter conveys, is neonic pesticides, which have been linked to bee die-offs and other adverse health effects by at least 30 scientific studies.
The U.S. has stopped short of implementing a ban on neonics like the one the EU announced last year, but it is paying increasing attention to pollinator health. In February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it was investing $3 million into a program that aims to boost bee numbers by paying farmers in five Midwestern states to make bee-friendly farming decisions like reseeding their fields with bee-friendly cover crops like clover and alfalfa. The USDA has also partnered with the Apiary Inspectors of America and the Bee Informed Partnership to survey winter honey bee colony losses.
In the eyes of the 60 lawmakers, though, the EPA is one agency that still needs to step up to address pollinator health.
“I urge Administrator McCarthy to take immediate action to address the neonicotinoid danger,” John Conyers (D-MI), another signatory of the letter, said in a statement. “The health of these bees and butterflies is essential to the health of our own human species. This is about more than environmental stewardship — it’s about humanity’s food supply.”