Congressmen reintroduce Saving America’s Pollinators Act

By MATT KELLY

This week U.S. Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Jim McGovern (D-MA) reintroduced a bill to the House that would require the Environmental Protection Agency to suspend the use of specific neonicotinoid insecticides until the agency can determine whether or not they “cause unreasonable adverse effects on pollinators”. The bill would also require the Interior Department to monitor the health of native bee populations and submit a report to Congress on its findings.

“The health of our food system depends on the health of our pollinators. The status quo is like flying blind – we shouldn’t be using these pesticides when we don’t know their full impact,” said Rep. Blumenauer in a press release. “The EPA has a responsibility to get to the bottom of this issue and protect pollinators.”

“Pollinators are the backbone of America’s agriculture system. Acting now to protect them and stop their decline is essential to the sustainability of our nation’s food supply,” said Rep. McGovern in the same press release. “Simply taking the word of the manufacturers that their products are safe is not an option. Consumers need strong oversight.”

The Saving America’s Pollinators Act (H.R. 5015) would require the EPA to suspend the registration of imidacloprid, clothianidin, thiamethoxam, dinotafuran and any other members of the nitro group of neonic insecticides that have been approved under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) for use in seed treatment, soil application or foliar treatment on “bee-attractive” plants, trees and cereals until such time as the agency has determined that these insecticides do not cause “unreasonable adverse effects” to bees and other pollinators.

The bill requires that the EPA’s determination be based on the following:

  • An evaluation of the published, peer-reviewed scientific evidence about the adverse effects that these neonics can have on native bees, honey bees, and other insects, birds, and bats.
  • A completed field study that “meets the criteria required by the EPA and evaluates residues, chronic low-dose exposure, and cumulative effects of multiple chemical exposures”.

Furthermore, the bill would prevent the EPA from issuing new registrations for neonics to be used in similar fashion until the above conditions have been met.

Finally, the bill would require the Interior Department to:

  • Regularly monitor the health and population status of native bees “in agricultural and nonagricultural habitats and areas of ornamental plants, residential areas, and landscaped areas”.
  • Identify the scope and likely causes of “unusual native bee mortality.”
  • Report to Congress and the public on the health and population status of native bees no later than 180 days after the passage of this bill.

This act has been introduced twice before. A version was sent to the House in 2015 by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Blumenauer, and made it as far as the Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research. Then in June 2017, the congressmen (with several other co-sponsors) introduced the bill once again, only to have it meet the same fate of getting only as far as the same subcommittee.

Blumenauer’s decision to reintroduce the bill at this particular moment seems like no coincidence. The EPA is currently reviewing the registration of the four of the neonic insecticides called out in the bill. The agency is also currently considering a Syngenta application to expand the approved uses of thiamethoxam. There are also reports of industry-written legislation circulating on the Hill that would exempt the EPA’s pesticide approval process from requirements of the Endangered Species Act. And at the end of January, a memorandum of agreement was signed by the EPA and the departments of Commerce and Interior seeking the same goal of exempting the approval process.

According to Blumenauer’s office, the reintroduced bill currently has 33 cosponsors, listed below. It’s worth noting that all of them are Democrats.

Matt Cartwright (D-PA)
Katherine Clark (D-MA)
Steve Cohen (D-TN)
Gerald E. Connolly (D-VA)
Peter DeFazio (D-OR)
Rosa DeLauo (D-CT)
Keith Ellison (D-MN)
Elizabeth Esty (D-CT)
Raul Grijalva (D-AZ)
Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC)
Jared Huffman (D-CA)
Marcy Kaptur (D-OH)
Ann Kuster (D-NH)
Rick Larsen (D-WA)
Barbara Lee (D-CA)
Zoe Lofgren (D-CA)
Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM)
Carolyn Maloney (D-NY)
Betty McCollum (D-MN)
Gregory Meeks (D-NY)
Jerrold Nadler (D-NY)
Rick Nolan (D-MN)
Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-NJ)
Chellie Pingree (D-ME)
Jared Polis (D-CO)
Mike Quigley (D-IL)
Jan Schakowsky (D-IL)
Louise Slaughter (D-NY)
Jackie Speier (D-CA)
Niki Tsongas (D-MA)
Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY)
Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL)
Bonnie Watson Coleman(D-NJ)

2/21/18 Editor’s note: The link to Saving America’s Pollinators Act (H.R. 5015) has been updated with the resolution number and to direct readers to the text of the bill at Congress.gov.