The answer is, “Not much.” At least not during this session of Congress.
SAPA (as we’ll refer to it here) is a bill that would require the Environmental Protection Agency to suspend the use of specific neonic insecticides until the agency can determine whether or not they “cause unreasonable adverse effects on pollinators”. It would also require the Interior Department to monitor the health of native bee populations and submit a report to Congress and the American public on its findings. Last month, Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced the bill to the House. Or rather, reintroduced it. SAPA, in almost exactly the same form, has been dropped in the hopper on three previous occasions: in July 2013, March 2015 and June 2017. In all these cases, the bill was referred to the House Committee on Agricultural, then the Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research, but got no further.
The current iteration of SAPA is in the hands of Agricultural Committee once again, and there’s no reason to expect a different result this time around.
Let’s start with the obvious: The Republicans control both Congress and the White House. And to get the wheels of progress moving in committee — not to mention the full House — means securing Republican support. Of which this bill has none; all 43 cosponsors are Democrats.
This is not surprising, of course, given the recent efforts by Republicans to relax and undo as many regulations as possible regarding pesticide use. A year ago EPA administrator Scott Pruitt rejected a ban (and the science from his own agency) on chlorpyrifos. At the end of January, a memorandum of agreement was signed by the EPA and the departments of the Interior and Commerce seeking to exempt the EPA’s pesticide approval process from requirements under the Endangered Species Act. A bill reportedly crafted by the national trade group for pesticide producers and now circulating on Capitol Hill also seeks to do the same. And in May of last year, the House passed the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act which would undo a 2009 court decision that requires pesticides to receive approval under the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and a permit under the Clean Water Act before going to market. This measure passed the House by a vote of 256 to 165 — including 25 Democrats. Among these yea-vote Democrats were twelve of the nineteen minority members of the House Agricultural Committee, including ranking member Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN). However, representatives Ann Kuster (D-NH) and Richard Nolan (D-MN) both voted for the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act and are also cosponsors of SAPA. Democratic support for a bill like SAPA is clearly “complicated” at present.
So if we shouldn’t expect much from SAPA in the near future, why reintroduce it all?
In all likelihood, this action by Blumenauer and his fellow cosponsors is simply about taking a position on the issue of pesticide use and regulation that clearly opposes the Republican majority and the White House. It’s about waving a banner and rallying the loyal troops for reelection in November. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but we should recognize it for what it is.
That being said, it’s also possible that the reintroduction of SAPA is intended to help move us towards building something bigger. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, for example, did not become a reality in one fell swoop. It was preceded by the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960 (and those of 1866, 1871 and 1875). These larger steps forward were undoubtedly surrounded by numerous smaller actions that were largely symbolic or did not produce any tangible results, but which nonetheless bumped and nudged the political conversation and climate in the right direction to make passage of the 1964 act possible.
Could this be Blumenauer’s intention with the current iteration of SAPA? Might the reintroduction eventually turn out to be one of those small, repeated nudges that makes passage of a larger, more comprehensive bill on bees and other pollinators possible somewhere down the road?