Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, January 2, 2020


Nathan Donley, (971) 717-6406,

Trump EPA Used ‘Emergency’ Loophole to Approve Pesticides Toxic to Bees on 16 Million Acres in 2019

WASHINGTON— The Environmental Protection Agency reported today that in 2019 it issued so-called “emergency” approvals to spray neonicotinoids — pesticides the agency itself recognizes as “very highly toxic” to bees — onto more than 16 million acres of crops known to attract bees.

The great majority of those approvals were issued for the neonicotinoid called sulfoxaflor, prior to the EPA’s July decision to permanently expand its use. That decision, which obviates the need for further emergency approvals, has prompted multiple lawsuits from beekeepers, food-safety and conservation advocates.

“The EPA is using this backdoor approval process to ramp up otherwise unlawful use of neonicotinoids and other harmful pesticides,” said Nathan Donley, a scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re talking about millions of acres being sprayed with poisons that are known to kill pollinators.”

The so-called “emergency” approvals in 2019 also greenlighted use of other neonicotinoids — like thiamethoxam, clothianidin and dinotefuran — on 387,241 acres of bee-attracting flowering fruit trees like peaches, apples and plums, as well as on rice crops. Five of the nine approvals granted for the neonics in 2019 have been handed out for nine consecutive years for the same so-called “emergency.”

In addition, emergency exemptions were granted in 2019 on a total of 92,051 acres for bifenthrin — a restricted-use insecticide of the pyrethroid class that is linked to autism, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and known to be highly toxic to bees and fish. Of the seven states given exemptions for bifenthrin in 2019, six have been granted the emergency approval for at least seven consecutive years for the same “emergency.”

The emergency exemptions for sulfoxaflor approved its use across more than 16 million acres of cotton and sorghum in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

Fourteen of the 17 states were granted the approvals for at least four consecutive years for the same “emergency.” Six were given approvals for at least six consecutive years.

The EPA has touted sulfoxaflor as a safer alternative to other neonicotinoids. However sulfoxaflor functions identically to other neonicotinoids, despite attempts to classify it otherwise. Sulfoxaflor poses many of the same well-documented risks to pollinators as other neonicotinoids and is an emerging threat to imperiled bumblebees and other native bees.

The EPA has routinely abused the authority of granting emergency exemptions, as chronicled in the Center’s report, Poisonous Process: How the EPA’s Chronic Misuse of ‘Emergency’ Pesticide Exemptions Increases Risks to Wildlife. The report found that the alleged “emergencies” cited are often foreseeable occurrences, not emergencies.

Last year the EPA’s Office of the Inspector General released a report finding that the agency’s practice of routinely granting “emergency” approval for pesticides across millions of acres does not effectively measure risks to human health or the environment.

“For the EPA’s pesticide office, there’s only one agenda -- to give Big Ag whatever it wants using whatever loophole is available,” said Donley. “The absurd ‘emergency’ approvals for these dangerous poisons don’t give proper consideration to what’s safe for the health of people or wildlife.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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