EPA Issues Proposal to Mitigate Exposure to Bees from Acutely Toxic Pesticide Products

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Proposal to Mitigate Exposure to Bees from Acutely Toxic Pesticide Products published in the Federal Register on May 29, 2015, seeks comment on a proposal to adopt mandatory pesticide label restrictions to protect managed bees under contract pollination services from foliar application of pesticides that are acutely toxic to bees on a contact exposure basis, unless the application is made in accordance with a government-declared public health response. These label restrictions would prohibit applications of pesticide products that EPA has identified as acutely toxic to bees, during bloom when bees are known to be present under contract.

As part of this mitigation proposal, the 48-hour notification exception for crops under contracted pollination services during bloom for all neonicotinoid product labels would be removed. These restrictions are intended to reduce the likelihood of acute exposure and mortality to managed bees under contract. EPA is not proposing at this time to require new language for pesticide labels for managed bees not under contract pollination services. This does not, however, alter EPA’s previous actions intended to impose more specific restrictions on neonicotinoid pesticides through label language addressing potential risks to bees not under contract for pollination services.

EPA is also seeking comment on a proposal to rely on efforts made by states and tribes to reduce pesticide exposures for application sites not under contracted services, through development of locally-based measures, specifically through managed pollinator protection plans. These plans would include local and customizable mitigation measures to address certain scenarios that can result in exposure to pollinators. EPA intends to monitor the success of these plans in deciding whether further label restrictions are warranted.

EPA states that if it receives evidence during the public comment period, and/or through outreach at stakeholder meetings, that the contract provisions that are the subject of the proposed rule commonly considered effective and mutually agreed upon stakeholder practices (i.e., beekeeper-to-grower) indicating that the application of acutely toxic pesticides is not of risk concern for bees under contract, then EPA will consider this information in determining whether this scenario needs the mitigation indicated in the proposed language.

EPA states that the proposed actions are consistent with the Presidential Memorandum issued in June 2014 to reduce the effect of factors that have been associated with pollinator declines in general, as well as the mandate to engage state and tribal partners in the development of pollinator protection plans. Comments on the proposal are due by June 29, 2015.

Commentary

The main elements of EPA’s pesticide regulatory strategies and policies were only a small part of the response to the President last week on a National Strategy for pollinators, but now that EPA has issued this proposal, attention will turn to what EPA is more precisely planning to do with regard to proposing and implementing new restrictions on pesticides generally and/or neonicotinoid products in particular.

As expected, the focus of the proposal is on new restrictions for acutely toxic pesticide applications (defined in the notice as “pesticides with an acutely lethal dose to 50% of the bees tested of less than 11 micrograms per bee”), where the pesticide application site is also where there are contracted pollination services. Essentially, foliar application of pesticides acutely toxic to bees are prohibited where there are bee colonies present pursuant to a contract to provide pollination services. EPA’s proposal (at Appendix A) includes a long list of pesticides (over 75) that meet the acute toxicity criteria that will be subject to the new restrictions. This list includes many more pesticides than just the neonicotinoid products.

In addition, for managed bees not under contracted services, or for other “unmanaged” bees, EPA’s reliance on state “Managed Pollinator Protection Plans” (MP3s) is consistent with public statements that EPA officials and line staff have made in recent months, so there appears to be few surprises in the proposal at first glance. Some states already have plans; many are under development. EPA has worked closely with state pesticide regulatory officials on development of state plans, and signaled that it expects state plans to incorporate three core ideas: public participation in developing the plan; some kind of notification scheme to alert beekeepers of insecticide applications; and a way to evaluate whether the state plan is effective in reducing insecticide exposure to bees.

Even so, what may generate the most public comment about EPA’s proposal is what it does NOT do; for example:

  • The proposal does not impose a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides as some advocacy groups have sought;
  • The proposal does not require EPA approval of state management plans (MP3s);
  • The proposal does suggest options for registrants to seek product-specific exemptions to what is mandated; in other words, it again seeks to impose EPA regulatory actions “by letter” using a “one size fits all” approach; and
  • The proposal does not offer significantly new restrictions regarding pollinators generally, but maintains a focus on contracted honeybees and commercial pollination services.

As the proposal has just been issued, stakeholders will now review the content to look for “the devil in the details” — and develop comments to submit during the 30-day comment period EPA offers. (It would not be surprising if the comment period on such a high profile proposal is extended.)

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