Suit filed against EPA over killing bees

First-ever suit filed in San Francisco says the EPA is allowing the “ongoing use of pesticide products.” Photo: Bee settling on a flower

FREDERIC, Wis., March 23, 2013 — Beekeepers, environmental and consumer groups took an historic step filing suit in federal court against the Environmental Protection Agency over the government permitting the use of deadly pesticides they say are killing honey bees. 

This first-ever suit filed in San Francisco says the EPA is allowing the “ongoing use of pesticide products,” known as neonicotinoids in violation of federal law.

Neonicotinoids “adversely impact the survival, growth and health of honey bees,” the lawsuit states. And compounded, they have “harmful effects on other animals, including threatened and endangered species.”

 Plaintiffs said they warned the EPA for years to stop allowing its use on crops treated with the controversial pesticide.

 “I go back all the way to 2007,” said Tom Theobald, a plaintiff and commercial beekeeper in Colorado. “I first discovered a break in the fall-brood cycle and my hypothesis was that it was coming from (treated) corn. As time has gone on, I think I was pretty accurate.”

The pesticide also has an immediate side effect, killing a critical livelihood.

“They (EPA) are putting beekeeping operations out of business,” said Theobald. “You can’t sustain these kinds of (bee) losses very long and remain in business.”

The EPA is aware of the group’s concern. Last year the group filed an “Emergency Petition,” demanding the agency comply with federal law and Congress to protect bees from lethal pesticides.

“They pretty much rejected that,” said Peter T. Jenkins, lead attorney in the suit with the Center for Food Safety.

The group is not seeking money. They just want the government to follow the law.

“It’s not a damages case,” said Jenkins. “It’s an administrative action, basically outlining how the EPA has abused the conditional registration process and ignored the Endangered Species Act.”

Reached for comment, the EPA said they presently have none.

“EPA does not comment on pending litigation,” said an EPA spokesperson. But they assure the public they are working on this issue fast.

“The EPA is working aggressively to protect bees and other pollinators from pesticide risks,” the spokesperson said. “The EPA is accelerating the schedule for registration review of the neonicotinoid pesticides…and their potential effects on bees.”

The Sierra Club and the other plaintiffs said they are tired of the government’s acceleration.

“We asked them point blank about that before we filed the suit,” said Jenkins. “They were going to have their review done by 2020, and now it’s going to be done by 2018. So that’s their acceleration.”

Neonicotinoid pesticides are used across the country to control insect damage to crops, like corn used for human food, livestock feed and ethanol.

A major loss of bees would be an economic catastrophe in the U.S. and around the world. And experts say that’s where we’re headed.

“We’ve been suffering for the past five years,” said Jeffery Pettis, lead bee researcher at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). “There’s been about a 30% loss through the fall and winter.”

Honeybees are critical to our agriculture. The value of crops in U.S. agriculture that depend on bee pollination is $19 billion, according to USDA estimates. Worldwide, that crop value is $217 billion.

That is why several countries including Germany, France and Italy have either banned neonicotinoid pesticides outright or severely limited its use.

But the European Union Commission failed to ban the use of neonicotinoids on March 15. Thirteen nations voted in favor of the ban, five abstaining and nine opposing. The tally left no majority for or against the ban.

The EPA is often criticized for overboard regulations. But in this case the law suit claims just the opposite, saying the government is avoiding environmental regulation.

“That certainly seems the case from our perspective,” said Theobald.

You can email Wayne Anderson at or get a wider understanding of him on his website at

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Wayne Anderson

Wayne Anderson is a warm beekeeper in northwest Wisconsin, who travels the world as a freelance news correspondent for Communities at The Washington Times and other fine media, covering the wars in the Middle East, reporting on and running from pirates off the coast of East Africa and sharing with readers the wonders of beekeeping in the strangest places around the world. 

Buzz on Bees is a column promoting the love and life of God’s greatest pollinators on earth: The Honeybee. Send me your input and column ideas. And I will work as busy as a bee to get them in print.   

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