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Court finds EPA violated procedures in neonic approvals

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A federal court has ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency systematically violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA) when approving 59 neonicotinoid insecticides. In a case brought by beekeepers, wildlife conservation groups and food safety and consumer advocates that has been ongoing for the last four years, Judge Maxine Chesney of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California held that EPA had unlawfully issued 59 pesticide registrations between 2007 and 2012 for a wide variety of agricultural, landscaping and ornamental uses.

Seeds coated with neonicotinoid insecticides are now used on more than 150 million acres of U.S. corn, soybeans, cotton and other crops, totaling an area bigger than the state of California and Florida combined – the largest use of any insecticide in the country by far. Additional proceedings have been ordered to determine the correct remedy for EPA’s legal violations, which may lead to cancelling the 59 pesticide products and registrations, including many seed coating insecticides approved for scores of different crop uses.

“This case centered around plaintiffs’ arguments that EPA did not follow certain processes in the registration of certain products containing clothianidin and thiamethoxam – two important crop protection tools used by farmers,” according to a joint statement from Bayer, Syngenta and Valent, makers of the insecticides. “For most of those arguments, the judge found that EPA followed the correct procedures. The judge’s order also upheld EPA’s decision that there was no imminent hazard to the environment from using clothianidin products.”

The chemical providers said they will be reviewing the judge’s order and their options as the case moves forward into the remedy phase.

George Kimbrell, legal director at the Center for Food Safety (CFS), called it a “vital victory” and said the plaintiffs have science to back up their claims that the pesticides harm bees.

The court’s ruling went against other claims in the lawsuit based on the plaintiffs’ 2012 petition and their procedural argument that EPA had not published several required Federal Register notices. The beekeepers and others plaintiffs were relying on a petition filed in March 2012, at which time the scientific evidence of the harm to bees, other critical species and the broader environment was far less developed. The original petition, however, is still lodged with EPA, and as such, its resolution is not yet fully decided.

“Vast amounts of scientific literature show the hazards these chemicals pose are far worse than we knew five years ago – and it was bad even then,” CFS attorney Peter Jenkins said. “The nation’s beekeepers continue to suffer unacceptable mortality of 40% annually and higher.”

The plaintiffs in the case – Ellis vs. Housenger – are beekeepers Steve Ellis, Tom Theobald, Jim Doan and Bill Rhodes; CFS; Beyond Pesticides; Sierra Club, and Center for Environmental Health.

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