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Daily News Blog

23
Aug

EPA Inspector General Report Finds the Agency Falling Short in Oversight of State Pollinator Plans

(Beyond Pesticides, August 23, 2019) The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released a report criticizing EPA’s oversight of states’ Managed Pollinator Protection Plans (MP3s). OIG conducted an audit, on which the report is based, to evaluate agency performance in overseeing MP3s, voluntary plans adopted at the state level with the goal to “reduce pesticide exposure to pollinators (generally, honey bees managed and contracted out to growers for pollination services) through timely communication and coordination among key stakeholders.”

The report’s findings include the following:

  • EPA has no means to evaluate the national impact of MP3s.
  • The agency has not developed a strategy to use data from a planned fall 2019 survey (see more below on the AAPCO/SFIREG/EPA survey) to evaluate either the national impact of MP3s or the agency’s support of state MP3 implementation efforts.
  • EPA focuses primarily on acute risks (those that occur during a single exposure to a specific pesticide), and gives insufficient attention to chronic exposures to pesticides and to native pollinator protection activities.

The history of the MP3 program starts in 2014, when President Obama issued a memo establishing a Pollinator Health Task Force (PHTF), directing federal agencies to take action to improve the health of honey bees and other pollinators. The memo required EPA to: assess the effects of pesticides on pollinator health; engage states and tribes in the development of pollinator protection plans; encourage the incorporation of pollinator protection and habitat planting activities into green infrastructure and Superfund projects; expedite review of registration applications for new products targeting pests harmful to pollinators; and increase habitat plantings around federal facilities. In response, EPA proposed the establishment of Managed Pollinator Protection Plans by each state as a primary vehicle to achieve improved health status of pollinators.

The MP3s were conceived as a means to enhance communication and mitigate exposure risks, with the expectation that expertise within the respective states could help design solutions for local and regional circumstances. In most states, development of the plans was relegated to the state agriculture department, which are often also responsible for pesticide regulation oversight and enforcement. Also in response to the Obama directive, EPA presented a widely criticized proposal on reducing acute exposure risks to pollinators — meant to address bees likely to be exposed from application of acutely toxic pesticides.

Beginning in 2015, EPA encouraged states to convene relevant stakeholders and develop MP3s, and worked with the Association of American Pesticide Control Officials (AAPCO), and an AAPCO committee called the State FIFRA Issues, Research and Evaluation Group (SFIREG), to offer guidance on plan development. The final step in the process set out by the PHTF was for EPA to measure the effectiveness of state MP3s, through state review of factors such as overall pollinator health, exposure risks, and behavior and communication as barometers of efficacy. By the start of 2018, 45 states had developed (or were in the process of developing) such plans; see coverage of states MP3s here. By May 2019, AAPCO and SFIREG and EPA created a survey to evaluate MP3s; the plan is to distribute the survey to state pesticide agencies in the fall of 2019.

As Beyond Pesticides noted back in 2015, the MP3s would likely vary widely from state to state in terms of their approaches and compliance requirements. As it turns out, states are “all over the map” in terms of what their MP3s set out.

Stakeholders — state, tribal, and local governments, farmers/growers, beekeepers, landowners, nongovernmental organizations, pesticide applicators, have been brought into the MP3 process at the state level. Some of those have noted that the efficacy of the plans in terms of genuine protection of pollinators could be compromised because of EPA foci on acute risks and on managed pollinators. MP3s are limited to managed pollinators not under contract pollination services at the site of application — meaning that the well-being of wild and native bees goes unaddressed by the plans.

The OIG report states, “According to the stakeholders we interviewed, impacts from pesticide exposures are complex and a threat to pollinator health,” and “The focus on acute, site-specific pesticide risks and contracted pollinators means that related areas — such as chronic contact with pesticides and native pollinator protection activities identified in the NPMG — may not be receiving an appropriate level of attention.” In addition, advocates such as Beyond Pesticides have identified shortcomings in EPA’s role. One is that the MP3s, including their development of Best Management Practices (BMPs) mandated by the Presidential memo, were allowed to be entirely voluntary. Allowing states such latitude was predicted to be, and has been, inadequate to the task of protecting pollinators.

For example, in 2016 Beyond Pesticides wrote to the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) to say that its MP3 fell short of adequate protection of pollinator populations in the state, particularly by not taking a strong stance against the use of neonicotinoid pesticides. Beyond Pesticides recommended that MDAR adopt the recommendations of the state beekeepers’ Pollinator Protection Plan Framework. (See public comments on the Massachusetts MP3 here.) Additionally, Beyond Pesticides encouraged MDAR to: protect and monitor native pollinators; create pollinator habitat that is free of pesticide contamination; and improve regulatory enforcement and compliance statewide. Discouragingly, in 2018 in Massachusetts — where beekeepers lost 65% of their honey bee hives, a rate 25% higher than the national average — the state Legislature failed to pass a bill that would have restricted the use of neonicotinoid pesticides in the state to protect sensitive pollinators.

Some of the concerns voiced by Beyond Pesticides and other stakeholders about EPA’s oversight of MP3s in the states appear to have surfaced in the OIG report, which concluded that “EPA needs to decide how it will measure, support and assist in the implementation of MP3s.” The report made five recommendations to be carried out by the EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention:

  • Develop and implement a strategy that will use Managed Pollinator Protection Plan survey data to measure the national impact of the Managed Pollinator Protection Plans.
  • Using survey data, determine how the EPA will assist states with implementing their Managed Pollinator Protection Plans.
  • Using survey data, fully communicate to states what Managed Pollinator Protection Plan implementation assistance is available from the EPA and how this assistance will be provided.
  • Determine whether and how the EPA will help states address additional areas of concern — such as chronic pesticide risks and other limitations identified by stakeholders — through their Managed Pollinator Protection Plan implementation efforts.
  • Determine how the EPA can use the Managed Pollinator Protection Plan survey results to advance its National Program Manager Guidance goals and its regulatory mission.

The dire state of our pollinators, and insect biodiversity generally, makes protective regulation and activity profoundly urgent. Follow developments in pollinator protection through Beyond Pesticides’ Daily News Blog, its BEE Protective webpage, which includes actions the public can take, and via its quarterly journal, Pesticides and You. The public can also contact federal elected officials to insist that they support the Saving America’s Pollinators Act, HR 1337, which would cancel specific bee-toxic pesticides, and establish a review and cancellation process for all pesticides that are potentially harmful to pollinators. More ideas for community-based pollinator protection can be found here.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: EPA OIG Report

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