The recent decision of the EPA to back away from modest restrictions governing the use in the United States of the bee killer neonicotinoid insecticides is, I suspect, simply a reaction to the coming of the Donald Trump administration to power. Rather than wait for the new Trump administrator, Scott Pruitt, to nullify a bee-protective policy, the Obama EPA blessed business as usual against honeybees.
EPA executives probably hope that killing more honeybees is a small price to pay to a tsunami of “deregulation” certain to be put in force by the Trump business people about to take over this vulnerable agency.
Jeff Merkley, Senator for Oregon, like other angry Democratic Senators, grilled Pruitt, but did not get very far. Pruitt, a seasoned politician from Oklahoma, was diplomatic, repeatedly seeking cover in his mantra, “rule of law.” Nevertheless, Merkley saw through Pruitt’s polished figure. “Scott Pruitt,” Merkley said, “has spent his career to protect fossil fuel polluters rather than the public interest. As Oklahoma Attorney General, Pruitt was caught red-handed taking arguments virtually word-for-word from fossil fuel lobbyists and putting them on his official letterhead as the position of the State of Oklahoma. Under Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency would become the ‘Polluter Protection Agency.”’
Unfortunately, Senator Merkley is slightly out of date. EPA has been a polluter protection agency for some time.
If this sounds unfair, look at honeybees. EPA has been hard to honeybees and wildlife not because most of its scientists are corrupt but because the industry, including factory farmers, have purchased their way into the White House and Congress. The result of this massive corruption has been an EPA of deception.
I witnessed this deception quite often. I worked for this industry-captured EPA for 25 years.
I remember reading the policy memoranda of the 1970s on the approval of pesticide-killers in the Jimmy Carter administration. I was heart-broken. As early as 1976, the EPA “registered,” meaning approved, neurotoxins like parathion. This parathion belongs to the same family of nerve gases that the Germans used in their genocidal murder of Jews.
Of course, EPA scientists did not connect the dots and, if they did, they remained silent. They failed to convince their political appointees that using parathion was not merely extremely dangerous to honeybees and humans but it was also morally reprehensible and violated international law.
In addition, the companies that had cooked the parathion had also invented a way to extend its lethal powers from hours to days. They put the nerve poison into microcapsules the size of dust particles, making them invisible to honeybees and people.
I used to talk to a few ecologists who were, like me, outraged by such naked example of mass poisoning. They showed me pictures of piles of dead bees. They had travelled to different states where beekeepers suffered the most damage to their hives. They would then report their findings to senior officials who ignored them.
The microencapsulated formulations of parathion lasted for decades, causing enormous damage to honeybees and other wildlife. Birds, for example, would usually die feeding in fields where farmers had applied one pound of parathion per acre.
The neonicotinoid insecticides now causing havoc to honeybees in the United States and the world are also neurotoxins made in Germany. However, both Germany and other countries in the European Union, save United Kingdom, maintain a ban on these poisons.
The other unspoken threat of these neonicotinoids and their parathion antecedents is what they do to honey. EPA scientists used to receive letters from state officials worrying that honey itself was contaminated by the nerve gases of the farmers. Once again, EPA did not interfere to stop such a deadly chain of events affecting both the natural world and human health.
In 2014, I wrote “Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA.” Chapter 5 documents the history of the extensive use of the microencapsulated parathion in the United States. It also highlights the irresponsible policies of the EPA that are still pushing honeybees to the verge of extinction.
Once again, I must stress that the people responsible for these terrible EPA policies that allow neurotoxins in the environment are the owners of chemical and agribusiness companies. These executives send their lobbyists to Washington, DC and the lobbyists have their way in the White House and Congress. It’s this corruption that subverts the EPA.
The second consequence of this corruption is that, in a real sense, giant industrialized farmers no longer farm. They are hooked on powerful weapons, misleadingly called pesticides. Under the guise of fighting or preventing an insect infestation they are fighting a chemical war against honeybees and the natural world.
Finally, all these bad policies are certain to become worse under the Trump administration. More honeybees will die. People will eat more poisoned honey.
Trump appointed people to run the government who will harm both the natural world and human health. Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush did the same thing. They made government an industry laboratory. The rhetoric justifying this crude onslaught on nature and humans has always been about profits. That’s what farmers have been saying for decades. We will produce more food with the use of our “tools,” meaning neurotoxins like neonicotinoids.
This casual use of neurotoxins is dangerous. The thought that the spraying of neurotoxins has already become routine is frightening. People must eat organic food, telling the government, the politicians, and the industry enough is enough.
The plight of the honeybees – and the EPA ― says it all.