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Officials in New Jersey and New York are acting to protect pollinators by restricting neonic pesticides

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(Beyond Pesticides, January 26, 2022) Officials in New Jersey and New York are taking action to protect their states’ declining pollinator populations by restricting outdoor use of neonicotinoid insecticides. In New York, the State Department of Environmental Conservation announced that it would “restrict use” of these pesticides and make them available only to state-certified users. In New Jersey, A2070/S1016, sponsored by State Senator Bob Smith and Rep. Clinton Calabrese, was signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy last week after years of lobbying by national, state and local pollinator and environmental groups. “The law draws on the most current scientific evidence to ban the largest uses of neonics in the state,” said Lucas Roads, prosecutor for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “This is great news not only for pollinators poisoned by neonics, but for all farmers who depend on insect pollination and for all New Jersey residents who value thriving ecosystems.”

A2070/S1016 provides for a targeted phase-out of the outdoor use of bee-toxic neonicotinoids, chemicals implicated not only in pollinator decline but also in the collapse of entire ecosystems. Beginning 12 months after passage, the law will require government agencies to classify neonicotinoids as “restricted use.” Under this designation, only certified pesticide applicators would be permitted to apply these products, effectively eliminating consumer use. Then, in late 2023, the bill will ban all non-agricultural outdoor uses of neonicotinoids. Exceptions are limited to veterinary care, wood preservation, outdoor applications within one foot of a building, and invasive species. The State Agriculture Commissioner can also only issue a time-limited exemption if a user can prove that there is a “justified environmental emergency” and that no other less harmful plant protection product is available for the given emergency.

New Jersey and Maine now have the strictest state pollinator protection laws in the country. While now, in addition to New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Vermont and Massachusetts in general have phased out neon applications, the NJ and ME bills represent another step forward by eliminating most nonagricultural outdoor applications. These changes will have significant impacts on the health of pollinators and ecosystems, and will reduce an even greater proportion of the use of hazardous pesticides. A report released by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection found that of 250 surface water samples collected, at least one neonicotinoid was detected in more than half of those tested. Since even minute exposures to neon products are likely to kill wild pollinators, any future use that can be eliminated is a positive outcome for wildlife.

Although progress on protecting pollinators in the US has been slow compared to action in the European Union, which has banned all outdoor uses of neonicotinoids, including those in agriculture, the pesticide industry has devoted considerable resources to changing US policy to stop. A 2020 report, “The Playbook for Poisoning the Earth,” published in the Intercept by reporter Lee Fang, details a massive public deception campaign by the pesticide industry aimed squarely at urging state and federal action to protect pollinators from these highly dangerous pests to stop insecticides. As part of this playbook, the pesticide industry has worked to present itself not as a precursor, but as a solution to pollinator plight. This approach has focused on rotating the science around neonics, drawing attention to pre-existing problems in beekeeping such as diseases and mites that are actually made worse by the use of neonics, and farmers associated with the industry, beekeepers , scientists and other influencers try to confuse lawmakers and the public about the real cause of the pollinator decline.

Back in 2014, Beyond Pesticides claimed that this ongoing pollinator crisis was no longer a big mystery. But meaningful action has been diffuse, and only seven states have so far enacted restrictions on the use of neonicotinoids. At the federal level, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) only required non-binding “Managed Pollinator Protection Plans” from individual states (MP3s). These plans essentially passed the baton to state pesticide lobby groups to address pollinator protection; Not surprisingly, the use of pesticides was not an important part of most of these plans. Indeed, in 2019, the agency was indicted for its failure to provide basic oversight of these state MP3s, with the EPA’s Office of the Inspector General noting that the agency had no way to assess the impact of MP3s that the agency felt risks to pollinators too focused on acute cases and an insufficient amount of chronic impacts. The EPA’s inaction and inability to stand up to the pesticide industry means pollinators and ecosystems continue to suffer in most parts of the US

Government action is urgently needed to fill the gaps left by EPA inaction, and New Jersey and Maine is setting a new bar for neonicotinoid restrictions. However, stopping the use of neonicotinoids in the US is crucial in the long term and to prevent the next round of pollinator-toxic chemicals from spreading. The Saving America’s Pollinators Act would accomplish this goal by bypassing the industry-influenced EPA and allowing a panel of pollinator experts to make decisions about pesticide registration. Ask your congressional elected representative to support pollinators by supporting the Saving America’s Pollinators Act (SAPA). If they are already a co-sponsor, take this opportunity to thank them for their leadership on this critical issue.

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

Source: NRDC press release, New York DEC press release, A2070/S1016

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