SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — A federal judge on Friday refused to dismiss a lawsuit claiming the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency illegally widened exemptions for bee-killing pesticides.
Beekeepers and environmentalists will now get to peek at the EPA’s emails and internal files in an effort to prove the agency enacted a new rule when it released a guidance document on investigating pesticide-related bee deaths in 2013.
“We’ll be looking for evidence to show this was a final agency action,” plaintiffs’ attorney Amy Van Saun of Center for Food Safety said. “We’re very happy, and we think it was the right decision.”
Lead plaintiff Jeff Anderson, a beekeeper who owns honey farms in California and Minnesota, sued the EPA in January. He claims the agency fails to regulate pesticide-coated seeds and their resulting dust-off as required under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).
Anderson says the EPA illegally enacted a new rule without allowing for a public process when it released a document stating that pesticide-coated seeds and their resulting dust-off “may be exempt from registration under FIFRA.”
The exemptions will allow a particularly toxic strain of pesticides known as neonicotinoids to be freely distributed over 150 million acres of land — killing bees, poisoning birds and contaminating large swaths of soil and water, the plaintiffs claim.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup denied the EPA’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit after a hearing Thursday.
The judge found that without more evidence, he could not determine whether the 2013 guidance document constituted a final agency action as defined under the Administrative Procedure Act.
Van Saun said this is not the first time the EPA has tried to sidestep public-process requirements and enact new rules by issuing proclamations in a “guidance document.”
“EPA often makes real rules and does it in these guidances,” Van Saun said. “I think the court is savvy to that and wants to make sure if EPA was making a real rule here that it wasn’t hiding it in a guidance.”
The EPA did not return a request for comment Friday, but in court filings the agency has argued its guidance document merely conveyed recommendations and that it did not create any new exemptions for pesticide-coated seeds.
Van Saun said she does not believe evidence in this suit should be limited to the record surrounding the 2013 guidance document, because plaintiffs also claim the EPA has failed to enforce pesticide regulations as required under FIFRA.
In his May 13 ruling, Alsup also granted a cadre of farming and pesticide industry groups’ motion to intervene in the lawsuit, to oppose the plaintiffs’ challenge of the EPA’s pesticide regulation enforcement.
The EPA has until June 27 to turn over internal files and emails regarding the 2013 guidance document, but Van Saun expects a few disputes to erupt before then over what is considered part of the “administrative record.”
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