When honey bee populations began to drastically decline in 2006 from what came to be known as Colony Collapse Disorder, the response from the United States Department of Agriculture was swift. As research emerged on the causes, pesticides—specifically a new and widely used class of pesticides called neonicotinoids—quickly emerged as an identifiable culprit. In reaction, the Environmental Protection Agency, as the administrator of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, began to develop a new, tiered ecological risk assessment framework to better analyze the risk that pesticides posed to honey bees and other insect pollinators. In 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency applied the new guidelines to the application for registration of a new type of neonicotinoid, sulfoxaflor. However, despite the analysis showing that sulfoxaflor posed high risks to honey bees, the Environmental Protection Agency approved the unconditional registration of sulfoxaflor. Pollinator advocates then successfully challenged the Environmental Protection Agency’s registration of the neonicotinoid pesticide, sulfoxaflor in Pollinator Stewardship Council v. EPA. This was a victory for pollinator advocates who had been unsuccessful in challenging other pesticide registrations due to the lengthy administrative petition required.
This Note argues that it was the combination of honey bees’ critical importance in the agricultural industry and their prevalence in popular culture that drove the quick agency action that led to the Environmental Protection Agency’s creation of the Pollinator Risk Assessment guidelines. These new guidelines included set standards that allowed pollinator advocates to successfully challenge a registration. However, even though the Pollinator Risk Assessment guidelines have resulted in the Environmental Protection Agency applying higher scrutiny to neonicotinoids, the ability of the new guidelines to significantly impact pesticide policy is and will continue to be limited, even while honey bees continue to garner attention in popular culture.