I was the lead attorney on a lawsuit challenging the EPA’s approval of the pesticide sulfoxaflor. Neonicotinoid pesticides like sulfoxaflor, which are derived from nicotine, have been shown to reduce bee colony growth and impact bee navigation and foraging. Last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the EPA should not have approved sulfoxaflor without reliable studies on how it impacts honeybee colonies, meaning the pesticide can’t be used on any crops in the U.S. unless Dow Chemical provides the EPA with much stronger scientific evidence. The courts almost never overturn the approval of a pesticide, so this is a huge victory for American beekeepers.

Read more about the case in The New York Times, the LA Times, and Rolling Stone.

I work for Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm that protects wild lands and wildlife and advocates for renewable energy and human communities free from pollution. My focus is on endangered species in the Sierra Nevada, and my past clients include frogs, toads, snakes, fish and other esteemed residents of the Golden State.
Proof, and for comparison, more proof.

I’ll be answering questions live starting at 12:30 p.m. Pacific/3:30 p.m. Eastern. Ask me anything!

EDIT: So long and thanks for all the fish! It was great answering your questions, and please check out our work at http://earthjustice.org/

EDIT: FRONT PAGE?! Thanks reddit for supporting my work! I'm back to answer more questions by popular demand!

EDIT: Thanks again reddit! I've got to sign off, but I've really enjoyed answering your questions. You can learn more about Earthjustice's work on pesticides here: http://earthjustice.org/healthy-communities/toxic-chemicals

Comments: 1516 • Responses: 28  • Date: 

TheAmberAmazon1182 karma

What can the average person do to help bees?

GregLEarthjustice1375 karma

First off, when buying ornamental plants for your home garden, make sure that they don't come pre-treated with neonics. Unfortunately, many big nurseries are still selling flowers that are sprayed with neonics.

deimosusn440 karma

Are plants typically labelled as such? Are there any plants that we should specifically avoid, or, better yet, are there any plants that we should try to get?

GregLEarthjustice925 karma

Home Depot, for example, tends to include a tag indicating that the plant has been treated with neonics "to prevent unwanted plants." Unfortunately, the tag doesn't divulge that neonics are deadly to bees, so the public can be misled into thinking that neonics are a good thing!

MiddleEarthGardens66 karma

So far as I know, many of the big box stores nursery plants aren't labelled. Home Depot has started labeling them. Look for innocuous, harmless looking plant tags that make it sound innocent. The wording's something misleading along the lines of: This plant has been treated with neonicotinoids, which help keep annoying pests like whiteflies and aphids away. Insert rage at the misleading language, but at least they're labeling.

Ask local nurseries about whether or not they use neonics. There are some online places that specifically don't use them (Prairie Moon nurseries, Santa Rosa? I think?, Prairie Nursery).

Plant native plants, if you can. They evolved along with insects that are native to your area. There are tons that can be beautiful. (That being said, my oregano is often the most popular plant with the bees for a couple weeks in the summer.)

Plant for bloom in all seasons to provide food for your bees, from early spring (flowering native shrubs?) all the way to late autumn (asters, goldenrod). Mind you, my suggestions are from someone who lives in the Northeast. That would change if you live, say, in California or the Southwest.

Finally, cherish those adorable little bees as they go about their business. :) Our bumblebees are so gentle. I've picked up a few and moved them carefully (with gloves - I'm not that brave) during a hailstorm, and they were very chill about it.

utspg198021 karma

So that i don't sound like a noob, how do you pronounce neonics?

Neon( like the gas) -icks?

baladash_malanore23 karma

Neo nics, I assume - from neonicotinoids.

GregLEarthjustice17 karma

That's right!

m1w1593 karma

Successfully facing off vs the EPA and Dow Chemical, even in the 9th Circuit, is amazing. Congratulations! What were some of the most frustrating/challenging hurdles presented to you by the opposing counsel and how did you overcome them?

GregLEarthjustice590 karma

One big challenge we routinely face is that the courts tend to grant federal agencies a huge amount of deference when it comes to issues perceived as "technical." But in the case of sulfoxaflor, we were able to demonstrate that the problem was really pretty simple: EPA didn't have the scientific studies that they were supposed to have. The trick is cutting through the other side's inevitable smokescreen to make plain that basic flaw.

jawathehutt94 karma


GregLEarthjustice417 karma

I don't think I can say it better than Judge N.R. Smith, a judge appointed by President Bush who authored a special concurrence in the sulfoxaflor case. In Judge Smith's words: "We will continue to grant agencies great deference, particularly in cases, such as this one, which involve 'substantial agency expertise'. . . However, there is a great difference between ordering an agency to explain every possible scientific uncertainty . . . and requiring it to articulate a satisfactory explanation for its action that is based on scientific data. . . . For me, unless I am provided with evidence of the EPA's basis for its judgment and knowledge, I can only assume it acted with none."

fulldicknohalfdick180 karma

Why do you have to say in response the NPR article basically saying everything is fine and the numbers reported don't really tell the story at all?

GregLEarthjustice230 karma

First, we cannot expect native pollinators to stand in for commercially kept honeybees. Native bees are great, but where are we going to find the 1.5 million colonies it takes just to pollinate California's almond crop each January? Second, every indication is that native bees have been taking it in the ear as well, and that's a huge environmental impact in its own right.

lilmikesf92 karma

Is Bayer the only company producing Neonicotinid pesticides or do others face litigation as well?

GregLEarthjustice106 karma

Several of the large agro-chemical companies manufacture neonicotinoid insecticides. Sulfoxaflor, for example, was manufactured by Dow AgroSciences.

Lbsaki76 karma

What's next to save the bees?

GregLEarthjustice128 karma

So much remains to be done. Getting sulfoxaflor off the market was a huge step in the right direction, but there are a number of older neonics still out there. We're committed to working with the beekeepers to ensure that we don't lose our bees.

klaymorekush11 karma

What are the older neonics we should look for? You said sulfoxaflor was very poorly labeled. My question is, what/if are there any hot words or anything I should look for on tags when buying plants? Oh yea, and you are awesome! Thanks for saving the bees. Fuck wasps though... sulfoxaflor all of those bastards

GregLEarthjustice17 karma

The older neonics are clothianidin, imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, and dinotefuran. You've got to read the fine print, because there are a range of pesticide products sold under snazzy sounding brand names that contain these active ingredients.

Awarmingtrout55 karma

Thanks a lot for fighting the good fight, my question is how much other stuff needs to be removed to save bees in your opinion?

GregLEarthjustice70 karma

That's a good question, and I honestly don't know the answer. To a large extent, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was created to sort this out and to ensure that pesticide use does not put us all at risk. Unfortunately, EPA hasn't been doing its job with respect to neonics, and we're seeing colony collapse as a result. EPA can and must do better!

Miss_Melusine33 karma

Is there an endangered species in the Sierra Nevada that you think more people should know about and are interested in protecting? It seems so much focus is on the "cute" or high profile animals.

GregLEarthjustice42 karma

Mountain yellow-legged frog!

g2420hd21 karma

Would those chemical companies now try and poach you by offering obscene amounts of money?

Does this even happen ?

GregLEarthjustice89 karma

Hah! I have no idea! I can tell you with great confidence, however, that the people who work at Earthjustice are not motivated primarily by money. Our lawyers don't drive fancy cars, and our executives definitely don't fly business. And yet you can pretty much feel the enthusiasm every time you walk in the door. For me, it's the sense that we're giving a voice to the voiceless. We're ensuring that the judicial system isn't just for the rich, but available for anyone and anything deserving of justice.

kelsette15 karma

Hi Greg. Well done! I'm a trainee lawyer (UK) interested in environmental law. Were there times that you became overwhelmed by the amount of bee biology and scientific evidence you needed to learn when you were putting together your case? If so, how did you stay focused?

GregLEarthjustice26 karma

These cases are complex, and the science can seem daunting at times. You've basically got to read everything two or three times before it starts to make sense. But there's nothing more satisfying than exposing a bad decision that's based on smoke and mirrors.

DaftPump14 karma

What made you work with http://earthjustice.org/ in the first place? Do you work on other projects with them or was it just this case?

Do you think the people at earthjustice should do their own AMA? I've never heard of the org but an AMA would be good exposure.

GregLEarthjustice29 karma

I've been at Earthjustice for 15 years, and I cannot imagine a better place to work. I've had the opportunity to work on a huge range of different cases on behalf of so many committed people. In just about every case, we're up against giant for-profit law firms with seemingly endless resources. But the wonderful thing about the legal system is that it still provides a remarkably level playing field. It's been a genuine privilege to do this work.

red_autumn_luna8 karma

What do you think will really happen if bees go extinct?

GregLEarthjustice20 karma

The reality is that commercial beekeepers will go extinct (read, bankrupt) long before honeybees. But the impact on agriculture and our diet will be essentially the same, because many of our most important crops absolutely require commercially kept bees for pollination. Agriculture as we know it just wouldn't be possible without commercial beekeepers.

tgwill2 karma

How will you celebrate? Will it involve heating honey on a bent spoon with a lighter?

Great accomplishment BTW.

GregLEarthjustice7 karma

Thank you! Perhaps a frosty glass of mead!

Miamijosh1 karma

Do u like the movie life of bees?

GregLEarthjustice7 karma

Haven't seen it! But I did see "More than Honey," and really enjoyed it.

ILikeLenexa0 karma

Did you see the shark tank episode with the Beethinking guys? What did you think, did you have anything to say about it?

GregLEarthjustice2 karma

I haven't seen it. But I will put it on the list. Thanks!