Jekyll and Hyde EPA Mangles Energy, Agriculture Policy

EPA officials speak of "crucifying" oil and gas producers while turning a blind eye to the plight of honeybees imperiled by Bayer's Poncho

One of the most enduring pair of characters in fiction is Dr. Jekyll, who of course metamorphoses into Mr. Hyde. Jekyll is a mild-mannered scientist who has developed a potion he believes will help humanity, but it actually transforms him into Mr. Hyde, a fiend who wields a brass-headed cane and attacks victims at random. Apparently the Environmental Protection Agency has a Jekyll and Hyde personality issue.

On the one hand we have the videotaped exhortation of Al Almendariz, who was responsible for the EPA region encompassing the states traditionally thought of as the “oil patch.” Al’s idea of a good oil and gas company is a terrified oil and gas company, having seen one or more of it’s fellows “crucified” in the way Roman legions grabbed a few random individuals and executed upon their entry into a town in order to subdue the rest. His statement reinforced all the fears that American businesspeople have had for decades about how federal enforcement agencies do business. You can just imagine Mr. Almendariz in the role of the EPA agent who harassed the Ghostbusters, imperiously turning off their ectoplasmic containment system and setting the ghosts free to terrorize New York once again.

In this case though, terror seems to have been less effective than actually working with and monitoring the industries involved. BP’s Macondo well blew up on his watch, and there was no shortage of safety violations leading up to the actual accident. It turns out that Mr. Hyde was not as good a beat cop as he thought. Which brings us to Dr. Jekyll.

Honeybees have had it tough in this country for the past few years. What was first reported in early 2007 was that entire colonies of bees were losing their ability to forage and find their way back to the hive, ultimately resulting in the death of the colony from a syndrome called “colony collapse.” In the months that followed, all sorts of conjectures and hypotheses sprouted up as various scientists spoke of fungi, mites and even cell phone towers as the potential cause. The issue is an important one because many farms and groves depend on rented bee colonies to pollinate their crops.

In the end, one cause stood out: neonicotinoid pesticides. Specifically Bayer’s Poncho. Virtually every seed of corn planted in the U.S. is coated with Poncho or something like it. Poncho has not received the amount of real-world academic study necessary to be certified for use. Rather, it has been repeatedly been given provisional certification by the EPA. The same EPA that comes down hard on small oil and gas producers is ignoring the pleas of thousands of beekeepers and farmers whose livelihoods are being damaged by Pancho as well as the fact that many of the nations of Europe have banned it or severely restricted its use. Bees are extraordinarily sensitive to this class of compound, and even though it is used in extremely minute amounts, it has been shown to make its way into the dandelions and other weeds that border cultivated fields.

The EPA is not the only federal enforcement agency that slacks in one place while overzealously policing another. It’s just the one whose actions stand out in such stark relief this week. And that’s a shame.

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