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Kevin McDermott is a member of the Post-Dispatch Editorial Board.

EU moves to full ban on pesticides that harm bees

A hive of honeybees on display at the 2014 Vermont Farm Show in Essex Junction, Vt. Since taking office, President Donald Trump has reversed the ban on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides in national wildlife refuges and also dropped restrictions on another pesticide known for damaging honeybee populations: sulfoxaflor.

(AP Photo/Andy Duback, File)

Today’s Republican Party has hit on an inspired strategy for dealing with factual information that gets in the way of the party’s agenda: It hampers the gathering of that information.

Republicans have prevented government research on gun violence, because they don’t want the resulting data making the case for sane gun control. They’ve stymied climate-change data, the better to allow their industrial backers to pollute unimpeded. They’ve willfully ignored expert economic data in order to push for tax cuts that make no fiscal sense.

It’s like a policy version of those three monkeys that sit side-by-side, paws clamped over their eyes, ears and mouth: See no data, hear no data, speak no data.

As it turns out, even honeybees aren’t safe from the GOP’s monkeying around with data.

A recent Trump administration edict slashing federal data collection of honeybee populations was presented as a budget-cutting move. But critics say it has a darker motive: It comes as the administration is allowing expanded use of previously banned pesticides known to impact honeybee populations.

Happily for the pesticide producers and users — but not so much for the bees — the full extent of the damage they do to bee populations going forward will now remain unknown.

The Obama administration banned use in national wildlife refuges of neonicotinoid pesticides, a class of chemicals known to threaten pollinators like bees and butterflies. Under President Donald Trump — hostile as always toward both environmental safeguards and Barack Obama’s legacy — the Interior Department reversed the ban last year.

Then, earlier this month, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency dropped restrictions on another pesticide known for damaging honeybee populations: sulfoxaflor, manufactured by DowDupont’s Corteva agricultural division. In a report earlier this month, the EPA itself confirmed that sulfoxaflor is “very highly toxic” to bees. (Dow Chemical, incidentally, gave $1 million to Trump’s January 2017 inaugural celebration.)

How badly will these chemicals affect already-struggling bee populations? We may never know, because even as Trump’s EPA opens the regulatory spigot on pesticides, Trump’s Department of Agriculture is closing the data spigot on honeybees.

The department announced this month it’s suspending data collection for its annual Honeybee Colonies report, a crucial tool in tracking the dangerous decline of bees in recent years.

Their excuse (in context, that’s all it can be) is that the department needed to save money. This from an administration that’s shelling out billions to farmers to offset their losses from Trump’s unprovoked trade wars.

The annual bee survey was started in 2015 to address a threat that should be getting way more attention than it does: Bee colonies have declined dramatically in recent years. Scientists say there are multiple causes, including global warming and, yes, pesticides.

The implications are about more than honey for your tea. Bees pollinate about one-third of all the crops we eat, including most of the fruits. Tracking their populations is the only way to know if their declining numbers start going from a concern to a crisis. It’s not a question you want to put off asking until the orchards stop producing.

Unless, of course, you suspect the answer will make it more difficult for you to continue pushing the policy objectives you want to push.

It’s the same reason gun-rights advocates in Congress, primarily Republicans, passed the Dickey Amendment in the 1990s, effectively barring the federal government from studying the effects of gun violence. Studies had already shown that — surprise, surprise! — more guns in society mean more gun violence, which is just the kind of data that gives people crazy ideas about limiting weapons of war in the streets. Better to wait in blissful ignorance until the smoke clears, then offer thoughts and prayers.

It’s the same strategy behind the Trump administration’s frontal assault on climate science funding, attempting to gut federal data-gathering efforts via budget cuts. The administration has even resorted to pulling down climate-related government web pages in its effort to deny what virtually the entire global scientific community warns is happening to the planet.

And it’s why, when Republicans were putting together their massive 2017 tax cut for the rich, they practically stuck their fingers in their ears and made nonsense noises to prevent hearing economic experts of every persuasion — including Congress’ own analysts — tell them that the cuts wouldn’t “pay for themselves” in economic growth and would explode the deficit. Which, according to a recent report by the Congressional Research Service, is exactly what has happened.

Perhaps some sympathy is in order. After all, when your policy goal is to dispute the indisputable evidence of climate change for the sake of polluters, or to promote a discredited economic theory that coddles the rich at the expense of everyone else, or to sacrifice bees to the profit margins of chemical companies, a clear-eyed assessment of the data isn’t necessarily your friend. As comedian Stephen Colbert once observed: “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.”