Gov. Kathy Hochul has a tough decision to make, one that will test her political courage and demonstrate whether she's a real leader or just another pandering pol.
Hochul must choose whether to sign or veto a bill banning a certain class of insecticides that are used worldwide and save up to 71% of farmers' crops.
Steamrolled through the Democrat-ruled Legislature after environmental activists' intense lobbying — including one screaming at a lawmaker at a farmers' market — the ban would devastate New York's farmers and upstate communities.
The Natural Resources Defense Council claims "bees and other pollinators are dying off in droves," endangering "food security," and neonicotinoid ("neonic") insecticides are "a primary culprit."
But even The New York Times just admitted the "bee-pocalypse" hysteria — which it helped foment — is not only bogus but has done more harm than good.
Neonics function by protecting crops as seedlings grow, as well as under the soil line after planting. Because profit margins are thin for many crops, the availability of neonics can make the difference between profitability and foreclosure.
Extensive Cornell University field studies have shown that up to 66% of corn crops grown without neonic-treated seeds suffered economically damaging losses.
These losses were particularly high in fields utilizing cover crops because New York corn's primary pest, the seedcorn maggot, is attracted to high levels of organic matter.
Cover crops are an essential component of sustainable agriculture, contributing to soil health, water quality, pest management and climate-change mitigation.
Neonics have no suitable replacements. So-called "alternatives" are less effective and more expensive.
If New York bans them, the state's farmers will have higher input and labor costs, even as they watch their incomes literally being consumed by insects in the field.
They will be at a competitive disadvantage with states that have more enlightened policies, and the population exodus from New York's rural counties, already the state's highest, would intensify.
The neonic-ban legislation should be ripe for a veto, but the 800-pound gorilla threatening Hochul in this fight is New York City's Natural Resources Defense Council.
With a yearly war chest exceeding $200 million and a huge staff of political activists and lawyers, the NRDC wields considerable political clout and has ties to the financial networks of hedge-fund managers, corporate executives and other 1-percenters who raise big money for political campaigns.
In the calculus of electoral politics, these people are probably much more important to the governor's political survival than the farming families that would be damaged — or even dispossessed — by the neonic ban.
Hochul should have no illusions about the NRDC's agenda, which is, as usual, based on ideology, not science.
The NRDC still propagandizes against genetically modified crops, for example, despite the overwhelming scientific consensus they're safe, increase yields and lessen runoff and CO2 emissions.
And for years, the NRDC has campaigned against neonics on the grounds that they're driving honeybees extinct, even as bee populations were steadily rising.
The Times reports the number of honeybee hives has increased 26% worldwide in the last decade.
The Obama administration created a special White House commission to investigate bee health in 2013.
It tasked the Environmental Protection Agency to perform a special review to ascertain whether neonics are a threat to pollinators.
The regulators examined hundreds of high-quality studies and state-of-the-art field trials. Their determination: Neonics can be used safely without harming bees.
Jim Jones, then-EPA's assistant administrator for chemical safety and pollution prevention, noted neonic seed treatments (which account for up to 98% of neonic usage in many field crops) appear in mature crops at such minute levels that it's almost as if the neonics are not there.
So how did this ban get passed?
Activists misled legislators with a single Cornell report from 2020 with serious credibility problems that implausibly concluded neonics are unnecessary.
Its flaws included the absence of any new research, confusion about key concepts such as the difference between toxicity and risk, reliance solely on lab studies rather than real-world field data and the failure to understand the difference between systemic and foliar uptake.
It also lacked any consideration of actual pesticide-use patterns by New York farmers.
In the end, lawmakers decided that despite what the EPA, the broader scientific community and farmers think, neonics can be banned.
If a field does happen to be destroyed by insects, the ban proponents reasoned, farmers can always replant it, a hugely costly undertaking and rarely practical in New York because of the short growing season.
If Gov. Hochul truly cares about New York's $3.3 billion agriculture industry and public policy that makes sense, she will veto the bill.
Henry I. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, is the Glenn Swogger distinguished fellow at the American Council on Science and Health.