Sacramento County Superior Court Judge James Arguelles ruled on Tuesday that a state program that sprays pesticides on public and private land is to be halted within two months due to state officials not looking into potential health effects properly.
For the last several years, the Statewide Plant Pest Prevention and Management Program, a program under the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) that helps control the damage done by invasive species such as Japanese beetles and European Grapevine Moths, has been targeted by many health and environmental groups. While the CDFA has pushed for the use of pesticides to both help farmers and to control a major environmental problem through invasive species, the environmental and health groups have charged that the more than 75 pesticides used by the program didn’t fully look into all the environmental factors, such as how they would contaminate water sources or their negative effect on bees.
In October, Justice Louis Mauro of the California State Court of Appeals Third District in Sacramento ruled in favor of the environmental and health groups over similar arguments. According to North Coast Rivers Alliance V. California Department of Food and Agriculture, Judge Mauro found that the CDFA had not provided adequate evidence for some of their claims.
“The department concluded that its statewide pesticide-management practices would prevent further harm to waterways that had already been polluted, no facts supporting the department’s assertions are provided,” said Judge Mauro in October. “The state failed to document its conclusion that its policies, federal regulations and warnings on product labels would keep chemicals out of waters in agricultural areas. The department also acknowledged that pesticides can poison bees, but it failed to back up its claim that its management practices would minimize harm to bees and other pollinators.”
In addition to not providing enough evidence or backing, Judge Mauro also found the program in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) through not reviewing sites properly and not notifying the public before spraying.
With multiple lawsuits filed, the Superior Court also heard the case. Judge Arguelles largely followed what the higher courts said on Tuesday, despite the CDFA finding that their individual sprayings had been properly assessed by a statewide environmental impact report and found that no environmental harm was found.
However, without an environmental impact report that discloses pesticide use across the state, as well as previous factors addressed, the potential harm was found to be too great with the Judge ordering that all sprayings were to be halted by the end of July. The only exceptions will be spraying projects that have already been approved with court-approved environmental impact reports backing it up.
Praise, derision over court decision
Environmental groups praised the courts decision on Tuesday.
“This court ruling stopping indiscriminate pesticide spraying by the state is a huge victory for public health, the environment and species impacted by toxic pesticides,” said West Coast director for the Center for Food Safety Rebecca Spector on Tuesday.
However, farmers and planters who rely on the pesticides to help keep pests at bay were outraged.
“You are going to end a pesticide program only a few months before harvest time? Are they insane?” Stan Richter, a farmer in the Central Valley who has been a proponent of pesticide use for years, told the Globe. “Ok, let’s put this in simple terms so even those Judges can understand. Roses. Say someone who is planting a lot of roses has a severe problem with Japanese beetles. Anyone who has had roses before knows how damaging they can be, and on the small scale, probably has been out there with a spoon and bowl of Lysol and water pushing them in leaf by leaf so they are dead.”
“These pesticides decimate them, so growers from the local hobbyist to the farmer can better control and eradicate them on their own with traps and sprays of their own. You get rid of these state sprays and they are screwed. And that is one pest with one plant. These sprays help protect California’s agriculture, which in case you haven’t noticed, is already being hurt by water issues.”
“They are putting our industry at greater risk, and by the way going against the environmentally right thing to do by getting rid of invasive species, just because a state agency didn’t do a few environmental impact reports in certain ways. Essentially these environmentalists are putting the future of California agriculture at risk because someone forgot to do a report. I hope a judge out there sees how dangerous this really is and allows these sprays to restart because we need them.”
Both the Appellate and Superior court rulings noted that that Department can issue a new report that discloses the dangers of the pesticides, although another court ruling would be needed to resume the sprays. As of Wednesday the CDFA is currently mulling over an appeal to the Superior Court ruling.