Judge: State Agency Can’t Spray Pesticides at Will

(CN) – The California agency that regulates farming will not be able to deploy pesticides after a judge issued an order preventing from doing so until they perform more specific environmental analysis of its effects, according to an announcement made by The Center for Biological Diversity.

A slew of environmental organizations won a legal victory after Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley granted a preliminary injunction that will prevent the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) from spraying various pesticides.

The CDFA deploys numerous methods to control pests on behalf of California farmers, including introducing prey, organic control methods, traps and the spraying of pesticides.

To codify its management, the agency adopted the Statewide Plant Pest Prevention and Management Program, which focuses on lists of the various methods it will use to control pests and pathogens on behalf of the agricultural industry.

Lead plaintiff North Coast Rivers Alliance sued in state court, saying the agency performed an Environmental Impact Review that was too broad in scope. The suit was joined by several other plaintiffs including The Center for Biological Diversity, whose main concern was impacts to endangered species like the Red-Legged frog.

“The CDFA basically said in their EIR that spraying various pesticides on a statewide basis had no environmental impact,” said Jonathan Evans of the Center. “We argued and the judge agreed that an analysis had to be more site-specific and that statewide analysis was too broad.”

The injunction, which was issued last Thursday, will take effect in the next couple of weeks. Initially, the judge enjoined the entire pest control program but agreed to more narrowly tailor it to apply specifically to the issue of pesticides.

The CDFA deploys approximately 75 pesticides — including controversial ones like chlorpyrifos, neonicotinoids and glyphosate.

Chlorpyrifos has been connected to increased cancer rates, developmental problems in children and was at one point nearly banned by the Environmental Protection Agency before the Trump administration ordered further study.

Glyphosate, commercially known as Round-Up, has also been linked to human health concerns, although the battle over whether it causes cancer continues to play out in the courts and through regulatory agencies.

Neonicotinoids have been shown to adversely affect honey bee populations and other important pollinators.

The environmental advocates said the CDFA should not have carte blanche to spray wherever they want whenever they want, including in people’s backyards and other parts of private property.

“The court rejected the agency’s blank check to spray people’s yards, exposing children and pets to a range of pesticides that can cause serious long-term problems, including cancer, asthma, and IQ loss,” said Debbie Friedman, founder of MOMS Advocating Sustainability in a written statement. “If only the $4.5 million in taxpayer dollars used to develop this outdated program had been spent to develop a modern, sustainable approach that does not rely on toxic chemicals, just imagine what progress we could have made toward a healthier environment for everyone.”

The injunction means the CDFA will have to return to the drawing board regarding analysis of its use of pesticides, likely undertaking a more site specific analysis of various landscapes and the species that could be harmed therein.

“Now California must ensure these pesticides aren’t harming our water supplies and imperiled species like salmon,” said Jonathan Evans, environmental health legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity in a written statement. “This ruling affirms that people should have a voice in pesticide use in their neighborhoods.”

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