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Assembly Resolutions Attack Moth Spraying Plan

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday February 26, 2008

Five assemblymembers introduced a swarm of resolutions Friday aimed at changing state rules that give the agriculture department secretary the authority to order aerial pesticide spraying after declaring an emergency due to the invasion of a pest. 

The pest at issue is the Light Brown Apple Moth, which the state agriculture secretary says has the potential to cause severe damage to California’s agribusiness, although no such damage has been reported. 

State Sen. Carole Migden plans to introduce a resolution in the Senate this week, calling for a moratorium on the spray. 

Resolutions approved by the state Legislature are advisory and do not carry the force of law. 

The California Department of Food and Agriculture plans to spray CheckMate, a pesticide produced by Suterra LLC in Bend, Ore., from planes over Santa Cruz and Monterey counties in June and Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin and San Mateo counties in August. (Specifically, in Alameda County the CDFA says it will spray the cities of Berkeley, Alameda Albany, Emeryville, Oakland and Piedmont, and in Contra Costa, it plans to spray El Cerrito, El Sobrante, Hercules, Kensington, Pinole Richmond and San Pablo.) 

Santa Cruz and Monterey counties were sprayed during four days in September, after which more than 600 persons reported health problems such as difficulty breathing, diarrhea, itchy skin and more.  

Tonight (Tuesday) at the Berkeley City Council meeting, the state will present its rationale for wanting to use the spray; spray opponents will have equal time to speak. Other citizens will have one minute each to weigh in. And Councilmember Dona Spring is asking the council to sign on to a resolution joining the Albany City Council in opposing the spray. 

The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at the Maudelle Shirek Building, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, is televised on Channel 33 and broadcast on KPFB-FM 89.3. 

The five bills introduced in the Assembly on Friday are: 

• AB 2764, by Assemblymember Loni Hancock, D-Oakland/Berkeley, would prohibit the CDFA secretary from approving the application of a pesticide in an urban area, unless the governor has proclaimed a state of emergency. The secretary currently declares the emergency, which carries the ability to mandate how and where the eradication will take place. 

“We are trying to bring some transparency to a process that seems to favor economic interest over public health,” Hancock said in a prepared statement. “The fact that the Department is now doing an EIR that won't be complete until some time after the spraying has commenced brings into question the openness of this process. We believe that there are significant questions that remain unanswered and we are trying to get answers for our constituents before the spraying occurs.”  

• AB 2763, the Invasive Pest Planning Act of 2008, by Assemblymember John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, would require the CDFA to create a list of invasive animals, plants, and insects likely to enter California, for which an eradication program might be appropriate. The department would be required to prepare an assessment of the most appropriate eradication method for each that would include the chemistry of the pesticide and its impact on public health and the environment. It would coordinate with the Public Health, and Fish and Game departments. 

• AB 2765, by Assemblymember Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, sets new limits on the CDFA’s emergency powers, requiring a public hearing to receive testimony and examine alternatives to aerial spraying prior to any decision to spray. Aerial spraying of urban areas in emergency situations would be prohibited without full disclosure of all elements in any pesticide product and a certification of its safety by state health officials.  

• AB 2760, by Assemblyman Leno, D-San Francisco, would require that an environmental impact report be completed before the CDFA can apply pesticide in an urban area for the eradication of the light brown apple moth. The current emergency rules permit completion of an EIR after the spraying has taken place. 

“The report will arm us with the information we need to help the state and communities make an informed decision. Too much is at stake to enter into the discussion without all of the facts,” Leno said in a statement. 

• AB 2892 is a bill introduced Friday by Assemblymember Sandré Swanson that will become law if passed by both houses of the legislature. It would require the CDFA secretary to obtain the consent of two-thirds of the registered voters of the affected cities and counties before applying a pesticide from the air in a proclaimed pest eradication zone that includes an urban area. The state would bear the cost of the election. 

• Laird will also be introducing this week a joint resolution—one that goes through the Assembly then to the Senate—about how the LBAM eradication effort should be conducted. It will say that it is the responsibility of the government to demonstrate that its actions are necessary, appropriate, and do not compromise health or the environment, and that the various state departments and agencies involved in the LBAM eradication effort need to address the unresolved health, scientific, and efficacy issues concerning the 2007 eradication effort.  

There will be a hearing on the use of the aerial spray as part of the Environmental Impact Report at the Elihu Harris State Building, 1515 Clay St., Oakland, 6-8:30 p.m. The public can give input at that time. The hearing will be re-broadcast on KPFA-FM 94.1 at 10 a.m. Wednesday.