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Court-Imposed Pesticide Air Pollution Standards Reversed on Appeal

(Beyond Pesticides, August 26, 2008) On August 20, 2008, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a 2006 ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California (Sacramento) that required the state of California to establish limits on air pollution associated with pesticide use. The Appeals Court found that the lower court did not have jurisdiction to impose solutions under the Clean Air Act.

According to the plaintiffs represented by the Center for Race, Poverty and the Environment (CPRE), an environmental justice litigation organization based in San Francisco, pesticides are the fourth largest source of smog-forming volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions in California’s San Joaquin Valley. Prior to 2005, the state did not regulate this source of pollution from the politically powerful agriculture industry, even though the state had made a promise to reduce VOC emissions from pesticides by 20% more than a decade earlier in its Ozone State Implementation Plan, a smog clean up plan adopted pursuant to the Clean Air Act. El Comité para el Bienestar de Earlimart and the Association of Irritated Residents, represented by CRPE, filed suit (El Comité para el Bienestar de Earlimart, et al. v. Warmerdam, et al.) in U.S. District Court in Sacramento in July 2005.

In April 2006, Judge Lawrence Karlton ruled in their favor, requiring California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) to implement regulations to reduce VOC emissions from pesticides by 20% from 1990 levels by January 1, 2008. The judge found the act was violated when regulators used improper data in calculating the baseline for emission reduction goals and thus did not adopt “enforceable control measures.”

The state appealed and 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the state.

“As it carefully worked through the parties’ labyrinthine administrative law arguments, the [U.S. District] court acknowledged that its rulings were potentially incongruous. We agree. In our view, the district court ultimately exceeded its jurisdiction,” says the appellate ruling. “While we acknowledge that the baseline is a critical foundation, this does not change our view that neither the baseline nor the methodology qualify as independently enforceable aspects of the state’s plan.”

The ruling was unanimous among the three-judge panel of Circuit Judges Diarmuid O’Scannlain, Michael Hawkins and Margaret McKeown.


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