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  • Megan Kaun

AB99 (Connolly) ESTM Hearing - Success!

Assembly Member Damon Connolly's Caltrans Integrated Pest Management (IPM) bill (AB99) made it through the Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials (ESTM) committee hearing this week. A video of the proceedings is provided below.

AB99 would provide communities with some local control over the pesticides used by California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) on state highways. Numerous counties in California have passed ordinances banning the use of synthetic pesticides for routine, non-emergency land maintenance. Caltrans, however, is exempt from local rules and is allowed to spray pesticides with far less oversight and environmental precautions. In their 1992 Environmental Impact Report (EIR) Caltrans stated a goal to use Integrated Pest Managements (IPM) principles to reduce pesticide use by 80% in 2012. Unfortunately, Caltrans' pesticide use has only increased. AB99 would require Caltrans to use IPM to eliminate unnecessary pesticide use.

AB99 is supported by a broad coalition of over 75 organizations from throughout California including the Sierra Club, California Coastkeeper Alliance, Environmental Working Group, California Nurses for Environmental Health and Justice, American Bird Conservancy, and California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation.

Opposition to the bill comes primarily from the American Chemistry Council and other members of the chemical industry and associates (primarily large agricultural operations). These groups predictably oppose all legislature that limits in any way the use of toxic chemicals. Interestingly enough, these groups are in support of the California Department of Pesticide Regulation's "Sustainable Pesticide Management" initiative, which suggests that the proposed SPM program may not be about reducing pesticide use. This will be the subject of a future blog article. It's important to note that despite allegations from the opposition, AB99 allows for emergency pesticide use in cases that impact public health, fire risk, and invasive species management. It also provides Caltrans with a mechanism to use chemical treatment in situations where other methods have not been effective.

Patty Clary from Californians for Alternatives to Toxics (CaTS) provided a key testimony in support of the bill. Her statement, which includes a summary of her 40+ years of experience working with Caltrans to (successfully!) stop spraying roadsides in Humboldt and Mendocino Counties, is provided below.

Good afternoon Assembly Members, thank you for having me here today. My name is Patty

Clary, I’m executive director of Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, also known as CATs. Our

members throughout the northern California region are concerned about the risks involved

with releasing toxic materials into the environment. From our founding in 1980 we are opposed

to the use of herbicides on road and highway right of ways.

In 1989, Caltrans stopped using herbicides in District 1, including Del Norte, Humboldt,

Mendocino and Lake counties—when CATs threatened to sue the agency for ignoring CEQA

analysis of its herbicide program. The boards of supervisors of Humboldt and Mendocino

counties asked in 1997 for a continuation of vegetation management without herbicides and

Caltrans agreed. District 1 then convened a District Roadside Vegetation Management

Alternatives Committee of which I was a member for its duration of twenty-one years. Success

was achieved for some of the alternatives that were studied but other promising ones were

dismissed by Caltrans without further effort to explore their viability, and these remain

available for a closer look.

According to the Chair of Humboldt County’s Board of Supervisors “To our knowledge there

have been no reports of safety violations, vehicle accidents, roadside fire ignitions, spread of

noxious weeds and invasive plants or other problems caused by the cessation of herbicides for

vegetation control on right-of-ways. Both the County and Caltrans vegetation management

teams apparently have perfected their roadside maintenance operations in more than three

decades of practice by using a variety of options, the essence of IPM programs as described by


Both counties have areas determined by state authorities as among the highest risk for wildfire,

and have within them multiple lane freeways and winding two-lane highways that support

freight traffic from interstate freeways.

Caltrans’ herbicide program EIR contained an extensive description of what is as yet an

unfulfilled plan for a policy of integrated pest management, or IPM, to reduce herbicide use

80% by 2012 from its 1992 benchmark of 400,000 pounds. Caltrans failed to achieve that goal

by 2012. The response to a public records act request I received from Caltrans, the agency

admitted to using close to 421,000 pounds of herbicide formulations last year.

I’ve learned that the agency has at long last convened an internal vegetation management

oversight committee, also promised long ago in the 1992 EIR.

Caltrans has begun to collaborate with others to clear its right-of-ways for fire resilience. A

recent CalFire grant to a fire safe council was provided to remove brush along Highway 35. And

a 200-acre controlled burn with Caltrans in collaboration with a fire safe council and others

including a Tribe is planned for Highway 101 in Mendocino County. To CATs, these are

interesting mini-steps but we are deeply concerned about Caltrans continued and even increase

of herbicide use and failure to develop a statewide IPM program it promised. The legislature’s

involvement by passage of AB99 will provide the needed incentive to get Caltrans moving in the right direction for its 130,000 acres of roadsides under its care and the associated affected

environment it impacts.

Patty Clary, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics (CaTS)

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