AB99 Quietly Blocked by the Senate
Assembly Bill that would have curtailed Caltrans' pesticides use "quietly killed last week without explanation", spurring allegations of corruption and industry influence, implicating dozens of "environmental" organizations
Assembly Member Damon Connolly (12) crafted AB99 to be so reasonable, so doable, and so seemingly uncontroversial to make it impossible to defeat by any reasonable governing body representing the public. The bill would have required Caltrans to follow its own intentions put forth in its 1992 Environmental Impact Statement to reduce pesticide use by limiting it as a last resort tool. It would have required Caltrans to provide communities with more transparency over when/where pesticides were used. It also would have only applied to counties that requested it; meaning likely only the 5 or 6 counties that currently follow Integrated Pest Management.
The need for AB99 was strong: data analysis of Caltrans' pesticide use over the last 30 years clearly points at at extreme overuse of pesticides like RoundUpTM on public land paid for with public funds. AB99 essentially would have helped the state avoid a lawsuit. AB99 was supported unanimously by the Board of Supervisors in Sonoma, Napa, Marin, and Humboldt Counties.
Other recent attempts to pass pesticide reform bills in California have demonstrated how difficult this can be. These bills often in some way limit agricultural pesticide use and therefore are targeted by big opposition money coming from farm lobbies and the chemical industry. Some of these bills like AB 2146 (Bauer-Kahan) made it to Governor Newsom's desk where they were quietly vetoed. This veto trend in matters of pesticide use reform has caught the attention of environmental organizations and the public, prompting criticism.
Enter AB99: This bill has become a fascinating case study of the quiet influence of the chemical industry in California. It was carefully crafted to only pertain to the operations of one state agency. It did not touch agricultural chemical use in any way. It did not limit pesticide use of any other organization, for example Resource Conservation Districts or organizations involved in invasive species management/ecosystem restoration. It clearly allowed Caltrans to use pesticides without limitations in cases where invasive species on highways could impact agriculture or other land management goals. There is no practical reason why the bill should have been opposed by farmers, Agricultural Commissioners, the Farm Bureau, Resource Conservation Districts, or frankly any "environmental" organization concerned with invasive species management.
However, the bill was opposed by all of these groups in force. An opposition letter was submitted to the Senate by a score of "environmental" groups like the California Native Plant Society, California Invasive Plant Council, Friends of Corte Madera Creek Watershed, Solano Land Trust, and the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority (full list available HERE). The organizations opposed the bill on the erroneous basis of it threatening the mass spread of invasive species throughout the state. Why would so many organizations, particularly ones purporting to be concerned with ecosystem restoration and environmental causes be threatened by a bill that was only asking Caltrans to make an effort to reduce its own chemical use?
It all makes zero sense until you account for the extreme power of the worldwide chemical industry. California may only be one of 50 states in America, but from an economic standpoint it functions as a major international player. When product regulations are passed in California, they impact supply chains worldwide. If California's transportation department was asked to clean up its pesticide use (read, reduce its annual purchases) it could absolutely send a shockwave through the global industry.
The chemical industry is known to fund universities like UC Davis, nonprofit "environmental" organizations, the Farm Bureau, agricultural lobbying/marketing groups, and of course, elected officials like our California state senators and Governor. Why would an environmental organization like Mid Pen Regional Open Space, for example, send a highly paid lobbyist to every single hearing of AB99, a bill that would have zero impact on the organization's operations or ability to use pesticides? It doesn't add up unless you consider that they are likely receiving money channeled through funding channels supplied by the chemical industry. We have seen this before locally. The same "environmental" organizations that opposed AB99 also strangely supported the plan to dump anticoagulant rodenticides on the Farallon Islands in 2021. Incidentally, these organizations also support the new California Department of Pesticide Regulations's (CDPR) Sustainable Pest Management Roadmap initiative likely because it downplays the importance of minimizing pesticide use. It's important to remember that CDPR funding comes directly from the sale of pesticides.
AB99 sailed through the State Assembly including the Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee, the Transportation Committee, the Appropriations Committee, and the State Assembly Floor. AB99 also made it through the Senate Transportation Committee and the Senate Environmental Quality Committee with flying colors. Because of its reasonableness and its support from future Senate President Pro Tempore Mike McGuire, it was thought to be a shoe-in for passing the Senate Floor. The Senate Appropriations Committee was essentially the last place that the bill could have been stopped before making it to the Governor's desk. If AB99 made it to Governor Newsom's desk, it would have put him in the same uncomfortable situation he was in with AB 2146 (Bauer-Kahan), but to an even greater degree given the small scope and extreme reasonability of the bill. If the Governor followed the leadership of the State Assembly and Senate and signed AB99, he would clearly be going against the chemical industry's wishes. If he vetoed AB99, critics could easily allege that he was being controlled by the chemical industry. As a result, the Senate Appropriations Committee members were put in a position to quietly kill the bill, which they did.
"It is clear that the elected officials who decide which bills are allowed to pass through the legislature are bowing to the special interests and bureaucracies who want to continue to use potentially harmful products because they are cheap and easy, regardless of the harm these actions may have on public health of the environment in local communities...It is extremely concerning that (the appropriations committee) blocked AB99, allowing the continuation of widespread pesticide spraying along our highways and local communities by Caltrans" Press Release from the office of Assembly Member Damon Connolly
It's important to remember the broad support that AB99 received. The bill was championed by a broad coalition of over 80 California public interest organizations including the Sierra Club and the Environmental Working Group, 26 farming and ranching organizations, 30 individual elected officials, and hundreds of individual citizens who showed up consistently to state hearings to make sure the voice of their communities was heard. These organizations, businesses, and elected officials are not funded by or tied financially to the chemical industry. Please join us in thanking the thousands of people statewide who banded together in a valiant attempt to curtail not only the use of pesticides on public land but the unchecked power of the chemical industry over state government.
We are entering a phase where it will no longer be possible for organizations to claim environmental missions while simultaneously accepting industry funding to carry out a pro-pesticide agenda. If you have donated to or supported the following organizations in the past, consider calling them out on their involvement in the opposition of AB99:
California Native Plant Society, San Diego, North Coast, Yerba Buena, Los Angeles/Santa Monica, and Riverside-San Bernardino Chapters
Resource Conservation District of Monterey County
Peninsula Open Space Trust
Solano Resource Conservation District
Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority
Upper Salinas - Las Tablas Resource Conservation District
Claremont Canyon Conservancy
California Invasive Plant Council
Friends of Corte Madera Creek Watershed
Inland Empire Resource Conservation District
Conservation Science and Stewardship Center for Natural Lands Management
Friends of Edgewood Natural Preserve
Laguna Canyon Foundation
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Conservation Biology Institute
California Native Grasslands Association
Solano Land Trust
Resource Conservation District of Tehama County
Madera County Ag Commissioner
Western Shasta Resource Conservation District
Irvine Ranch Conservancy
San Luis Obispo County Department of Agriculture
It is also important to note the members of the Senate Appropriations Committee. We were disappointed in their vote its implications that the state will not take responsibility for pesticide misuse. The Appropriations Committee was likely lobbied heavily and even given misinformation by the opposition. They were also provided with misinformation on cost implications by Caltrans itself (a tactic used by government agencies to kill an initiative they aren't happy with). These senators will likely be on the Appropriations Committee next year and will hopefully have time to educate themselves before the bill comes back to their desk.
Assembly Member Connolly has vowed to bring AB99 back again next year for another round. This freshman assembly member will not let this issue go down quietly and for that we are grateful.
We would like thank the Sonoma County Press Democrat for its in depth coverage of the exciting rise and the disappointing fall of AB99. May "Sebastopol Moms" speak up in all places where greed and power continue to block safer and more peaceful ways of being in community together.