By Lisa M. Campbell, Lisa R. Burchi, and Margaret R. Graham
On February 22, 2018, the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Sacramento, issued a judgment granting petition for writ of mandate and declaratory and injunctive relief (Judgment) to suspend further chemical activities undertaken by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to control or eradicate pests under the Statewide Plant Pest Prevention and Management Program (the Project) until CDFA has certified a Program Environmental Impact Report (PEIR) that corrects violations of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) identified in the court’s ruling.
CDFA is charged with promoting and protecting the state’s agricultural industry, and preventing the introduction and spread of injurious insect or animal pests, plant diseases, and noxious weeds. Cal. Food & Agr. Code §§ 4011 401.51 403. CDFA developed the Project to control targeted pests or pathogens, and includes activities such as pest rating (evaluation of a pest’s environmental, agricultural, and biological significance); identification, detection, and delimitation of new pest populations; pest management response (which may include eradication and/or control of new or existing pest populations); and prevention of the movement of pests into and within California.
The present case was brought after CDFA sought to comply with CEQA by preparing a single PEIR that provides a consolidated set of management practices rather than prepare Environmental Impact Reports (EIR) specific to particular pest management activities. Petitioners alleged that CDFA violated CEQA by certifying the PEIR for the Project and in related proceedings that CDFA violated CEQA by subsequently expanding the Statewide Plant Pest Prevention and Management Program to allow increased use of certain pesticides (Merit 2F and Acelepyrn) for the treatment of Japanese beetles without adequate environmental review.
The numerous CEQA violations identified by the court are set forth in a Consolidated Ruling on Submitted Matters (Consolidated Ruling) issued January 8, 2018, and attached as Exhibit 1 to the Judgment. The Consolidated Ruling discusses the following topics:
- Does the PEIR’s tiering strategy violate CEQA?
- Does CEQA require the Department to issue a Notice of Determination (NOD) anytime is carries out or approves a site-specific activity?
- Does the PEIR contain an adequate project description?
- Does the PEIR contain an adequate description of the baseline environmental setting?
- Does the PEIR fail to adequately analyze environmental impacts?
- Does the PEIR fail to adequately analyze the Project’s cumulative impacts?
- Does the PEIR improperly defer mitigation measures or conceal them as Program Features?
- Does the PEIR fail to adequately consider a range of reasonable alternatives to the Project?
- Did the Department violate CEQA’s notice and consultation requirements?
- Did the Department adequately respond to public comments on the DRAFT PEIR?
- Did the Department properly use addenda to modify the PEIR?
The court found multiple, broad-based issues with the PEIR, including, for example, a decision that the PEIR violates CEQA “because it adopts an unlawful tiering strategy, granting the Department authority to implement a broad range of practices without evaluating the site-specific conditions to determine whether the environmental impacts were covered in the PEIR.” The Consolidated Ruling also discusses particular failures of the PEIR. Additionally, of potential interest is the court’s opinion with regard to whether the PEIR failed to disclose and analyze impacts on sensitive biological resources, which Petitioners argued was based on several grounds: (i) an assumption that spraying “generally” will not occur near sensitive resources and fails to analyze potential impacts from pesticide drift; (ii) a conclusion, without substantial evidence, that the Project will have less-than-significant impacts on sensitive species; (iii) a conclusion, without substantial evidence, that traps and lures will not have significant impacts on non-target species; (iv) the use of improper thresholds of significance for impacts to pollinators and organic farming; and (v) a failure to define, disclose, and analyze impacts on wetlands.
The court did not find issues with the PEIR as it related to CDFA’s spraying assumptions and CDFA’s determinations of potential impacts on sensitive species, pesticide drift, or organic farming. The court likewise rejected Petitioner’s other challenges to the PEIR’s analysis of biological impacts, including the PEIR's analysis of traps/lures and of the species evaluated in the Ecological Risk Assessment (ERA).
The court did, however, agree with Petitioners that the PEIR improperly ignored potentially significant impacts to pollinators. The court stated that the PEIR considered impacts to pollinators significant only if (1) the pollinator species impacted were “special status,” or (2) the impacts would result in a secondary change in the physical environment (such as conversion of land from agricultural to non-agricultural use). The PEIR did not consider whether the Project might adversely impact non-special-status pollinators, despite acknowledging that “healthy pollinator populations are critical to protecting the environmental quality and agricultural resources of the state,” and that “Colony Collapse Disorder” and “pollinator decline” are “ongoing ... serious” problems. The court found that CDFA’s “‘voluntary’ actions to benefit pollinator species are not, by themselves, sufficient to justify the lack of analysis and enforceable mitigation measures for the potentially significant impacts to non-special-status pollinators.”
The immediate effect of this decision is the inability for CDFA to continue “chemical activities … to control or eradicate pests under the [Statewide Plant Pest Prevention and Management] Program except as authorized under CEQA independent of the PEIR.” Should this decision stand, registrants and stakeholders should be interested in whether and how CDFA modifies the PEIR to support its pest control and management activities.
By Lisa M. Campbell, Lisa R. Burchi, and James V. Aidala
On February 26, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District Court of California issued a memorandum and order on the plaintiff’s motion for preliminary injunction (Order) to “enjoin the listing of glyphosate under Proposition 65 (Prop 65) and the application of its attendant warning requirement pending a final judgment in this case and set a schedule for expedited final resolution of the case.” The Order (1) grants plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction enjoining the warning requirement of California Health & Safety Code § 25249.6 as to glyphosate; and (2) denies the request for a preliminary injunction enjoining defendants from listing glyphosate as a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer under California Health & Safety Code § 25249.8. Specifically, the Order states: “pending final resolution of this action, defendants … are hereby ENJOINED from enforcing as against plaintiffs … California Health & Safety Code § 25249.6’s requirement that any person in the course of doing business provide a clear and reasonable warning before exposing any individual to glyphosate.” Although this is only a preliminary injunction while the case continues further resolution, it is extremely significant that, for now, glyphosate will continue to be listed on California’s Prop 65 list as a “chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer,” but products containing glyphosate will not be required to comply with the warning requirement.
Plaintiffs’ memorandum supporting its motion for preliminary injunction states that Prop 65’s requirement for products containing glyphosate to include a warning that glyphosate is “known to the State of California to cause cancer” is unconstitutional under the First Amendment, and, if allowed to go into effect, will cause Plaintiffs’ “reputational, competitive, and economic harms for which they cannot be compensated.” Plaintiffs state that the “legal merit of their First Amendment claim is indisputable and obvious on the face of the attached documents without any need for discovery, and thus the claim is appropriate for expedited judicial resolution.” California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), the agency responsible for implementing Prop 65, listed glyphosate as a chemical known to the state of California to cause cancer on July 7, 2017, and the attendant warning requirement would have taken effect on July 7, 2018.
In support of denying the request for a preliminary injunction enjoining defendants from listing glyphosate under Prop 65, the court states that plaintiffs “have not shown a likelihood of success on the merits of their claim that the listing of glyphosate violates the First Amendment, because the listing is government speech, not private speech … [and it] is only the upcoming July 2018 deadline for providing the [Prop 65] warning that compels private speech.” The court noted further that Plaintiffs “have not shown a likelihood of irreparable harm should the court fail to enjoin the listing of glyphosate, because any harm that plaintiffs might suffer is caused by the warning requirements of [Prop 65], rather than the listing itself.” Accordingly, the court denied a preliminary injunction based on plaintiffs’ claim that the glyphosate listing violates the First Amendment.
On the other hand, in support of granting the request for a preliminary injunction enjoining the application of the attendant warning requirement, the court stated:
- On the evidence before the court, the required warning for glyphosate does not appear to be factually accurate and uncontroversial because it conveys the message that glyphosate’s carcinogenicity is an undisputed fact, when almost all other regulators have concluded that there is insufficient evidence that glyphosate causes cancer.
The court also stated that the required warnings are “false and misleading” and that plaintiffs “have shown that they are likely to succeed on the merits of their First Amendment claim, are likely to suffer irreparable harm absent an injunction, and that the balance of equities and public interest favor an injunction, the court will grant plaintiffs’ request to enjoin [Prop 65]’s warning requirement for glyphosate.”
This case, while not the end of the story, is a very significant development both for glyphosate specifically and perhaps for Prop 65 warning requirements generally. Industry should follow this case closely given the implications for glyphosate and potentially other Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)-regulated pesticides and chemicals generally. Some in industry have long been concerned that Prop 65 warning requirements contradict conclusions supported by the data and reached by other agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This decision is a huge preliminary win for those with these concerns and, depending on the ultimate outcome of the case, could provide a precedent for additional challenges related to other substances. The potential reach of the case beyond glyphosate, however, will likely be dictated heavily by the facts of each case.
By Lisa R. Burchi and Lisa M. Campbell
On January 3, 2018, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) issued Notice 2018-01: Expanding Use of Pesticide Products Under Reevaluation. Under Notice 2018-01, effective immediately, DPR will not act upon an Application for Pesticide Registration or an Application to Amend a Pesticide Product if it determines the registration or acceptance would potentially “expand use” of an active ingredient or pesticide product currently under reevaluation until the conclusion of the reevaluation.
DPR states that it commences a reevaluation of an existing registered pesticide when it finds, based on an investigation of all reported episodes and information received, that a significant adverse impact to human health or the environment has occurred or is likely to occur. DPR states that the policy set forth in Notice 2018-1 is needed for pesticides under reevaluation because until DPR reviews existing data for substances under reevaluation, determines whether additional data to satisfy reevaluation data requirements must be submitted, and then receives and assesses additional data applicable to the reevaluation that can mitigate the concern that prompted the initiation of the reevaluation, DPR “is not in a position to determine that an expanded use will not cause a ‘significant adverse environmental impact,’ as required under its certified regulatory program (3 CCR section 6254).” Once the reevaluation process is completed, DPR states that it will then be in a position, in light of its reevaluation determination, to consider applications for product registration or amendment.
Scope of Notice 2018-1
DPR is currently reevaluating certain pesticide products containing the following active ingredients:
- Copper-based antifouling paints (copper oxide, copper hydroxide, and cuprous thiocyanate);
- Diazinon; and
- Nitroguanidine neonicotinoids (imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, clothianidin, and dinotefuran).
This notice applies to new pesticide products that include these active ingredients, including supplemental distributor registrations (subregistrations) and amendments to currently registered pesticide products, when “expanding use” of the active ingredient relevant to the concern that prompted the reevaluation.
Specifically, DPR states in Notice 2018-1 that it interprets the following types of actions, related to a new or amended product containing the active ingredient under reevaluation, as examples of “expanding use”:
- A proposed new pesticide product, including any Special Local Needs registration or Experimental Use Permit, with a label bearing uses or exposure scenarios relevant to the concern that prompted the reevaluation. This includes any product label that is identical or substantially similar to a currently registered product in California.
- Amendment of a currently registered product to add or modify uses or exposure scenarios relevant to the concern that prompted the reevaluation, even if such use is already on other currently registered pesticide products in California. Examples of such changes include:
- New or modified uses (e.g., new crops, pests, or use sites);
- New or modified use patterns (e.g., adding aerial, aquatic, soil applications, or outdoor use);
- Significant formulation changes (unless prompted by the reevaluation);
- Increased application rates or total use amount allowed (e.g., acreage or frequency of application); and
- Other label additions or changes that may increase pesticide exposure in a manner that is relevant to the basis for the reevaluation.
This notice does not preclude expanded use of a product if the expansion is not consistent with uses or exposure scenarios relevant to the concern that prompted the reevaluation. As an example, DPR states that an application containing an active ingredient that is under reevaluation over concerns regarding exposure to wildlife would not be precluded under this notice as an expanded use is if the product is labeled solely for indoor use, with no potential wildlife exposure.
DPR also acknowledges that a pest management or public health need could arise during a reevaluation that would support the issuance of an Emergency Exemption request under Section 18 of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). In those cases, with regard to the potential applicability of Notice 2018-1, DPR states that it “will assess the request by relying on currently available information and risk mitigation strategies.”
DPR’s reevaluation process can take years to complete, so not only are pending affected submissions for products containing the active ingredients at issue effectively frozen, but future submissions for active ingredients newly entering the reevaluation process could be halted potentially for lengthy periods of time, despite the fact that DPR may ultimately determine that any identified “expanded uses” do not cause a significant adverse environmental impact. It is an initiative that many in industry are monitoring closely.
More information on other California DPR-related issues is available on our blog under key phrase California DPR.
By Lisa R. Burchi and Lisa M. Campbell
On January 2, 2018, State Attorneys General from eleven states (Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wisconsin) (collectively the States) filed a friend of the court brief in Nat’l Ass’n of Wheat Growers v. Zeise, E.D. Cal. (No. 2:17-cv-02401) (Brief), a case challenging California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment’s (OEHHA) decision to list glyphosate as a carcinogen under Proposition 65 (Prop 65).
OEHHA listed glyphosate under Prop 65 on March 28, 2017, but the effective date of the listing was delayed until July 7, 2017, following a decision from the Fifth District Court of Appeals that denied Monsanto’s request for a stay of such listing. OEHHA stated that its listing was required under its Labor Code listing mechanism, which OEHHA states requires it to list under Prop 65 certain substances identified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as known to cause cancer. Information about Monsanto’s earlier challenge is available in our blog item California Court Tentatively Dismisses Monstano’s Lawsuit Against OEHHA to Block Addition of Glyphosate to Proposition 65 List.
On November 15, 2017, a nationwide coalition of agricultural producers and business entities (including Monsanto) filed a Complaint against OEHHA on the grounds that its listing of glyphosate as a carcinogen and the Prop 65 warning requirement triggered by that listing: (1) violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by compelling Plaintiffs and other entities to make false, misleading, and highly controversial statements about their products; and (2) violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution because OEHHA’s actions are not rationally related to any legitimate state interest; and (3) violate the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution by conflicting with, and being preempted by, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA). Plaintiffs filed an amended Complaint on December 5, 2017.
On December 6, 2017, Plaintiffs also filed a motion for preliminary injunction (Motion), arguing that they are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that the Prop 65 listing violates the First Amendment. The Motion argues that the warning will fail under any level of constitutional scrutiny, whether it is considered under “laws regulating commercial speech that generally receive at least intermediate scrutiny, i.e., they are prohibited if they do not directly and materially advance the government’s interest, or are more extensive than necessary,” or laws that require disclosure of information in connection with commercial transactions, which “are permissible only if the compelled disclosure is of information that is purely factual, uncontroversially accurate, reasonably related to a substantial government purpose, and not unduly burdensome or chilling. See Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel, 471 U.S. 626, 651 (1985).” Motion at 23-36; Complaint at 26-28.
In agreeing with Plaintiffs that OEHHA’s Prop 65 listing of glyphosate forces businesses to issue “false and misleading” statements about their products and asking the court to grant the Plaintiffs’ motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, the Attorneys General state in their Brief:
- The First Amendment injuries identified by Plaintiffs are heightened because they adversely impact the sovereign interests of other States in at least two ways. First, by requiring false or misleading statements about glyphosate products, California’s speech mandate imposes confusing and potentially inconsistent obligations on nonresident businesses that are bound by other States’ consumer-protection laws not to make false and misleading statements about their own products. Second, the speech mandate impairs consumer-protection efforts of the States that require sensible health-and-safety disclosures by contributing to the well-known phenomenon of disclosure fatigue.
Brief at 4-5 (emphasis in original).
The States also argue that while there may be a presumption to California’s favor that its enforcement of its duly enacted laws reflects the public interest, the Court also “should weigh heavily the fact that California’s mandate interferes with federalism and the sovereign interests of other States when assessing the public interest factor.” Brief at 10.
This case raises significant constitutional and preemption arguments in a factual context that many in industry believe compelling. It will be closely monitored.
OEHHA answered Plaintiff’s First Amended Complaint on January 9, 2018. It is expected to file its opposition to Plaintiff’s Motion for a Preliminary Injunction by January 22, 2018, and file its response to the two amicus curiae briefs filed on behalf of Plaintiffs by January 26, 2018. Following deadlines for Plaintiffs to file any reply in support of their motion for a preliminary injunction and any responses to amicus curiae briefs in support of Defendants, a hearing on Plaintiff’s motion will be held on February 20, 2018.
By James V. Aidala, Lisa M. Campbell, and Timothy D. Backstrom
On December 14, 2017, the Missouri Department of Agriculture (MDA) announced that it issued and collected the first round of fines resulting from investigations regarding the pesticide dicamba. The news release states that the first wave of civil penalties issued to applicators, all from Dunklin County, were issued as “a result of investigations of complaints during the 2016 growing season,” and the “civil penalties, ranging from $1,500 to $62,250, were issued for pesticide misuse (off label use and drift).” Further, in 2016, “Department staff conducted and completed 121 complainant investigations. Those complainants named approximately 60 applicators, who were investigated as a result of complaints. In addition, the Department investigated nearly 100 non-Dicamba related incidents.”
This is the first group of what is anticipated to be a large number of dicamba-related enforcement cases, given the extensive number of, and publicity concerning, the reported incidents involving dicamba. Reported incidents in Arkansas were even more numerous than those in Missouri. About one-third of the reported incidents in Missouri have now been attributed to only six applicators. One applicator alone was cited for 149 discrete violations, which indicates that problems with the new dicamba formulations may be less widespread than some originally feared based on the large number of reported incidents. Moreover, some of the states where the new dicamba products were widely used have reported very few incidents. In the aggregate, this data suggests that better stewardship training accompanied by rigorous enforcement may be sufficient to greatly reduce the future incidence of unexpected off-site movement of the new dicamba formulations.
More information on dicamba issues is available in our blog.
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Margaret R. Graham
The American Bar Association (ABA) Pesticides, Chemical Regulation, and Right-to-Know (PCRRTK) Committee is collaborating with David Rejeski, Director of the Technology, Innovation, and Environmental Project at the Environmental Law Institute (ELI), on a project involving the law, regulation, and policy of cannabis. David has written extensively on the topic, one example of which is his article “Cannabis. The ‘Next Big Thing’ for the Environment?”
Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide (FIFRA) practitioners likely noticed the cannabis item on the most recent State FIFRA Issues Research and Evaluation Group (SFIREG) meeting agenda. Also, the state of Colorado is preparing a white paper on cannabis. Many other initiatives are in play as well.
The newly formed Task Group will outline legal, regulatory, and policy issues pertinent to cannabis as a crop, the absence of tolerances, its impact on the environment, and a wide range of related issues.
By Lisa M. Campbell and Timothy D. Backstrom
On September 19, 2017, California’s Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District reversed a trial court decision denying a petition by the Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) challenging the approval by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) of amended labeling for two previously registered pesticides containing the active ingredient dinotefuran, a neonicotinoid: Dinotefuran 20SG, manufactured by Mistui Chemicals Agro, Inc.; and Venom Insecticide, manufactured by Valent U.S.A. Corporation. PANNA’s petition alleged that DPR “violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by approving the label amendments without sufficient environmental review.” The amended labeling for these two neonicotinoid products added some new registered uses and also increased the allowable application rates for certain existing uses.
The court’s construction of CEQA was a critical element in its decision. Since the DPR regulatory program has been certified pursuant to CEQA, the court agreed that DPR can utilize its standard program documents for pesticide registration actions in lieu of the documents typically prepared under CEQA. The court disagreed, however, with DPR’s assertion that “its regulatory program ‘is exempt from the substantive portions of CEQA.’” The court found the DPR’s record supporting the dinoteferan registration actions to be deficient because DPR could not demonstrate that it properly considered certain factors specified in CEQA. In essence, the court concluded that certain CEQA requirements that DPR construed as procedural in nature were actually substantive standards that DPR must meet and adequately document in its administrative record.
The court’s analysis of the two registration approvals focused on the potential effect of these actions on honeybees. The court found that the administrative record compiled by DPR did not demonstrate that DPR meaningfully addressed potential alternatives to the registration amendments, and that DPR must consider alternatives even when it makes a finding that approved changes would have no significant environmental impact. The court also found that DPR did not demonstrate that it properly assessed the “baseline” existing conditions prior to approval of the amendments, or the cumulative effects of these existing conditions and the new actions on honeybees. The court additionally found that DPR should have recirculated its decision for further comment because the explanation of its decision was inadequate to allow meaningful public comment. The court stated that “in light of the Department’s pending neonicotinoid reevaluation, its initial public reports for Venom Insecticide and Dinotefuran 20SG were both so inadequate and conclusory that public comment on the draft was effectively meaningless.” Based on all of these factors, the court remanded the matter to the trial court with instructions to direct DPR to rescind the two approvals.
That the court focused the basis for its decision on its finding that DPR failed to compile a record adequate to show that it met the substantive standards for decision established by CEQA is of concern to many industry stakeholders. The court stated it was “perplexed” by how DPR could determine that the label amendments to allow new uses and use rates would have no significant impact on honeybees, when DPR is still engaged in a reevaluation of the effect of all neonicotinoid pesticides on pollinators. In particular, the court was not persuaded that DPR made any meaningful evaluation of cumulative impacts because DPR only observed in “conclusory fashion” that “the uses are already present on the labels of a number of currently registered neonicotinoid containing products.” This finding is of significant concern to registrants and will be monitored closely.
More information on neonicotinoids is available on our blog.
By Lisa M. Campbell and Lisa R. Burchi
On May, 24, 2017, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) issued guidance regarding its Notice 2015-13 to applicants registering pesticide impregnated materials bearing pesticide claims to be sold and distributed into or within California, per Notice 2015-13, issued December 11, 2015. Each retailer (or authorized representative) of an affected product must submit an Application for Pesticide Registration (DPR-REG-030) to DPR by July 1, 2017.
The guidance includes information on the registration requirements, as well as:
More details on the requirements are available in our blog items California Issues Notice Requiring Registration for Products Made From Pesticide Impregnated Materials and Bearing Pesticide Claims and California DPR Extends Filing Date to Register Pesticide Impregnated Products.
By Lisa M. Campbell and Lisa R. Burchi
On February 22, 2017, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) announced it was extending the filing date for applications to register products made from pesticide impregnated materials bearing pesticide claims from March 1, 2017, to July 1, 2017. Specifically, each retailer (or authorized representative) of an affected product must submit an Application for Pesticide Registration (DPR-REG-030) to DPR by July 1, 2017. DPR’s California Notice 2015-13 issued on December 11, 2015, informed pesticide product registrants and stakeholders of DPR’s intention to register products made with pesticide impregnated materials and bearing pesticide claims.
The February 22 notice also states the following in terms of the requirements:
- Each company with products made from pesticide impregnated material and sold under their own company name into or within California is required to register the product(s) as a pesticide;
- The product must bear a federally approved pesticide label; DPR will assign a separate California-only registration number for purposes of tracking sales and use of the products in California;
- Each company will need to obtain at least one registration for each use category of product sold (e.g., the apparel use category includes wearable items such as jackets, shirts, hats, socks, pants, and shorts; the non-apparel use category includes non-wearable items such as bedding, tents, seat covers, chopping blocks, shower curtains, and mouse pads); and
- If items are impregnated with different pesticides or different percentages of the same pesticide, separate registrations will be required.
The requirements set forth in this notice do not apply to products that satisfy the requirements to be a treated article, including the requirement that any claims be related to protection of the article/substance itself. The notice applies instead to those pesticide impregnated materials that include pesticidal claims that are not limited to protection of the material. More information on the December 2015 notice is available in our blog item California Issues Notice Requiring Registration for Products Made From Pesticide Impregnated Materials and Bearing Pesticide Claims.
By Lisa M. Campbell and Timothy D. Backstrom
On May 11, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued an unpublished memorandum decision in an environmental justice case, Garcia v. McCarthy, Case No. 14-15494, that many have been watching closely. The Ninth Circuit affirmed a decision by the U.S. District Court dismissing the Plaintiffs’ Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The District Court case involved an effort by the original complainants (parents of Latino school children) to obtain judicial review of a decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to enter into a voluntary compliance agreement with the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR). The original administrative complaint filed in 1999 alleged that CDPR “authorized the use of methyl bromide and other pesticides in a fashion that had a disproportionately harmful effect on Latino school children in violation of Title VI.” Although EPA made an initial finding of a prima facie violation of Title VI, Plaintiffs asserted that EPA did not inform the complainants of the status of their complaint while the matter was being investigated and did not allow them to participate in settlement negotiations.
In challenging EPA’s settlement with CDPR, Petitioners alleged that EPA acted arbitrarily and capriciously by limiting its investigation to methyl bromide exposure between 1995 and 2001, and by failing to allow for Plaintiffs’ participation in settlement negotiations. The Ninth Circuit followed the Supreme Court enforcement discretion case Heckler v. Cheney, 470 U.S. 821 (1985), finding that EPA’s decision to settle the matter was also committed to EPA discretion by law. The Ninth Circuit stated:
- [Petitioners’ allegations] are entirely untethered to any statutory provision or regulation implementing Title VI. None of the statutes or regulations cited by plaintiffs provide a meaningful standard for defining the limits of EPA’s discretion in investigating a complaint, and none require EPA to permit plaintiffs to participate in EPA’s settlement negotiations. EPA’s plenary authority to either accept, reject, or refer a complaint to another federal agency, 40 C.F.R. § 7.120(d)(1)(i), must necessarily include the lesser power to determine the scope of the investigation in the event the complaint is accepted.
EPA’s original decision finding a prima facie violation of Title VI by CDPR was surprising and concerning to many. The current challenge to EPA’s decision to resolve the complaint through a voluntary settlement with CDPR raised additional environmental justice concerns. Some industry observers were concerned about the possibility that the Ninth Circuit might view EPA’s decision to exclude the complainants from settlement discussions with disfavor. The decision by the Ninth Circuit to affirm the District Court’s dismissal means that EPA will retain substantial discretion to negotiate appropriate settlements, even though it determines a Title VI complaint is meritorious.