California Superior Court Denies PANNA Petition for Writ of Mandate
On June 16, 2015, the California Superior Court for the County of Almeda denied the petition of the Pesticide Action Network North America, et al. (PANNA) for a writ of mandate to direct the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) to set aside and vacate its final decisions approving amended registrations of Dinotefuran 20SG manufactured by Mitsui Chemicals Agro and Venom manufactured by Valent USA.
The active ingredient in both products at issue, dinotefuran, is a neonicotinoid pesticide that has been subject to additional reviews and labeling requirements with regard to its impact on pollinating bees on the federal and state level. PANNA argued, in part, that under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), DPR should not have approved the amended labels because it had not developed an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) describing the potential environmental impacts, analyzing direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts, and analyzing alternatives.
The court held as a matter of law that “to give effect to CEQA’s current policy goals as developed since 1979 in the Public Resources Code, in the CEQA Guidelines and in case law, that the court must read the DPR’s regulations as requiring that the DPR apply current CEQA analysis in deciding whether to register pesticides.” That does not, however, require DPR to comply with all of CEQA’s documentation requirements; instead, DPR’s environmental documentation is required to “address only those significant adverse environmental effects that can reasonably be expected to occur, directly or indirectly, from implementing the proposal.”
With regard to the standard of review, the court found that DPR’s decision is in the nature of an EIR, which required the court to review the adequacy of the decision for substantial evidence, and not, as PANNA had argued, the functional equivalent of a negative declaration that would have triggered a “fair argument” review standard. The court then found there was substantial evidence in the administrative record supporting DPR’s decision that the proposed mitigation measures will eliminate any significant environmental impact. The court held that the record supported DPR’s assertion that the product labels provide necessary environmental protections, noting, for example, that EPA’s conclusion that the federal labeling is adequate to protect bees is substantial evidence to support DPR’s “identical conclusion.” The court further held that DPR was not required to consider the feasibility of alternatives.
Since the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) preempts a state from imposing label requirements that are different from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved label, the court noted that DPR’s decision was either to register the products consistent with EPA’s approved labels or not register the products for use in California. Although DPR’s failure to conduct a risk-benefit analysis was not argued before the court, the decision, by way of dicta, noted that the “record suggests that the DPR conducted a de facto risk-benefit analysis and did not actually conclude that the labeling on the Insecticides would mitigate all adverse affect on bees.” Instead, the court suggests DPR’s risk-benefit analysis was based on the fact that under FIFRA, the only alternative would be to deny the registrations and that would be infeasible considering economic, social, or other considerations.
The decision is a significant judgment regarding DPR’s ability to make decisions regarding label amendments and the court’s ability to review such decisions. It appears likely an appeal will be filed. It is also important to note that DPR’s reevaluation of neonicotinoids is still pending — DPR is required under AB 1789 (codified at Food and Agricultural Code Section 12838(a)) to issue a determination before July 1, 2018, regarding the neonicotinoid registrations and to adopt any control measures determined to be necessary to protect pollinator health.