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Newsom seeks higher fees on pesticides

Man in a hazmat suit sanitizing an apartment room with chemicals. (Photo: Ljupco Smokovski, via Shutterstock)

The cost of killing bugs in California will start to rise if lawmakers adopt Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to reduce toxic pesticide use by gradually increasing fees, a measure that could affect everyone from crop dusters to home gardeners.

The fee hike, phased in over four years, is included in the governor’s budget proposal. It would nudge pesticide users toward more sustainable methods while generating money — about $45 million annually over time — for the state’s efforts at expanding the use of sustainable methods.

The fee on highly toxic pesticides would gradually more than double to 4.6 percent.

Val Dolcini, director of the Department of Pesticide Regulation, called the proposal “bold and innovative” and said “the biggest beneficiaries will be everyone in California.”

Currently, the state charges a 2.1 percent fee on the sale of pesticides entering the state. It is the same for relatively benign products as for the most problematic toxins. Whether those chemicals end up at a garden center or a commercial crop dusting operation, the initial fee is the same. And it hasn’t budged since 2004.

Under Newsom’s plan, chemicals on the low end of the hazard scale — which includes components of hand sanitizer and disinfectants — will rise slightly to 2.6 percent, while the fee on highly toxic pesticides would gradually more than double to 4.6 percent.

That came as welcome news to Californians for Pesticide Reform, whose co-directors have already sent support letters to legislative budget writers.

Newsom’s budget proposal includes $3.75 million non-conventional pest management technologies for specialty crops.

“An update of the fee structure is long overdue,” wrote Sarah Aird and Jane Sellen, “and the proposed increase will provide needed funding in support of more ecological and resilient farming, increased oversight, and better protections for communities and ecosystems.”

The tiered system would “nearly double the costs for high-risk pesticides, such as those containing 1,3-dicloropropane and metam-potassium, which are among the most popular in the state to treat insects and weeds. Both come with a poison warning label,” Bloomberg News reported.

“The really good news,” said Director Dolcini, “is that California farmers have already begun using integrated pest management. And we think this infusion will continue to support those efforts and make great progress toward making sure integrated pest management is available not only for farmers but for all Californians who want to manage pests more sustainably.”

According to the Department of Food and Agriculture, more than a third of the country’s vegetables and two thirds of its fruit and nuts are grown here. California agriculture is a diversified $50 billion industry with some 400 individual commodities.

That large number of crops, however, comes with its own set of problems, because chemical manufacturers naturally want to focus on volume, which can leave the growers of specialty crops with fewer pest-control options. To address that, Newsom’s budget proposal includes $3.75 million non-conventional pest management technologies for specialty crops, including responses to exotic pests.

The proposal, which does not yet have a bill number, is expected to be heard in Senate Budget Subcommittee No. 2 and Assembly Budget Subcommittee 3 later this month.


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