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SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today joined a multistate comment letter that supports the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) latest effort to protect farmworkers and nearby communities from exposure to harmful pesticides. In their comments, the attorneys general emphasize that a new rule proposed by the EPA, which would roll back attempts by the Trump Administration to weaken worker protections, helps fulfill the EPA’s obligations to protect human health and the environment.
“As the son of parents who fought tirelessly for the rights of farmworkers and vulnerable populations, there is no question in my mind that the EPA is doing the right thing,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Pesticide exposure is known to lead to injury, illness, and lost wages. That’s why we must continue to strengthen pesticide protections for our farmworkers — not weaken them, as the Trump Administration tried to do.”
In 2015, the Obama Administration’s EPA enacted regulations to safeguard the health of farmworkers by, among other things, creating an “Application Exclusion Zone” or “AEZ”. The AEZ allowed pesticide application by trained and equipped handlers only when farmworkers, bystanders, or other persons were not within the AEZ. The radius of the AEZ ranged from 25 to 100 feet, depending on the method of application and spray quality (droplet size). If anyone was found to be present within the AEZ, the pesticide application was required to cease immediately — even if the AEZ extended beyond the boundaries of the agricultural employer’s property.
However, the Trump Administration’s EPA attempted to weaken the federal AEZ provisions in 2020 in several significant ways: establishing a 25-foot AEZ radius for all ground-based applications, regardless of droplet size; allowing pesticide applications to occur or resume while persons not employed by the agricultural establishment, such as utility workers, are present on easements within the boundaries of the establishment; and limiting the AEZ to the boundaries of the agricultural establishment.
In response, two lawsuits were filed: one by a coalition of state attorneys general that included California and the other by non-profit organizations. Because of those lawsuits, the Trump Administration's weakening of worker protections has not gone into effect. The Biden Administration’s EPA proposed a rule on March 13, 2023 to formally withdraw the changes advanced by the Trump Administration and restore the Obama Administration protections. Today’s comment letter supports the new rule.
In filing the comment letter, Attorney General Bonta joins the attorneys general of New York, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington.
A copy of the comment letter is available here.