Pelosi and the moth spraying

The entire issue could be obviated with congressional action, and Rep. Nancy Pelosi needs to take the lead

Correction: Rep. Sam Farr has raised questions about the moth, but has not at this time introduced legislation to de-list it.

EDITORIAL A Santa Cruz County judge has put a temporary halt to the state's plan to spray chemicals from the air over Bay Area cities in an ill-conceived effort to eradicate the Light Brown Apple Moth. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger agreed to hold off on the spraying until further studies are done on the environmental and health issues.

But the proposal to dump tons of an artificial pheromone called Checkmate over urban areas with millions of residents this summer is not dead: the governor still insists that some sort of eradication plan is needed, and California Food and Agriculture Secretary A.G. Kawamura is warning lawmakers that billions of dollars are at stake.

But the entire issue could be obviated with congressional action, and Rep. Nancy Pelosi needs to take the lead.

Checkmate disrupts the mating cycle of the moth. Nobody knows for sure what effects it will have on humans, but the Checkmate containers have strict warning labels about health hazards. And the stuff will be contained in tiny plastic capsules designed to release it over weeks, or even months. The capsules themselves can be inhaled, possibly causing respiratory problems. There's no doubt this is a danger, particularly for children.

The legal and political issues are complicated, but it appears that there are only two effective ways to halt the spraying at this point. Either the Santa Cruz legal ruling has to hold up on appeal (tricky, since the governor can declare an emergency and override environmental law), or the federal government has to change the way it looks at the moth.

The moth is a threat to agriculture — but almost certainly not as serious a threat as state and federal authorities claim. Schwarzenegger says the tiny insect, which likes to lay its eggs in a wide variety of plants, will devastate the state's agricultural industry. But many entomologists say the bug has probably been in the Bay Area for years, and that the state's crops have not suffered. In fact, in other places where the moth is established (Australia and New Zealand, for example), its impacts have been fairly mild.

The problem is that the feds have listed the moth as a major agricultural hazard. Under international treaties, produce from areas where the bug is established can't be exported. There's a simple way to solve this: Congress can de-list the Light Brown Apple Moth. Rep. Sam Farr (D–Monterey) has introduced a bill to do that. But time is short.

Pelosi, however, has the ability as speaker to push this to the top of the agenda and get a bill passed quickly. Mayor Gavin Newsom and the supervisors should call on her to do that — now.

Meanwhile, Oakland is preparing its own legal action. San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera and other Bay Area city attorneys should be doing the same.