In Pesticide Action Network North America v. California Department of Pesticide Regulation (September 19, 2017) Case No. A145632, the First District Court of appeal considered whether the Department of Pesticide Regulation met its CEQA obligations under the Department’s certified regulatory program. Documents prepared pursuant to the regulatory program serve as the functional equivalent of CEQA documents. However, the documents remain subject to several of CEQA’s substantive requirements. The First District Court of appeal concluded that the documentation prepared by the Department failed to meet several of these substantive requirements.

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation prepared documentation for amendments to the labels of two previously registered pesticides. The amendments provided for use of the pesticides on additional crops and in increased quantities. Both pesticides contain neonicotinoids. The Department concluded that use of the pesticides pursuant to the amended labels would not result in significant environmental impacts. The Department’s decision to approve the amendments was subsequently challenged, but that challenge was denied by the trial court. The Department did not fare as well on appeal.

On appeal, the First District concluded that the EIR was deficient on several grounds. First, the court agreed with petitioners that the EIR failed to address any feasible alternatives to amending the pesticide labels to allow new uses. In reaching this conclusion, the Court noted that the record failed to include discussion of even a “no project” alternative. Furthermore, the Department failed to include the environmental checklist showing how the Department reached its conclusion that the amendments would result in no significant impacts. Second, the Court concluded that the record and documentation prepared by the Department contained inadequate details on the environmental baseline. Again, the court could not discern from the record whether Department ever determined how environmental baseline would be measured. Finally, the Department neglected to explain if or how cumulative impacts of registering the new pesticides uses were measured.

The First District Court’s holding emphasizes the importance of creating a detailed administrative record for CEQA decisions, even where environmental review is streamlined under a certified state regulatory program. In this case, a more robust administrative record may have preserved the Department’s decision on appeal.