Finally someone has come to their senses.

SF GATE – SAN FRANCISCO — The state’s efforts to eradicate the light brown apple moth was dealt a setback Thursday when a judge ordered a halt to aerial spraying in Santa Cruz County until state agriculture officials conduct a comprehensive review of the chemical spray’s environmental impact.

A short time later, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced separately in Sacramento that plans to spray in 12 counties where the moth has been found would be put on hold at least until Aug. 17 to allow for a series of safety tests to be completed.

U.S. and state agriculture officials had planned aerial spraying in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties in June and in every county in the Bay Area starting in August in a campaign to eradicate the invasive moth, which they say threatens more than 200 crops in the state worth multimillions of dollars.

What effect Schwarzenegger’s decision would have on plans to spray the Bay Area remained unclear Thursday, but Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary A.G. Kawamura said the ruling by Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge Paul Burdick “threatens the safety of our agriculture, environment and economy” and said he would appeal it immediately.

“The light brown apple moth is a serious threat not just to Santa Cruz but to the entire state, and the method we are using is the safest, most progressive eradication program available,” Kawamura said in a statement.

The spraying plan calls for the use of pesticides containing synthetic insect pheromones and other ingredients. Critics questioned whether the spray is safe after more than 600 people in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties reported respiratory problems after spraying there last autumn during the first phase of the campaign against the moth.

Soon afterward, the county and city of Santa Cruz sued, arguing that an environmental review should have been done first.

Burdick’s ruling was a victory for environmentalists who argued the state was moving ahead without adequately assessing health and environmental risks. Critics of the spraying plan hoped it would serve as a model for judges in other counties considering similar lawsuits.

The judge rejected arguments by agriculture officials that the moth infestation was an emergency, a legal category that would permit them to proceed with the second round of spraying before completing an environmental impact report. Environmental impact reports can take more than a year to complete.

The ruling in a packed courtroom triggered jubilation among opponents of the spraying program. “There was joy, applause, tears, the works,” said Dick André of the California Alliance to Stop the Spray. “I’m delighted. I, of course, realize that it isn’t over yet. But we do have some time now.”

Schwarzenegger made his decision to delay spraying after a meeting with state Sen. Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, and a delegation of Marin County officials and environmentalists.

The governor said he remains convinced the chemicals used for spraying are safe but called for the temporary halt to allow for a series of tests on possible eye, inhalation, respiratory and other potential irritants. A U.S. Department of Agriculture contractor will conduct tests in Texas on several chemicals being considered for the next round of spraying.

“I am confident that the additional tests will reassure Californians that we are taking the safest, most progressive approach to ridding our state of this very real threat to our agriculture, environment and economy,” Schwarzenegger said.

Five lawmakers have introduced bills in Sacramento to control aerial spraying, including one by Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, that would require the same environmental review in all Bay Area communities that Burdick ordered for Santa Cruz County.

“Too much is at stake to go forward without all of the facts,” Leno said Thursday.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who sent a letter to Schwarzenegger March 20 calling for the full risk assessment of the spraying, welcomed the postponement and new tests as a step in the right direction.

“It’s time to slow down, put on the brakes and take a hard look at the health impacts before we move forward with the spraying,” said Newsom spokesman Nathan Ballard. “We’ll have to wait and see what those results are.”

LIGHT BROWN APPLE MOTH

Problem: The tiny moth, a native of Australia and much smaller than a penny, has been found in the Bay Area. Its larvae feed on more than 2,000 types of plants and trees, including 200 fruit and vegetable crops.

Eradication: Officials plan to spray a pesticide – a synthetic moth pheromone – over Bay Area cities to eradicate the moth by disrupting its mating. Spraying was expected to start Aug. 1.

Spraying opponents: They say human health problems have been reported and that the spray has not undergone adequate testing.

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