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Former Farm Lobbyist to Run Pesticide Dept.

Environmentalists are wary of the appointee's ties to an industry she would regulate.

September 18, 2004|Robert Salladay | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Friday appointed a former agriculture lobbyist to become California's top pesticide regulator, despite complaints from environmentalists about her ties to an industry she would police.

Mary-Ann Warmerdam is expected next month to take over the Department of Pesticide Regulation, a 358-employee office that clashes frequently with the state's farming industry. Currently, she is a lobbyist for Pacific Gas & Electric, but worked for nearly two decades for the California Farm Bureau Federation.

Schwarzenegger said he is confident Warmerdam "will continue to maintain California's high standards of protection for both the environment and human health." The governor's office said Warmerdam would not be available for comment.

Last month, top-level members of nine environmental groups wrote Schwarzenegger asking him to delay Warmerdam's appointment. They said Warmerdam did not have a record of evaluating pesticides or state and federal pesticide laws.

They also questioned the appointment of someone "who has a long history with the California Farm Bureau Federation -- an organization that has a long tradition in California of fighting efforts to protect public health and the environment from pesticide use." Farm Bureau officials did not return calls for comment.

Warmerdam, 46, worked for the Farm Bureau Federation from 1981 to 2001. She had arranged a meeting with environmentalists for Aug. 17 to discuss their concerns, but it was canceled after an item appeared in The Times mentioning the letter, said Bill Magavern, a lobbyist with the Sierra Club.

Now, however, environmental groups are withholding judgment on whether to formally oppose her confirmation by the state Senate, which must approve her appointment to the $123,255-a-year job within a year of her taking office.

"At that point we will make a decision based on her performance in office rather than her prior history," Magavern said. "We're not saying just because she worked for the Farm Bureau that she must be bad. It just kind of raises caution."

Schwarzenegger also named Paul Gosselin, who has served as an environmental regulator in Massachusetts and California since 1989, as chief deputy director of the department. Mark Rentz, a timber industry executive for the California Forestry Assn. and the American Forest and Paper Assn., was appointed deputy director of external affairs under Warmerdam.

Environmentalists have become increasingly concerned about pesticide "drift" from farms fouling the air and water and harming farmworkers. They also want a more public discussion of the dangers of certain pesticides, and want the state to encourage so-called sustainable agriculture that relies on fewer chemicals and fertilizer and less water.

Warmerdam will be evaluated on her response to these issues, environmentalists said Friday. "We're certainly going to give her a chance," said Gina Solomon, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

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