New Department of Pesticide Regulation Acting Director Val Dolcini recently sat down with Farm Press editors for an exclusive interview to discuss the state of the regulatory agency going forward and his dual role in the California Environmental Protection Agency.
Dolcini was appointed EPA’s Deputy Secretary for Agriculture by Gov. Newsom in March, then named to succeed former DPR Acting Director Teresa Marks when she retired at the end of May. He continues to serve in that dual role within the state environmental protection agency.
Prior to his EPA appointment Dolcini was the president and chief executive officer of the Pollinator Partnership, an international nonprofit dedicated to protecting pollinators through conservation, education and research. Dolcini previous served in the Obama Administration as the administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency. Prior to that he was the California State Executive Director of the USDA FSA.
Dolcini has a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from San Francisco State University and a Juris Doctor degree from Golden State University School of Law.
Question: What are DPR’s priorities going forward?
Dolcini: We've got a lot going on from chlorpyrifos to cannabis enforcement to building good productive collaborative relationships with the ag commissioners up and down the state, to working with environmental justice stakeholders, to budgetary and legislative issues that come up randomly. I think my goals in the near term are to lead this department as effectively and as efficiently as I can in keeping with the broad vision that the secretary has outlined, which is for all of the boards, departments and offices in this building – from the air board and water board to Cal Recycle, the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment and the Department of Toxic Substances Control to work more collaboratively and more strategically where we can.
It’s been the secretary's vision to create greater alignment between the BDOs (boards, departments and offices) and to create greater strategic opportunity for collaboration.
DPR is a department made up of 400 dedicated public servants from scientists to attorneys to policymakers, to technicians and others who serve an important mission of fostering public health while at the same time trying to promote less risky and more sustainable pest management alternatives. We find ourselves at a real crosshair when it comes to public policy development; every decision that's made down here is typically controversial to someone. What we're trying to do is promote the $55 billion industry that is California agriculture and at the same time promote a public health mission, which I think is central to a lot of the work that's done down here, as well as fostering less risky, more sustainable pest management tools.
Question: We’ve heard of a possible restructure of DPR. What is the future of the agency?
I don't know about a total restructure. I think it's prudent for state managers and administrators of large departments to look at the functions of those departments and see where things can be done more effectively and with a greater eye towards a taxpayer efficiencies and mission efficiency as well. As I mentioned we are a unique entity here. We're kind of a place where science, management and policy intersect and hopefully they intersect in a way that provides common sense solutions for the folks that work with DPR most closely. Those include farmers and ranchers, registrants and local communities. We have a lot of different stakeholders that are pushing and pulling from time to time, depending on the issues that they may think of as important. I want this to be a place that continues to grow and continues to stretch itself and serve its fundamental mission while at the same time addressing new concerns that come up throughout the state.
Question: Let’s talk about specific chemistries, starting with chlorpyrifos.
Dolcini: The governor in his May revise dedicated $5.7 million to focus on the creation of a working group that will be made up of folks from around the state who have some technical experience to address this. I think this was founded on the realization that we can’t take away a tool without providing some alternatives going forward for chlorpyrifos use.
Question: Who will be on this group?
Dolcini: We’ve not announced it yet and we’re still working through who will serve on this group. I want to make sure it’s a credible collection of individuals. We’re going to try to finish that this summer.
Question: Will there be a deadline for this group?
Dolcini: We’d like this to be wrapped up by the spring of 2020.
Question: What about neonicotinoids?
Dolcini: They have been reevaluated here at DPR and we're looking at potential mitigation measures into the fall and early next year. I can provide you with more definitive details later, but that was a process that began last year.
Question: Are neonicotinoids on the chopping block as was chlorpyrifos?
Dolcini: I wouldn't say the chopping block. It’s a tool that we want to make sure we've analyzed thoroughly and that's part of what the DPR reevaluation process does.
Question: There are concerns that DPR is quick to ban products without concern for what this could do to limit the tools available to growers. Your thoughts?
Dolcini: I think that we understand better than a lot of state agencies how important pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, miticides or rodenticides are to farmers and ranchers in California and to pest control operators that need to use those chemicals. We realize that we have an important public health mission. I think that we can do that in a way that is supportive of this preeminent California industry – agriculture – and honors the fact that farmers are great innovators. Frankly, we've seen over the last year or so a decline in pesticide usage in California.
I think that's a tribute to farmers who are using chemicals more judiciously in their farming operations and are maybe using in one application instead of three. We saw chlorpyrifos usage drop dramatically beginning early this year.
Question: What will DPR’s role be as the Governor goes forward with his climate change initiatives?
Dolcini: That's kind of an evolving role. When I came out here to be the deputy secretary up on the 25th floor climate smart agriculture was going to be a part of my portfolio up there. Since then I've had to devote about 95 percent of my time to DPR related things, so I haven't had as much time to work on that. But I've had some really interesting meetings with people who are doing all kinds of innovative carbon farming throughout the state and working with USDA agencies and working with UC and others around the state to provide the technical assistance to farmers who may be interested in some of the practices that allow them to create carbon sinks in in their parts of California.
Question: What role can the University of California Cooperative Extension play in decisions made by DPR?
Dolcini: I think on the chlorpyrifos working group, cooperative extension and folks at UC will be incredibly valuable. They provide a resource to the state that's extraordinarily valuable to work that farmers and ranchers do.
We’ve got wonderful folks at Cooperative Extension who are doing great things every day and in mostly unheralded fashion. I think that most Californians probably don't truly appreciate the value of UC Cooperative Extension.