FRESNO – State regulators proposed new rules Friday to meet a court-ordered deadline for cutting air pollution from chemicals used to kill pests, weeds and diseases in some of the nation’s most productive farmland. The proposed rules make California the first state to dictate how and where several widely used fumigants can be applied on fields statewide, said Glenn Brank, spokesman for the state Department of Pesticide Regulation. The restrictions would require any grower who uses fumigants to hire licensed people to inject them at a cost of as much as $40 million a year. The use of certain chemicals would be capped in areas in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley with especially dirty air. The directive, which the agency has the authority to set, centers on fumigants – gases that fruit and vegetable growers use to kill pests in the soil before planting. The chemicals have long been blamed for being part of the state’s air-pollution problem because they cause smog-forming gases when they evaporate from fields. In 1997, the state pesticide agency promised to adopt a plan for reducing fumigant emissions by 20 percent. The target went unmet, however, and several environmental groups sued in 2004, claiming the state violated national health standards for smog. Ruling in that case last year, a U.S. District Court judge in Sacramento made the voluntary reduction goal mandatory. The state has appealed the court order, but the regulations will go through with or without an appeal, Brank said. If they take effect as proposed, the required changes in their operations would cost growers $10 million to $40 million a year, making it the most costly pesticide regulation in state history, Brank said. The rules would hurt some growers more than others because some rely more heavily on fumigants. The additional costs could force the state’s strawberry growers – who provide about 88 percent of the nation’s strawberries – to take one-third of their land out of production, said Mary DeGroat, a spokeswoman for the 700-member California Strawberry Commission. “Air, water, soil – that’s our livelihood,” DeGroat said. “We’ve been trying our best to be responsible while still trying to make a living.” Many carrot, tomato and grape farmers also use the chemicals and would face high costs. Environmental groups objected Friday to a provision that would let chemical manufacturers monitor what they are supplying to the three restricted regions and allow the head of the state pesticide agency to let growers reduce emissions by methods besides the ones stipulated in the proposed rules, he said.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Other industries, such as oil refineries, automakers and paint manufacturers, have limits on smog-making gases called volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, but this is the first time across-the-board limits were set for fumigant emissions, Brank said. The new rules would require farmers using fumigants to hire special commercial applicators and to incorporate low-emission techniques such as injecting the gases deeper into moist soil and covering fields with heavier tarps. The restrictions would also set caps on how much of the chemicals can be applied in the San Joaquin Valley, Ventura County and the Mojave Desert area – three of the growing regions with the worst air pollution. Nearly 36 million pounds of seven fumigants were used on California farms in 2005, according to the state. If adopted, the new regulations would reduce pesticide emissions by 30 percent to 40 percent, regulators said. They were immediately met with criticism both from growers, who said implementing them would cost them millions, and environmentalists, who said the rules are too lax.