October 22, 2018
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Let towns keep the right to regulate pesticides in their communities

Andrew Harnik | AP
Andrew Harnik | AP
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt appears before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on budget on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 16, 2018.

Last year, pesticide manufacturers tried to undo local pesticide ordinances in Maine as part of a large state-by-state lobbying effort. That failed. Now they are trying to get Congress to undo these local rules in one fell swoop by changing federal regulations through the Farm Bill that is pending in Washington, D.C.

Taking the power to regulate the use of pesticides away from local communities was wrong then and it remains wrong now.

For nearly 30 years, towns have been able to regulate pesticide use and sales within their boundaries. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court upheld this municipal right in 1990. A year later, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that communities can adopt stricter standards for pesticide use than federal or state regulations.

Last year, Gov. Paul LePage tried to undo these rulings to benefit the chemical industry.

The language in the governor’s bill was straightforward. It would have prohibited communities from adopting or continuing to enforce any ordinance or rule regarding the sale or use of pesticides.

It also closely mirrored model legislation circulated by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative, pro-business group. ALEC has been peddling the legislation to preempt local chemical ordinances since 1995. The group argued that quashing local ordinances would protect the safety of America’s food supply.

This argument is ridiculous. Strict pesticide rules, not blanket federal or state approvals for their widespread use, ensure the safety of food, local communities and waterways.

“Existing federal law regulating pesticide use has long given states and local governments the authority to craft pesticide policy tailored to local needs, and there is no reason for that long-standing policy to change in this Farm Bill,” Sen. Angus King told the BDN. “I broadly believe in local control and states’ rights, and in this case, I hope that the final Farm Bill will reflect the Senate’s version by not including this provision to restrict state and local government’s ability to enact their own pesticide standards.”

Sen. Susan Collins also supports the Senate version of the Farm Bill, which does not include the language that would prevent local communities from setting their own, stricter pesticide policies.

Thirty Maine towns have enacted ordinances to limit pesticide use. Most of these ordinances are meant to protect water.

Those ordinances are in danger under language in the House version of the Farm Bill, which includes a provision that would strip communities of the right to adopt pesticide regulations that are more restrictive than federal regulations.

“We do not want the federal government to roll back our high standards and replace them with laws favorable to chemical corporations,” Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling and South Portland Mayor Linda Cohen wrote in a recent OpEd published by The Hill, a Capitol Hill publication.

Chris Novak, president and CEO of CropLife America, a pesticide industry group, told Environmental Health News, that the Environmental Protection Agency regulates and registers pesticides after years of “diligent and thorough testing,” something he said local communities don’t have the staff or expertise to do.

Recent evidence does not back up this assertion.

Last month, a federal court ordered the EPA to ban a widely used pesticide because it ignored warnings from its own staff about its dangers to children and farmers. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the EPA failed to counteract “scientific evidence that [chlorpyrifos] residue on food causes neurodevelopmental damage to children.” It also faulted the EPA for not following the assessment from agency scientists that the pesticide was harmful.

Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt had reversed a 2015 Obama administration recommendation to extend a 2000 ban on chlorpyrifos to include food. The chemical was already no longer used in household settings.

There are many problems with the House Farm Bill, including this provision to strip communities of the right to protect their residents from harmful chemicals. Negotiators who will reconcile the two versions of the bill should use the Senate bill as their starting point and reject this and other harmful aspects of the House version.

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