Urgent Action: Sneak Attack on Local Pesticide Laws by Chemical and Pest Management Industry in Farm Bill Passed by House Agriculture Committee

Help stop an extraordinary sneak attack on the right of Maine communities to protect people and the environment from pesticides in the Republican Farm Bill, passed by the Agriculture Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives on April 18 on a straight party line vote.

>>Send a letter to your U.S. Representative and Senators Susan Collins and Angus King, requesting that they reject a provision in the House Farm Bill that prohibits local laws on pesticides.

The language inserted in the Farm Bill amends the federal pesticide law with a provision that prohibits local governments from restricting pesticide use on private property within their jurisdictions. Local laws in two states, Maine and Maryland, will be overturned with final passage of this law in the U.S. House and Senate. In those 43 states that forbid local pesticide laws by state law, future reconsideration of this prohibition, enacted at the behest of the chemical and pest management industry, will be foreclosed. Laws protecting the environment and public health have historically emerged out of local governments, which have adopted laws related to recycling, smoking, pet waste, building codes, and zoning.

The fight to defend the authority of local governments to protect people and the environment has been ongoing for decades, reaching the U.S. Supreme Court in 1991. The Court specifically upheld the authority of local governments to restrict pesticides throughout their jurisdictions under federal pesticide law. In Wisconsin Public Intervenor v. Mortier, the Court ruled that pesticide law does not prohibit, or preempt, local jurisdictions from restricting the use of pesticides more stringently than the federal government. According to Mortier, however, states do retain authority to restrict local control. In response to the Supreme Court decision, the pesticide lobby immediately formed the Coalition for Sensible Pesticide Policy and developed boilerplate legislative language that restricts local municipalities from passing ordinances on the use of pesticides on private property. The Coalition’s lobbyists descended on states across the country, seeking and, in most cases, passing, preemption legislation that was often identical to the Coalition’s wording.

Since the passage of those state laws, there have been numerous efforts to preempt local authority in states that do not prohibit local action on pesticides, most recently in Maine. An industry-backed attempt to enact pesticide preemption in the state of Maine failed after bill LD 1853 was voted down in March. The bill resembled a similar bill that failed in the same legislative committee in 2017. Similarly, in Maryland, the chemical industry was unsuccessful in its attempts in the mid-1990s and more recently to pass legislation seeking explicit preemption in Maryland.

With an ever increasing number of communities stepping up to protect their residents and unique local environment from pesticide poisoning and contamination, the repeated introduction of preemption legislation means that health advocates and forward-thinking communities must continue to remain vigilant, and ready to fight to maintain their right to home rule. Having failed to curtail local action and the growing number of communities deciding to act, the chemical industry is flexing its muscle with a sneak attack in a Congress friendly to its position.

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