Bill would ban specific lawn care pesticides in Montgomery Co.

Staff Writer

ROCKVILLE, Md. (April 7, 2015) — A bill proposing the ban of certain pesticide use, currently before the Montgomery County Council, is causing a good deal of concern in the agricultural community. Montgomery County Bill 52-14 would ban the use of listed lawn care pesticides on private and county property.
The bill’s author, council president George Leventhal of Takoma Park, and supporters of the bill are seeking to set a precedent by prohibiting pesticide use on private property.
Agriculture, vector control and certain other uses are exempt from the bill; however, at meetings in the county, supporters have noted that they understand a law prohibiting the use of the pesticides on private property could not pass if agriculture and other currently exempted uses are included.
The sponsor of the bill asserts on one hand that agriculture is excluded and that he is a friend of agriculture, but on the other hand, he has stated many times he cannot be responsible for what could come next if the current bill is passed, and supporters of the measure have stated in public meetings that agriculture is one future target of such prohibitions.
Two hearings have been held on the bill, one in February and one in March.
Thirty-three residents, business owners and growers testified against the bill and 35 testified in support.
Of the supporters, half were growers and members of Montgomery County Farm Bureau.
The other half were green industry professionals, experts and home owners.
Opponents who packed the hearings numbered about 400, outnumbering supporters at about a two-to-one margin.
Last week, the county’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee held a second work session on the bill which featured panel presentations on the environmental issues, turf management practices and from county landscaping professionals.
“I couldn’t imagine how it was possible to manage plant health without pesticide options,” Jody Fetzer, green management coordinator for Montgomery County Parks, said at the worksession. “They really are a medicine for serious plant health issues that don’t respond at all to other techniques.”
If passed as written, the law would rely on various lists of pesticides as a basis for lawn care product bans. Forming the initial basis of the law are a pesticide list created by the province of Ontario, Canada; European Commission Endocrine Disrupter Lists; U.S. EPA Restricted Use product list and U.S. EPA known and likely carcinogen lists.
There are no provisions in the bill for the county to undertake any type of scientific or other defensible review of the products it seeks to ban, nor are there any provisions for enforcement of the bill except for neighbor enforcement.
Many of the pesticides listed are also used in agriculture.
A prohibition on neonicotinoid insecticides is also included in the bill.
The bill is limited to lawn care use with a lawn defined as anything “maintained by mowing or trimming,” so there is the potential for certain farm-based activities to be impacted.
The sponsor has asserted he would strengthen the agricultural exemption but that remains to be seen in final bill language.
RISE (Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment), and Maryland Association of Green Industries are working with a broad coalition that includes lawn care, golf, sports turf, pest control, residents, the county parks and recreation department, and Montgomery County Farm Bureau to defeat the bill. Residents opposing the measure see the bill as an unneccesary infringement of their personal property rights.
Professionals and regulators see the bill as unnecessary given the strength of both the U.S. EPA’s and Maryland Department of Agriculture’s regulatory programs.
Brian Schoonmaker, president of Capital Pest, opposes the bill and voiced this opinion in a telephone interview: “The bill is being put forward by a handful of people who are untrained in pesticide usage and the laws that govern pesticides, untrained in the science behind pesticide development and all the research that goes behind it, making sure that pesticides are safe when applied correctly.
“A lot of evidence goes against the logic behind the bill and what they are trying to have done,” Schoonmaker said.