Kara Cook-Schultz, Maryland PIRG Foundation: 303-573-5995 x 329, [email protected]
Emily Scarr, Maryland PIRG Foundation: 410-467-9389, [email protected]
Jay Feldman, Beyond Pesticides: (202) 543-5450, [email protected]
Montgomery County, Md. — Nine organizations filed an Amicus brief this week in support of a 2015 landmark Montgomery County, Maryland ordinance that restricts the use of toxic pesticides on public and private land within its jurisdiction. The law, intended to protect children, pets, wildlife, and the wider environment from the hazards of lawn and landscape pesticide use, is facing a legal challenge filed in November last year by the pesticide industry group Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment (RISE).
The plaintiffs, which include local chemical lawn care companies and a few individuals, allege that the local ordinance is preempted by state law, despite the fact that Maryland is one of seven states that has not explicitly taken away (or preempted) local authority to restrict pesticides more stringently than the state.
“Regular people in Montgomery County worked hard to pass a law that would protect their families’ health. But now a giant pesticide group, with big industry backing, is trying to come in and take that away. That’s not right. That doesn’t reflect the fighting spirit of Maryland. And that’s why we had to join in this brief,” said Kara Cook-Schultz, Toxics Director, Maryland PIRG Foundation.
The law at issue, 52-14 (the Healthy Lawns Act), which restricts the cosmetic lawn care use of toxic pesticides on public and private land, protects over one million people, the largest number to be covered by any local jurisdiction to date. Passing the Montgomery County Council by a vote of 6-3, the bill allows time for transition, training, and a public education program over several years. In limiting the pesticides allowed to be used for turf management, the law defined acceptable materials as those permitted for use in organic production, or identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as “minimum risk pesticides” under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), Section 25(b).
Although attempts to adopt “explicit” preemption were introduced in the Maryland legislature in the mid-1990s, industry was unsuccessful in gaining enough support, and the state lawmakers never passed legislation expressly preempting local pesticide legislation. Because of this, RISE and its affiliates argue that there is “implied” preemption on the part of the state that would prohibit a local jurisdiction like Montgomery County from taking action to protect its citizens. Their claim hinges on proving that Maryland law establishes a “comprehensive program of state level regulation and licensing of pesticide products and applicators” that implies the state meant to occupy the entire space of pesticide regulation, and left no door open for local jurisdictions to regulate above and beyond state statutes. The lawsuit focuses on Bill 52-14’s restriction of pesticide use on private property, and does not challenge the ordinance provisions that apply to county-owned land.
The groups filing the Amicus include Beyond Pesticides, Center for Food Safety, Central Maryland Beekeepers Association, Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility, Food and Water Watch, Maryland Pesticide Education Network, Maryland PIRG Foundation, Organic Consumers Association, and Safe Grow Montgomery.