Berliner Looking at Ways to Adjust Pesticide Bill Facing State Scrutiny

Berliner Looking at Ways to Adjust Pesticide Bill Facing State Scrutiny

A Maryland assistant attorney general wrote that state law may preempt a general ban on use of non-essential pesticides

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A sign warning about a recent application of pesticide

via National Science Foundation website; E. Harris, Clark University

Faced with the possibility that state law may preempt a proposed general ban on pesticide use, Montgomery County Council member Roger Berliner is asking the Maryland attorney general’s office for its opinion on a number of new provisions that could possibly reduce the use of pesticides in the county.

Those new provisions include:

  • Requiring local pesticide applicators to report the amount of such chemicals they apply yearly in the county.
  • Requiring homeowners to sign a document that identifies health risks associated with pesticides and directs a lawn care provider to adhere to “Integrated Pest Management Practices” that call for using pesticides as a last resort.
  • Requiring homeowners associations to poll residents and receive an affirmative vote of the membership before applying pesticides to property.
  • Requiring additional reporting of pesticide use for properties where children are present such as playgrounds and daycare.

The provisions were presented by Berliner in a May 28 letter to the attorney general’s office.

On April 1, Assistant Attorney General Kathryn Rowe wrote an opinion to Montgomery County Del. Kirill Reznik that legislation proposing a general ban on the application of certain toxic pesticides to private lawns and county property is “most likely to be found preempted”  by state law that addresses pesticide use. As written, the bill would not ban pesticide use for agricultural purposes or on golf courses.

Council President George Leventhal, the sponsor of the bill, said Thursday he doesn’t agree with any of Berliner’s new proposals and continues to support the legislation he submitted to the council.

“It appears [Berliner] and I are not on the same page,” Leventhal said. “I think the environmental community will be disappointed by this.”

Leventhal added that although the ban he proposed may be challenged in court, that risk is always present in legislation passed by the county. He also said that the council’s attorney believes the council does have the authority to enact the legislation.

The proposed pesticide legislation has attracted both significant support and opposition. During two public hearings in January, homeowners said the bill could harm their ability to take care of their lawns, while lawn care company owners said jobs would be lost if the bill passed. Meanwhile, environmental advocates said federal and state regulations don’t go far enough to protect against the harmful effects of toxic pesticides.

After a Washington Post article featured the debate over the bill on its front page in March, Leventhal rose to the defense of the controversial bill. At that time he focused on lax regulations at the federal level, saying that Congress and federal workers at the Environmental Protection Agency are subjected to political pressure that makes it difficult to enforce or create regulations that could harm large, profitable chemical companies.

Berliner, as the chairman of the council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee, is currently reviewing the legislation with committee members Nancy Floreen and Tom Hucker.

Leventhal is not a member of the committee, but said he plans to sit in on the committee’s review, although he can’t vote on their recommendations.

Berliner was not available to respond to questions about the letter because he is out of the country.

Above photos of George Leventhal (left) and Roger Berliner (right) provided by Leventhal and Berliner.

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