(Beyond Pesticides, November 4, 2013) The hard-fought victory of Kauai residents to protect their homes, children, and natural environment from the chemical and agricultural industry’s excessive and secretive applications of pesticides was threatened last week. Bill 2491, passed earlier this month and crafted to rein in the ecosystem-threatening development of genetically engineered crops with their excessive reliance on pesticides, has been vetoed by Kauai’s Mayor Bernard Carvalho.
The bill established much-needed disclosure, notice, and reporting mandates for commercial-scale pesticide applications, required pesticide application buffer zones for schools, hospitals, residences, public spaces, waterways, and parks, and mandated that the County perform and Environmental and Public Health Impacts Study (EPHIS). (See previous Daily News coverage for a more expanded history and discussion of the evolution of the bill.)
A critical component of the bill is the inclusion of a penalties provision. Acting as a strong industry- incentive to comply with the bill’s mandates and protective measures, the penalties provision permitted civil fines of between $10,000 and $25,000 per day per violation and potential misdemeanor criminal sanctions.
Mayor Carvalho defended his veto decision by saying that the bill ran afoul of a number of laws, including the Right to Farm Act, according to an interview with the Honolulu Civil Beat. Mr. Carvalho went on to argue that the bill preempted the state’s role in regulating pesticides and genetically altered crops and violated the county charter by allowing the county council to assign new functions to his department.
Emphasizing his belief that a collaborative approach would better achieve the goals of the bill, Mayor Carvalho urged the Kauai Council to move forward in the Hawaiian spirit of cooperation. Hawaii’s Governor has also called for a similar approach and proposed voluntary guidelines as an alternative means of getting seed and diversified agricultural companies to voluntarily comply with certain health and safety requests of the Kauai community.
While collaboration can yield protections, attempts to reach agreement with the industry’s chemical use and encourage disclosure have been tried and failed.
Applications of restricted use pesticides on Kauai has affected children and their teachers directly in the classroom. After a number of incidents at Waimea Canyon Middle School in 2006 and 2007, administrators and teachers sat down with Syngenta and secured an agreement from the company not to spray before school was out at 3:30 pm. Syngenta broke that promise, according to Maluhia Group, a coalition of Waimea Canyon Middle School staff, parents and community members. There’s even a YouTube video showing the event. Hawaii’s Department of Agriculture investigated the incidents, but came to the conclusion that Cleome gynandra, known on the islands as “stinkweed,” was the main culprit. However concerned residents are not convinced, as there have never been any recorded medical incidents of widespread poisoning by stinkweed.
Fortunately for the residents of Kauai, who remain concerned about known negative and health and environmental impacts of the pesticide and GMO related activities of industry giants such as Monsanto, Dow, BASF, DuPont Pioneer and Syngenta, the fight is not over.
Kauai’s Mayor will not have the final word as the vetoed bill can still be reinstated through a revote of the Kauai Council. Five votes of the Kauai County Council are needed to overturn Mayor Carvalho’s veto. The decision of the Council will most likely be even more contentious than first vote. Should the Council override the Mayor’s veto, legal battles will inevitably follow. Whatever the battle, there is little question in the minds of the bill’s supporters that it is a fight worth continuing.
Beyond Pesticides has been a fervent supporter of Bill 2491 and believes that every community in the United States should have a right to protect itself from chemicals that are applied in and around where they live, work and play. Read Beyond Pesticides testimony on Bill 2491 for additional information. If you’d like to become involved in a campaign in your community, send an email to [email protected], or call 202-543-5450.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides