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Daily News Blog

27
Aug

Maui Prohibits Toxic Pesticides and Fertilizers on County Land, Allows Only Organic-Compatible Materials

(Beyond Pesticides, August 27, 2021) On August 24, as reported by The Maui News, the Maui (Hawai’i) County Council approved legislation that will stop use of toxic pesticides and fertilizers in county land management practices, allowing only those materials permitted under federal organic law. The approach set out in the bill is the creation of a comprehensive list of such materials that will be either allowed or prohibited for use, as the legislation indicates, on “any County highway, drainageway, sidewalk, right-of-way, park, building, community center, or other facility.” This decision comes on the heels of years of grassroots work and advocacy, including that of Beyond Pesticides Director of Hawai’i Organic Land Management Program Autumn Ness.

The legislation (CR 21-56), which passed with a vote of 8–0 (with one member excused), will regulate pesticide and fertilizer use on county properties broadly, but will not affect property managed by the state or private owners, county agricultural parks, or county property used for agricultural purposes. The new ordinance will take effect for most county parcels one year from the August 24 approval date; the effective date for Maui’s War Memorial Stadium Complex and Ichiro “Iron” Maehara Baseball Stadium is two years from approval, and for the Waiehu golf course, three years hence.

The legislation sets out the stipulations of the federal National Organic Program (NOP), asserting that no synthetic pesticides and fertilizers may be used unless they are compatible with organic systems as permitted under NOP, with some specific exemptions. (The sections of the federal code cited in the legislation, which detail such compatible materials, are found under the Title 7 Code of Federal Regulations: 205.601, 205.603, 205.605, and 205.606.)

At the county council meeting, community members gave testimony in support of the legislation, citing worries about impacts of synthetic pesticide and fertilizer use on young people who use county sports fields and parks, and about environmental impacts, including those on marine life. (Maui County has numerous oceanfront parcels under its management.) Council Member Shane Sinenci, who introduced the proposed legislation, said of its final passage, “This shows that we are very responsible stewards for our keiki [children], kupuna [ancestors], and the kai [sea].”

At a previous, July 21, meeting of the Council’s Climate Action, Resilience, and Environment (CARE) Committee, members voted 6–0 to recommend the bill, The Maui News reported at the time, moving the legislation forward to consideration by the full council.

At that July committee meeting, the Maui Department of Parks and Recreation spoke in support of working toward “eliminating hazardous substances and using organic alternatives on golf courses, fields and public parks,” noting that beach parks are not currently treated with chemicals. The point was reiterated at the August 24 full council meeting when Chair Alice Lee pointed out that the county and the Department of Parks and Recreation have already been taking steps to reduce pesticides and fertilizers. 

Advocates at the CARE meeting included the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council, Sierra Club–Maui Group, West Maui Green Cycle LLC, and the Napili-based Hawaii Association for Marine Education and Research. These organizations pushed for reduction or full elimination of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers because of their damaging environmental impacts.

Communication and outreach director for the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council, Anne Rillero, said, “We believe that this bill is critical as the county is the owner of numerous coastal properties. . . . It has a responsibility for caring for its lands in a manner that protects the health of our nearshore coral reefs, marine wildlife, water quality, and also for the people who enjoy the ocean — we use it for fishing, recreation, [and] cultural connections.”

In commenting on the CARE Committee’s decision, Beyond Pesticides executive director Jay Feldman said, “We need to stop the use of hazardous chemicals, pesticides, and synthetic fertilizers, and replace them with a different approach. We do not need toxic pesticides to achieve our community goals for aesthetic[s] or safety in the parks, [on] playing fields or sports fields, and along the roadside. We are not talking about product substitution. We are talking about a systems change” — to organic, regenerative approaches to all land management.

Beyond Pesticides has long educated the public and policymakers about the many damaging effects of synthetic chemical pesticide (and petrochemical fertilizer) use in agriculture and other land management. It has also identified the efforts of the agrochemical industry to dominate the marketplace, “greenwash” its toxic products, distort scientific research, compromise the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and push back against pesticide regulation of nearly any kind until economic pressures become so extreme that companies strike deals with EPA to remove a single ingredient from the marketplace.

Industry sometimes creates trade groups and so-called “astro-turf” organizations — those that purport to represent the grassroots, but are in fact industry funded and led, and often have “green” names — to do the sector’s messaging. Sometimes, farmers who have grown conventionally (with chemicals) for decades and have little or no experience with anything else band together and resist pesticide regulation. Mr. Feldman noted, in his August testimony to the Maui County Council, that, “In my experience, those questioning the viability and cost-effectiveness of organic practices typically do not have experience with organic land management. The council can be confident that organic management systems work, whether we are producing food, growing grass, or managing rights of way. Historically, the companies represented by the ‘farm’ groups you’re hearing from in opposition to [CR] 21-56 [maintained that] organic food production was not commercially viable; it is now a $60 billion industry. As a parks manager in Montana said to me last week — whether you’re growing crops or growing grass, managing in sync with the ecosystem is the same.”

Mr. Feldman also offered testimony on CR 21-56 to the full Maui County Council in early August. He emphasized that such regulation is scientifically valid, whether assessed from the perspective of public health impacts, risks to ecological systems, the climate emergency, or the biodiversity crisis — all of which would be mitigated by enactment of this legislation.

Mr. Feldman endorsed the transition to a “whole systems” approach to county land management that this law would launch, saying that it “creates a framework for nurturing desirable plant life in a management system, like the one we developed for the organic transition plan provided to Maui County.” Beyond Pesticides has been working on Mau’i, Kaua’i, and the Big Island, and — with Osborne Organics — has developed organic land management plans for public parks and playing fields. The plans include soil testing (for soil chemistry and soil biology), development of protocols, and training of county landscaping staff.

Autumn Ness, director of Beyond Pesticides Hawai’i organic land management program, commented on passage of CR 21-56 [via personal communication with author]: “This bill has been at least six years in the making. Maui has a very strong grassroots movement of people who have been organizing . . . for years. Maui residents are educated on issues surrounding pesticides, GE [genetically engineered] crops, and the influence of chemical companies in the agriculture and landscaping industries. This grassroots movement has organized around . . . state policies such as the law banning chlorpyrifos in Hawaii in 2018, and around this bill, and is a force working to increase organic agriculture to be a larger part of our island economy. This bill shows that long-term movement building, elections work, [and] collaboration with scientists and organic landscape experts are all essential to long-term systems change. Beyond Pesticides’ support, collaboration, and scientific and technical expertise were a big part of this bill’s success. Beyond Pesticides Hawaiʻi is committed to supporting the Maui County departments in whatever ways necessary, and to continuing our work with Kauaʻi and Hawaiʻi counties as they work on pilot projects and legislation that will protect residents there from pesticide exposures.”

Ms. Ness shared the comment of Kelly King, Chair of the Maui County CARE Committee: “The pesticide ordinance is a great step in reducing the chemical applications in our parks and around county facilities. While I fully understand the challenges in the agricultural sector, we need to take steps where we can to reduce the harmful effects of pesticide residue where it has potential to directly affect our residents — parks and ballfields especially, but also in runoff that is negatively impacting our reefs and natural marine habitats. The ‘inconvenient truth’ is that many of the chemicals and materials (e.g., plastics and Styrofoam [polystyrene]) that were invented to make our lives easier are now being shown to have unintended negative consequences; and, despite the economic interests that are now deeply invested in these products, we must come together for the good of all to rethink our ‘modern practices.’”

Responding to the county council’s August 24 approval of the legislation, Mr. Feldman added, “This legislation represents the most comprehensive restriction of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers on public lands in a major county in the U.S. It represents a clear commitment to the elimination of petroleum-based pesticides and fertilizers and an incredibly important effort to confront the climate crisis, biodiversity collapse, and the protection of the health of workers and communities.”

For the myriad crises the country and world face, and for the benefits that a shift away from chemical land management would confer, Beyond Pesticides advocates for an urgent transition to organic regenerative agriculture and organic land management, and seeks robust federal leadership and planning to achieve this goal. The organization remains steadfast in its mission to reverse the destructive environmental and public health path on which industry interests and compromised federal agencies have set the nation, and to advance the adoption of organic practices and policies that respect the fundaments — the natural resources and dynamics, biological and biochemical processes, and ecosystem interdependency that allow and support all life.

Sources: https://www.mauinews.com/news/local-news/2021/08/pesticides-and-fertilizers-to-be-reduced-and-managed/, https://www.mauinews.com/news/local-news/2021/07/bill-would-regulate-pesticide-use-on-maui-county-property/, and author’s personal communication with Beyond Pesticides Executive Director Jay Feldman, and Beyond Pesticides Director of Hawai’i Organic Land Management Program Autumn Ness

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

 

 

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