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Daily News Blog

07
Apr

Industry, Money, and Politics Drive Legislation to Squelch Local Pesticide Restrictions

(Beyond Pesticides, April 7, 2022) Legislation introduced by U.S. Representative Rodney Davis (R-IL) last week would roll back, preempt, and prohibit local jurisdictions from enacting policies that protect resident health and a community’s unique local environments from hazardous pesticides. The bill, H.R.7266, is a direct attack on the scores of local communities that have enacted common sense safeguards from toxic pesticides, and represents the pesticide industry’s response to the growing momentum of the pesticide reform movement. Health and environmental advocates are expecting Rep. Davis and his partners in the agrichemical industry to attempt to work the provisions of the legislation into the upcoming 2023 farm bill. The industry had previously attempted to work federal preemption into the 2018 farm bill, an effort that ultimately failed after massive pushback from health advocates, local officials, and Congressional allies.

Rep. Davis’ press release for the bill, in which he was joined with quotes from a range of agrichemical industry leaders, is titled “Davis Introduces Legislation to Prevent Liberal Local Governments from Banning or Restricting Pesticide Use,” striking a partisan tone. Caring about public and environmental health is typically not viewed as a liberal or conservative, Democratic or Republican issue. Those monitoring local governments that enact pesticide restrictions do not see partisan motivations; these laws are borne out of concern for children’s health, pregnant women, workers at disproportionate risk, and the immunocompromised, many of whom come to local government meetings to share their stories of pesticide poisoning. Conversations in local communities focus on the potential contamination of drinking water, local recreational swimming areas in waterways, the parks in which residents walk their beloved pets, and stories of locals witnessing a steep decline in pollinators.

The decision to enact a local pesticide policy is one that comes from local community discussion. Yet, Rep. Davis’ bill could stop communities from exercising basic local governance to protect people and the environment. 

The bill would amend federal pesticide law by adding the following provision:

“(d) LOCAL REGULATION PROHIBITED – A political subdivision of a State shall not impose, or continue in effect, any requirement relating to the sale, distribution, labeling, application, or use of any pesticide or device subject to regulation by a State pursuant to this section or by the Administrator under this Act.”

This language is considerably more restrictive than the amendment Rep. Davis and the industry proposed under the 2018 farm bill. Under this new language, by prohibiting a community to “continue in effect” any requirement relating to pesticide use, the bill would overturn any existing restrictions already passed in local communities. With uncertainty over how broadly this bill would be interpreted, all local jurisdictions with pesticide reform policies, including those only applying to public properties, could be reversed with this legislation.  

While traditionally anathema to ideology of Rep. Davis and his colleagues, advocates warn this bill represents a massive federal “big government” overreach into local communities.

The impacts for public health and ecological stability would be devastating. Only state agencies and the federal government would be able to regulate pesticide use. With the vast majority of state agencies effectively acting as rubber stamps for pesticide approvals by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), local jurisdictions would be forced to follow the rulemaking of an agency that has been documented to be captured by industry interests.

Time and time again, EPA has shown itself to be willing to override its namesake mission to protect health and the environment at the behest of agrichemical industry interests. As dozens of local communities act to protect declining pollinator populations by limiting the use of bee toxic neonicotinoid insecticides, EPA is set to reregister them for another 15 years. While local communities across the country are eliminating the use of glyphosate due cancer concerns and legal liability over its health impacts, EPA has denied the chemical’s cancer links and worked hand in glove with agrichemical industry groups to defend its use and stop other countries from enacting bans or restrictions.

With new evidence continuing to emerge on the depths of agrichemical industry corruption within EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, it is little wonder that a large and growing swath of communities are enacting laws that eliminate nearly all synthetic pesticides registered by EPA in favor of organic and minimum risk products.

Scientific research backs up the assertion that preemption laws harm public welfare. The study, Anti-community state pesticide preemption laws prevent local governments from protecting people from harm, published in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability and supported by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, finds that state pesticide preemption laws “compromise public health and economic well-being” by preventing localities from enacting pesticide use restrictions on private property that are more restrictive than their state’s regulations. In the words of the authors, “By eliminating the ability of local governments to enact ordinances to safeguard inhabitants from health risks posed by pesticides, state preemption laws denigrate public health protections.”

The most frequent justification stated by preemption proponents is the desire for “economies of scale” to prevent a “patchwork” of legislation, which would centralize control and create a “predictable regulatory environment.” Rep. Davis’ press release is littered with similar statements. Based on evidence of industry influence over state policies, however, study authors hold the position that these justifications are a ploy for more perverse economic motivations. Namely, advocates say these motivations are to sell their toxic products, increase their stock, and award their highly paid executives.

According to OpenSecrets, the agricultural services/products industry represented one of the top five industries donating to Rep. Davis between 2019-2020, totaling $160,625 for that period.

As the pesticide and agrichemical industry begin their effort to roll back and preempt critical conversations in local communities around health and environmental protection, it is imperative that local advocates stand up for sensible pesticide reform. Should Congress pass legislation amending federal pesticide law, two bills, the Saving America’s Pollinators Act (SAPA) and Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act (PACTPA) represent a stark contrast to the approach taken by Rep. Davis and his colleagues. SAPA would shift decision-making over allowance of bee-toxic pesticides to a group of independent experts without pesticide industry conflicts of interest. PACTPA would enact long-overdue structural changes to pesticide law, and critically, assert the rights of localities to enact local laws pertaining to pesticide use. Even more protective legislation is needed, however, to strike at the toxic core of federal pesticide law.

While the industry attempts to trample on the rights of local communities, we urge advocates at all levels of government to push back. Ask your elected Representative in Congress to support pollinators by cosponsoring Saving America’s Pollinators Act (SAPA), and urge your Senators to co-sponsor PACTPA and reforms to the toxic core of FIFRA. Consider following up with a phone call directly to your elected officials to let them know why local rights over pesticide reform is important to you.

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

Source: Rep Rodney Davis press release, H.R.7266

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