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Daily News Blog

17
Aug

Take Action: Legislation Upholding Local Authority to Protect Waterways from Pesticides Awaits NY Governor’s Signature

(Beyond Pesticides, August 17, 2022) Health and environmental advocates are urging Governor Kathy Hochul (D) to sign into law legislation that allows localities in the state to protect freshwater wetlands from toxic pesticide applications. The legislation, SB S8378C, sponsored by Senator Pete Harckham (D-WF) and passed by the state Senate and Assembly, represents an important affirmation of the local democratic right of communities seeking to protect their residents and local environments from hazardous pesticides. The state-level legislation comes at a time when local communities are under attack from pesticide industry allies in Congress, who are promoting legislation to “preempt” or prohibit states from enacting these laws, and localities from exercising their right to local control. The bill is awaiting the governor’s signature.

Underlying Senator Harckham’s legislation is the principle that local communities should be able to set rules to protect their drinking water from contamination. Local officials, Sen. Harckham notes, know their wetlands and aquifer systems best. “Pesticides and herbicides should not have blanket application if a municipality chooses to regulate their local wetlands that way,” he told Spectrum News 1. Under the proposed legislation, a locality may enact pesticide restrictions only if the local government has already implemented a freshwater wetlands protection law.

The pesticide industry has rallied against the legislation with standard anti-democratic arguments that undermine public health protections. Representatives of the industry group with the misleading name “Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment,” an offshoot of CropLife America—which has consistently worked to suppress local right—told Spectrum News 1 that local jurisdictions lack “expertise” in addressing the use of toxic pesticides. This argument contradicts the U.S. governmental structure that vests local governments with the authority to adopt standards that may exceed state and federal standards in order to address local conditions and issues of contamination. Apparently, the pesticide industry would rather have the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state agencies preempt local elected officials who, through the democratic process, are charged with protecting the environment and health of their community when state and federal law is viewed as inadequate.

As Terrence Centner of the University of Nebraska College of Law and Davis Heric of University of Georgia note in their 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, 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. As the authors explain, “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… If legislators care about the health of their communities and citizens, they need to repeal preemption laws that prevent appropriate safety regulations by local governments.”

The New York Farm Bureau has also come out against the legislation, concerned that the law “would devalue pesticide registrations” and “create confusion” over where pesticide applications are allowed. Messrs. Centner and Davis note that the pesticide industry’s desire to centralize control through “economies of scale” seeks to concentrate economic power despite its adverse impact on public health. According to Drew Toher, community resource and policy director at Beyond Pesticides, “In the eyes of the pesticide and agrichemical industry, localities should be more concerned about the profit margins of their businesses than the health of their neighbors or local ecology.”

“[T]he Farm Bureau tends to have a reflexive reaction when it comes to clean water initiatives,” Senator Harckham told Spectrum News 1. “I would hope the Farm Bureau would work with us on this. It’s a good bill. It’s a local bill and it will go a long way to protect our drinking water supplies.”

As the pesticide industry seeks to influence New York State’s affairs, its sights are currently set on Congress. If the industry gets its way, New York would have no say over whether its localities could restrict pesticide use, precluding the adoption of Senator Harckham’s legislation. That is because the pesticide industry wants to enact pesticide preemption at the federal level, overruling the exercise of both the state and local democratic process. H.R.7266, introduced by Representative Rodney Davis (R-IL), would also prohibit a community to “continue in effect” any requirement relating to pesticide use, overturning 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.  

As it stands, according to Beyond Pesticides’ analysis, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) already has the power to allow local jurisdictions to enact pesticide protections. No jurisdiction has yet made a formal request, but the passage of this legislation may spur further interest in additional protections.

Despite loud and vocal opposition from the pesticide industry, Senator Harckham is hopeful for the bill’s passage, as he indicated he worked with the governor on its inclusion in the state budget. A spokesperson for Governor Hochul indicates that she is reviewing the legislation.

Contact Governor Hochul and urge her to sign the legislation. You can send a message here. Ask her to sign SB S8378C into law and stand up to the pesticide and chemical industry’s attack on democracy.

Stop the pesticide industry’s attack on state and local democracy by getting in touch with your US member of Congress today. Help us work not only to beat back this latest attempt, but enshrine local rights in federal law by urging your Senators to support the Protect America’s Children From Toxic Pesticides Act (PACTPA).

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

Source: NY State Senate,  Spectrum News 1

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3 Responses to “Take Action: Legislation Upholding Local Authority to Protect Waterways from Pesticides Awaits NY Governor’s Signature”

  1. 1
    Patricia Chambers Says:

    Get this out of the environment. We have lost enough land and wildlife due to this toxic crud.

  2. 2
    Darla Says:

    Stop the pesticides!!!

  3. 3
    priscilla martinez Says:

    We need to take better care of what is left of our environment, for wildlife, marine life, plant life, and people.

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