A couple dozen Maine communities have enacted ordinances to protect their waterways and residents from pesticides. Now, Gov. Paul LePage, through a bill that appears to have been written by a pro-industry group, is seeking to outlaw such rules.
The Maine Municipal Association, which represents the state’s towns and cities, explained perhaps most succinctly why this idea makes no sense:
“It is difficult to understand what interest the state would be serving by repealing targeted local ordinances that have been established to protect the public’s health and natural resources,” the Maine Municipal Association’s Garrett Corbin told the Legislature’s State and Local Government Committee during a public hearing last week.
For nearly 30 years, towns have been able to regulate pesticide use and sales within their boundaries. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court upheld this municipal right in 1990. Central Maine Power Co. had sued the town of Lebanon over a 1983 ordinance that forbids the use of pesticides for non-agricultural uses unless approved by a vote at town meeting. In 1986, CMP sought permission to spray herbicides along a transmission line corridor in the town in order to control plant growth. Residents took up the question at town meeting and voted it down.
CMP went to court the next day, arguing that the town could not preempt state and federal rules regarding pesticide use and that the power to regulate pesticides was wrongly delegated to the town.
The Maine Supreme Court disagreed in a 1990 ruling.
A year later, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that communities can adopt stricter standards for pesticide use than federal or state regulations.
Now, LePage is trying to undo these rulings to benefit the chemical industry.
The language in LD 1505 closely mirrors model legislation circulated by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative, pro-business group. ALEC has been peddling the legislation to preempt local chemical ordinances since 1995. ALEC has authored other model legislation used by Republican governors and lawmakers to try to preempt local rules, such as LePage’s attempt in 2015 to prevent communities from enacting their own minimum wages and a bill being considered by Maine lawmakers that would make it harder for communities to build their own broadband networks. Regarding pesticides, the group argues that quashing local ordinances would protect the safety of America’s food supply.
This argument is ridiculous. Strict pesticide rules, not blanket federal or state approvals for their widespread use, ensure the safety of food, local communities and waterways.
According to state law: “It is the policy of the State to work to find ways to use the minimum amount of pesticides needed to effectively control targeted pests in all areas of application.”
Yet, from 1995 to 2011, the volume of pesticides sold for home use in Maine has increased from 800,000 pounds to 5.7 million pounds, according to data from the Maine Board of Pesticides Control.
Against this tide, 27 towns have enacted ordinances to limit pesticide use. Most of these ordinances are meant to protect water.
Representatives of some of these communities and concerned residents spoke in opposition to LD 1505 at last week’s public hearing. Chemical trade association representatives and pesticide sellers and applicators spoke in favor.
Lawmakers should put the interests of Maine communities and residents first and reject this bill, which wasn’t even written to solve a Maine problem.