Op­po­nents aim to al­ter bill curb­ing pes­ti­cides

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - BY BILL TURQUE bill.turque@wash­post.com

A con­tro­ver­sial bill to re­strict pes­ti­cide use on pri­vate lawns and public land in Mont­gomery County could be headed for sig­nif­i­cant changes be­fore it goes be­fore the County Coun­cil for a fi­nal vote, most likely in Septem­ber.

Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Ge­orge L. Leven­thal (D-At Large), the bill’s spon­sor, and coun­cil mem­ber Roger Ber­liner (D-Po­tomac-Bethesda), who chairs the com­mit­tee re­view­ing the mea­sure, are at odds over its scope.

Ber­liner said Fri­day he is draft­ing an al­ter­na­tive ver­sion that drops the re­stric­tions on pes­ti­cide use for lawns, county parks and ath­letic fields. It would in­stead es­tab­lish a coun­ty­wide goal of re­duc­ing pes­ti­cide use to a to-be-determined level by 2020. Pes­ti­cide use would be mon­i­tored through new re­port­ing re­quire­ments for ap­pli­ca­tors work­ing in the county.

As orig­i­nally drafted by Leven­thal, the mea­sure bans cer­tain “non-es­sen­tial” or cos­metic pes­ti­cides that are not pro­hib­ited by state or fed­eral au­thor­i­ties but con­tain chem­i­cals con­sid­ered proven or likely car­cino­gens by the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency and Canadian and Euro­pean reg­u­la­tors. It would, for ex­am­ple, ban popular lawn treat­ments such as Scotts Mir­a­cle-Gro and Mon­santo’s Roundup. The bill also would en­cour­age the use of or­ganic al­ter­na­tives.

The pro­posal has led to fierce di­vi­sions in a county that prides it­self on pro­mot­ing healthy and en­vi­ron­men­tally sound living. Home­owner as­so­ci­a­tions, chem­i­cal in­dus­try lob­by­ists, lo­cal lawncare com­pa­nies and sports groups call the county pro­posal an un­war­ranted in­tru­sion into an area reg­u­lated by state and fed­eral au­thor­i­ties. Con­cerned par­ents, en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists and public health ex­perts point to re­search sug­gest­ing el­e­vated can­cer risks for chil­dren ex­posed to toxic pes­ti­cides.

Leven­thal said op­po­si­tion to the bill has only af­firmed his be­lief that its cur­rent ver­sion is the right one.

“The pes­ti­cide in­dus­try will op­pose any con­ver­sa­tion, any pro­posal,” he said. “I don’t think Mr. Ber­liner’s half­way mea­sures are go­ing to be treated any dif­fer­ently. Th­ese in­dus­tries are very prof­itable.”

Re­spon­si­ble In­dus­try for a Sound En­vi­ron­ment, a trade as­so­ci­a­tion sup­ported by pes­ti­cide mak­ers, has been op­pos­ing Leven­thal’s bill be­hind the scenes.

Ber­liner, who chairs the coun­cil’s com­mit­tee on trans­porta­tion, en­ergy and the en­vi­ron­ment, said his main con­cern is that the Leven­thal bill, as writ­ten, goes too far too fast, es­pe­cially on an is­sue where the science is not clear and the com­mu­nity is deeply di­vided.

“We have not pre­pared our peo­ple,” Ber­liner said, liken­ing the bill to “go­ing from zero to sixty ina nanosec­ond.”

Also of con­cern is an April opin­ion from the Mary­land at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice that in the event of a legal chal­lenge, the courts are likely to rule that the state, not the county, has the power to reg­u­late pes­ti­cides.

Ber­liner said his bill would still ban use of pes­ti­cides on county rights of way and re­quire county parks au­thor­i­ties to limit pes­ti­cides to “ju­di­cious use.”

“‘ The least amount pos­si­ble’ will be our mantra for all our park­land,” he said.

In­stead of ban­ning the use of pes­ti­cides, his bill would re­quire that when res­i­dents hire lawncare firms, they sign a doc­u­ment out­lin­ing the re­ported health risks. It also would re­quire con­do­minium and home­owner as­so­ci­a­tions to vote on whether to use cos­metic pes­ti­cides.

If by 2020 th­ese mea­sures do not re­sult in re­duced pes­ti­cide use and if the sci­en­tific ev­i­dence of health risks be­comes clearer, Ber­liner said, he would sup­port the kind of ban that Leven­thal fa­vors.

Ber­liner’s com­mit­tee has sched­uled an in­for­ma­tion ses­sion on Leven­thal’s bill for Mon­day morn­ing.

That ses­sion is the lat­est in a se­ries in which the com­mit­tee has taken tes­ti­mony about pes­ti­cide use from ex­perts and stake­hold­ers.

Leven­thal said Ber­liner is “just tread­ing wa­ter” — play­ing for time to com­plete his bill.

Ber­liner flatly de­nied that he is stalling. He said the sched­ule he worked out with Leven­thal calls for the se­ries of hear­ings and then a mid-Septem­ber vote.

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