New Hampshire Pesticide Vote Hangs in Balance of Election
CONCORD — As we predicted just a few days ago, the fate of the anti-pesticide movement in New Hampshire likely depends on the outcome of the Nov. 2 election.
The agricultural sub-committee of the New Hampshire legislature — that had been studying the impact of a pesticide ban in places where children routinely congregate — voted 9-5 today to not recommend additional study. That leaves the door open for new legislation to be introduced on Nov. 15 that would ban pesticides around schools and daycare centers, much like similar legislation passed in Connecticut in 2005 and earlier this year in New York.
For that door to remain open, however, Rep. Suzanne Smith and her colleagues in the Democratic party, may need to be re-elected.
“If I am re-elected I will absolutely introduce new legislation in the next session that would ban the dangerous pesticides around schools,” said Smith. “If I’m not re-elected, well, then, it’s anybody’s guess.”
While Smith said she feels confident in her chances, she feels much has been accomplished in the past year to open people’s eyes about the toxicity of products used to kill dandelions, plantain, clover and other perceived weeds.
“Today the message was loud and clear that the committee didn’t feel additional study needed to happen, because that’s what we’ve spent the entire past year doing,” said Smith. “There has been so much education on this; I had a stack of testimony eight or nine inches high on this subject on my desk. People who didn’t know anything about this issue now know a lot. The majority of the sub-committee now feels something needs to be done to protect children from these toxic substances.”
Much of the credit for the major step forward in New Hampshire goes to Ellen Fine, the founder of the Leah Collective. She was able to put together a non-profit organization and invested her own funds to promote the anti-pesticide initiative on the fly in 2010. A non-entity before February, she accomplished more in nine months than many people might in a decade.
“That woman has been a pain in my ass,” said one Republican legislator who asked not to be identified. “But clearly she latched onto a hot-button issue at the right time and she surrounded herself with a capable young attorney (Amy Manzelli) who carried herself well. Then she got credible experts from inside and, most importantly, outside of New Hampshire who carried a lot of water on this.”
Reaching out to others, according to Fine, was a strategy she learned from other states and Canadian provinces that have been successful in achieving pesticide reform.
“I suggest coalition,” she wrote on a post on this blog on Oct. 11. “I watched my friends in Connecticut, New York and Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec bring together the types of people who would not normally sit together to discuss these issues, former nurses, organic landscapers, farmers, river stewards, alternative health practitioners, PTA’s, interfaith groups. Whenever there is pesticide legislation passed, refer to it, bring in experts from those states. Get a great lawyer and a law firm.”
Ultimately, only the outcome of the next election will decide if a lawn pesticide ban comes quickly to New Hampshire. The bottom line, however, is that it will come one way or another.
For the rest of the states watching, New Hampshire has been a tremendous case study. You need a motivated activist (Ellen Fine) and a courageous legislator (Suzanne Smith) because you know you’re going to get a lot of self-serving, ignorant and even dangerous rhetoric from people like Jim Campanella, the owner of Lawn Dawg, the largest chemical lawn pesticide company in the state. He’s going to warn that he’ll lose all his customers, that he’ll have to lay off employees, if a lawn pesticide ban around schools is put in place.
And, you know what? If Campanella and the rest of the chemical lawn are industry can’t see the change coming by now, they deserve to lose all those customers.
If my guess is right, though, Campy will be camping out at the headquarters of the New Hampshire Republican party for the next two weeks. Rather than willfully changing to safer organic products like his former partner, Tom Kelly, the top Dawg will be stumping for legislators who will vote against a pesticide ban. Campanella is like one of those old Tareyton smokers from the 1960s who would rather fight than switch.
That leaves our side no choice but to fight back, too. Ask your legislator, Republican or Democrat, where they stand on the issue of lawn pesticides. Vote for the ones who get it.