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Connecticut Will Try to Take Back Local Pesticide Control

Bill SB 244 Would Overturn State Preemption

Senator Ed Meyer

Senator Ed Meyer

CONNECTICUT WILL ONCE AGAIN try to take the national lead on the control of lawn and garden pesticides. The state that passed the first law banning pesticides outside of schools and daycare centers in 2005 now has a bill in the legislature that would overturn a pesticide preemption law — that would allow local communities to enact pesticide restrictions that are more stringent than the state law.

Since 1991, when the Canadian town of Hudson, Quebec, became the first municipality in North America to ban lawn and garden pesticides, the chemical industry has been successful in lobbying for pesticide preemption laws in 41 states that made it illegal for cities and towns to pass laws more restrictive than the state law. Only Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Wyoming and the District of Columbia do not have a pesticide preemption law.

With preemption laws in place, the municipalities have been able to do what they want to on public property, but no municipalities have been able to restrict pesticides on private property. Connecticut’s proposed bill SB 244, sitting with the state senate’s Joint Committee on the Environment, could change that.

“I think the case has been made that pesticides have toxic effects, especially on children,” said state senator Ed Meyer, who introduced the bill. Meyer was also the author of historic SB 916 that became law on July 13, 2005, to give Connecticut standing as the state with the most strict pesticide code in the nation. New York followed suit last year with a law restricting pesticides on school grounds.

As a “standing” bill at this time, SB 244 may or may not be heard by the full Connecticut legislature. No hearing date has been set as of yet for the committee and, in the meantime, activists on both sides of the issue will no doubt be readying their arguments for and against. The chemical industry will say that local mayors, town managers and boards are not qualified to make decisions about something as complicated as lawn pesticides. They’ll say it’s confusing to professional businesses to have laws that vary from town to town.

The anti-pesticide activists will state that the pesticide products are known to be dangerous and, most significantly, a community should be allowed to have more strict controls on pesticides if it wants to. Many communities near the ocean, or with bodies of water within their borders, for example, are seen to be more at risk from environmental toxins.

Attempts to overturn state preemption laws have failed in the past 20 years, most recently in California, where the pesticide industry hired dozens of lobbyists to convince legislators to vote to keep preemption in tact in 2008. None of the states without preemption laws have ever tried to enforce local control over homeowners’ use of pesticides, either.

Connecticut is different, though. It’s a small state where everyone knows everyone. Ed Meyer, the state’s assistant majority leader, holds lots of sway, as does the resident pesticide bulldog, Nancy Alderman. She’s the president of Environment and Human Health Inc., a consortium of public health officials affiliated with Yale University. They have studied the impacts of pesticides on health and the environment for years and Alderman, in particular, has worked tirelessly to keep the issue in the public consciousness.

She is actively working with constituents to solicit support from mayors and first selectmen who would prefer to have local control. This bill would not mandate towns to do anything; they would just have the option to treat the lawns in their towns in stricter ways than the state if they so chose.

“There are 28 Connecticut organizations that have expressed interest in making this happen, so I think it has a real chance,” said Alderman.

Alderman said state preemption has never been appropriate in the broadest sense of the law.

“It’s long been established in the United States that state laws can be stricter than federal laws and municipal laws can be stricter than state laws,” she said. “That’s true across the board. Only tobacco and pesticides have flipped this. It’s time to set things right again.”

To check on the official status of the bill, click here: http://www.cga.ct.gov/asp/cgabillstatus/cgabillstatus.asp?selBillType=Bill&bill_num=SB00244&which_year=2011. We’ll keep you posted with any new developments.

About The Author

Paul Tukey

An international leader of the green movement, Mr. Tukey is a journalist, author, filmmaker, TV host, activist and award-winning public speaker, who is widely recognized as North America's leading advocate for landscape sustainability and toxic pesticide reduction strategies.

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