(please distribute as widely as possible)
On March 9, 2016 the Maryland Senate passed SB 198 (known as the Pollinator Protection Act). The bill will keep neonicotinoids (“neonics”) off retail shelves in Maryland and allow only pesticide applicators to use them. And that’s it. The bill will not restrict the agricultural use of neonics, nor does it restrict the sale or use of pet products containing neonics or personal care products for lice and bedbugs. Will this bill really “save the bees” or is it nothing more than a political token? As long as it doesn’t do harm, it’s fine, but there is definitely some potential for harm, and let me tell you why.
Despite the exemption for agriculture, Senator “Mac” Middleton, (D-28, Charles Co.) at the last minute, inserted amendment language that raises some red flags and could make an amended bill a victory for the pesticide industry, not for bees. Said amendment (most likely proposed by the Farm Bureau and pesticide industry) reads:
THE DEPARTMENT (Maryland Dept. of Agriculture) SHALL REVIEW THE STATE’S PESTICIDE LAWS AND REGULATIONS AND MAKE RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ANY CHANGES NECESSARY TO ENSURE STATE LAWS AND REGULATIONS ARE CONSISTENT WITH THE U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY RECOMMENDATIONS.
What’s this all about and why should you care? If state laws and regulations are to “be consistent with the EPA”, this means that the state will be preempted; in other words, local jurisdictions, like Takoma Park and Montgomery County, which recently passed laws to restrict cosmetic lawn pesticides (and which the Farm Bureau and pesticide industry tried to defeat, despite the exemptions for agriculture in these laws, too), are in danger of being overturned. Furthermore, any future efforts by local jurisdictions to try to exceed the very weak EPA regulations on pesticides will also be fruitless. And that pretty much is the death knell for environmental movements in our state. As someone who was involved in both the town and county campaigns, and who has dedicated many years to fighting the long reach of the so called “green industry” (code name for pesticide industry), this worries me tremendously.
Fortunately, there were strong voices against this amendment on the House floor, led by Transportation & Environment Chair Kumar Barve. Thanks to his efforts and keen understanding of the threat of preemption that this amendment poses, he managed to get the House committee to pass a “clean bill”, stripped of the amendment (despite 2 more attempts to have it re-inserted). But the story doesn’t end here. The bill still has to go to a joint Senate-House committee, where there’s always the possibility that the amendment might get re-introduced.
There are larger stakes than just this bill, which doesn’t even ban neonics (which Montgomery County’s law actually does). Maryland is just one of 7 states left that has not been pre-empted by the pesticide industry. Maine is another of those seven, and towns like South Portland, ME, have been inspired to follow our county’s lead on restricting lawn pesticides, but in the other 43 states, citizens are now powerless to fight for anything that would exceed weak federal laws on pesticides. The failure of the EPA to date to restrict neonics, among other pesticides, is what made the Pollinator bill a necessity in the first place. The Middleton Amendment would negate the very raison d'être of the bill.
Jamie Raskin, our progressive State Senator in D-20 has weighed in on this, “I am determined to see that the pollinator legislation we pass in Annapolis will not preempt anything being done at the local level. We have three weeks left to make sure that the language is unambiguous about this. I am working with local environmental advocates, Attorney General Frosh and our friends in the House to make sure that state law protects what we have done locally.”
We need others like Senator Kagan and Senator Zucker to also stand up to the pesticide industry and offer support.
Once again, a bill that offers some protection for pollinators, WITHOUT this weakening amendment, is still possible. I urge residents in Montgomery County (and other counties in the state) to contact your Senator and Delegate before Monday and tell them to allow NO amendments to the Pollinator Protection bill that threaten pre-emption. The bees will thank you for it.
Montgomery County, MD resident
Full-time Farmer (43 years)