Montgomery Lawn Pesticide Ban Passes, Draws Wide Attention

The Montgomery County Council this week passed a ban on private use of most commonly-used pesticides, drawing national attention and interest as the first major local jurisdiction to do so.

An October 6 summary from the county media site MCMedia explains the bill’s effect and timing:

The Montgomery County Council passed Bill 52-14 by a 6 to 3 vote on Tuesday.

The legislation, commonly known as the pesticide bill, bans the use of EPA-registered pesticides in lawn care for most uses in the county including public and private playgrounds, mulched recreation areas, child care centers, and county property.

Advocates and opponents of the bill attended Tuesday’s council meeting that included a discussion from both sides of the issue. Councilmembers Craig Rice, Sidney Katz, and Roger Berliner voted against the bill.

The bill takes effect on July 1, 2016 for county-owned property and parks. For private property, the bill takes effect on Jan. 1, 2018.

But restrictions do not apply to gardens.

“They do not restrict pesticide use for the control of noxious weeds or invasive species, for human health or agricultural purposes or to prevent significant economic damage,” according to a statement.

“Property owners have a right to maintain their own property, but they do not have a right to inflict harm upon their neighbors. Residents will still be free to hire any lawn care professional to treat their lawn or to manage their own lawn care, but they can do so now with the confidence that their family will be better protected,” [Montgomery County Council President and bill sponsor George] Leventhal said.

At the meeting, Councilmember Rice said he has “a lot of concerns” about amendments on a bill that he thinks is “already problematic.”

An October 6 Center for Effective Government commentary expressed support for the Montgomery County measure, and alleged that the action was necessary due to lax federal oversight:

 Montgomery County acted, in part, because of the misguided way the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, the nation’s main pesticide law, is currently being enforced. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency often grants conditional approvals to pesticide products despite limited evidence of their safety. Recently, it even granted full approval to a dangerous, bee-killing pesticide despite problematic industry studies about the chemical, a decision recently thrown out by a federal appeals court.

Federal law does not prevent state and local governments from adopting their own pesticide restrictions or bans as long as they are at least as strong as federal standards, and some states have stepped in to fill the protection gap. Cities and counties in some areas have also passed bans and restrictions, but 43 states prevent local governments from establishing protective pesticide polices. Maryland is one of seven states that allow local governments to take action on pesticides.

An October 7 Washington Post article in the wake of the bill’s passage connects the debate to county politics, and also suggests that legal and citizen challenges may lie ahead for the newly-passed law:

It isn’t over. Expect lawsuits from homeowners and the local lawn-care industry challenging the county’s intervention in a regulatory area controlled by the state and federal governments. A referendum is another possibility for opponents, though it is a heavy lift. Placing a law on the ballot requires signatures of 5 percent of the county’s 623,000 registered voters within 90 days of the measure’s effective date, which in this case is Jan. 1, 2018.

MACo is including a breakout session on pesticide use on public recreation properties during its upcoming 2015 December Winter Conference.  Click here for more information on the winter conference.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties