Category Archives: environment

Yes on Restricting Cosmetic Pesticide Use

The following is a guest post from Julie Taddeo of Safe Grow Montgomery

It is mid-March, and already yellow warning signs are appearing on lawns all over the county. Millions of pounds of pesticides will be used in the state of Maryland as they are every year to help achieve a “perfect” look that puts our health (and that of our environment) at risk. Common sense tells us we should be concerned with this amount of chemicals being spread around where we live, where our kids play, and where our pets tread.

The fact that these substances are harmful to human health is not disputed; studies have linked lawn pesticides to a host of serious diseases like human and animal cancers, ADHD, Parkinson’s, and endocrine disruption, among other disorders. The EPA states that pesticides (including herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides) “can cause harm to humans, animals, or the environment because they are designed to kill or otherwise adversely affect living organisms.”

The only question is what their effects are in the small quantities likely to be absorbed by humans. It is very difficult to ascertain the harm (or safety) of small quantities of chemicals over long periods of time and large populations. But the harm is no less real: even a small risk per individual means a near certainty when multiplied by the population of the county.

In situations like this, when science by itself cannot at this time give a definitive answer, the sensible thing to do is to weigh the risks against the benefits or use precaution.  Bill 52-14, proposed by Montgomery County Councilmember George Leventhal, does exactly this by restricting lawn pesticides used solely for ornamental, or “cosmetic” purposes.

Other, more beneficial uses of pesticides (e.g., agriculture, control of invasive species, indoor pest control, tree care) are left untouched. As Councilmember Leventhal stated on talk radio, it’s a “gentle bill,” a rational way for our county to diminish the potential health risks at a small cost.

There is precedent for this bill.  Ontario, Canada banned cosmetic lawn pesticides (with exemptions similar to those in Bill 52-14) in 2008; Ogunquit, Maine banned lawn pesticides in 2014; Connecticut and New York enacted Child Safe Playing Fields acts in 2005 and 2010 respectively; Washington, D.C. passed the Pesticide Education and Control Amendment Act in 2012, and Takoma Park followed a year later with its own Safe Grow Act.

More towns and counties in the United States are not able to restrict lawn pesticides because they have been pre-empted from doing so by their states. Maryland is now just 1 of 7 states whose right is intact to pass stricter laws at the local level regarding pesticides. It is a right constantly under threat from the pesticide industry and its lobbying groups in Annapolis.

Should we leave to individual home owners the decision to use or not use cosmetic lawn pesticides? No, because lawn pesticides do not stay where they are put. Pesticides drift and also run off into our drinking water sources, so your neighbor’s choice becomes your choice. Parents have no control over pesticide use on playing fields and schools where our children play, and our parks are routinely treated with pesticides.

For those who reside in HOAs (1/3 of county residents) or in apartments, the right to choose how your lawn and common green spaces are managed doesn’t even belong to you. Should we leave it up to the EPA to be the sole regulator of harmful substances? The EPA is under budgetary and political pressures and its review system is fundamentally flawed, hampered by the very industry from which it should be protecting us.

There is nothing unusual about placing limits on individual rights for the greater good of the public’s health and our environment; our county has rules about recycling, litter, noise, trees, and in-door smoking, for example. And we have proof these laws work: the CDC recently reported that Americans’ exposure to second-hand smoke has declined by half since smoking bans have been instituted.

Montgomery County was a leader on this issue and it should be a leader in protecting its residents from second-hand pesticide exposure, too.

Pesticides Won’t Kill This Debate

George Leventhal Debates the Issue on WMAL

Council President George Leventhal and Councilmember Marc Elrich have taken the lead on a measure that would create new county regulations regarding the use of pesticides. Specifically, their bill would:

  • “require posting of notice for certain lawn applications of pesticide;”
  • “prohibit the use of certain pesticides on lawns;”
  • “prohibit the use of certain pesticides on County-owned property;”
  • “require the County to adopt an integrated pest management program for certain County-owned property.”

The bill would not impact the application of pesticides on farm land in the County’s Agricultural Reserve but it would affect public County ball fields as well as private property. Montgomery County is usually strongly in favor of environmental regulations but these have already generated controversy that is likely to heat up.

Whatever you think of the bill, it was a gutsy piece of legislation to introduce precisely because of the heated debate. While gaining further support from the environmental community, Leventhal and Elrich risk facing a real backlash from opposed voters.

My understanding is that members of the Council tried to draft a compromise bill that would garner support, or at least acquiescence, from potential major opponents. However, that initiative having failed, Council President Leventhal decided that he might as well take the heat for introducing a firmer measure since he could not gain backing for a more moderate bill.

While funding for core services has been the hot debate in past years due to large budget cutbacks, this promises to attract the interest of many on both sides.

What the Frack?

The House Republicans are going after the fracking report (a.k.a. the Maryland Department of the Environment’s “Assessment of Risks from Unconventional Gas Well Development in the Marcellus Shale of Western Maryland”) in a big way. Here is House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga’s latest email:

Szeliga

They’ve even got a video from the hearing:

It’s good to see that House Republicans watched Battlestar Galactica too:

Hogan Stops Pollution Regulation Critical to Public Health

One of Governor Hogan’s very first decisions has been to rescind a pending air-quality regulation that would have curtailed emissions from existing coal fired power plants.  This regulation had been extensively vetted by industry, the public and the Maryland Department of the Environment. The Maryland Air Quality Control Advisory Council (AQCAC) concurred unanimously with the proposed regulation in October 2014. Note that the AQCAC:

consists of 15 members appointed by the Secretary of the Department. Members include representatives from industry, labor, professional associations, local and regional government organizations, academia, farming, the medical community and the general public.

Indeed, AQCAC is currently chaired by a BGE employee–John Quinn.

According the the Baltimore Sun,

Hogan has ordered a comprehensive review of all pending regulations, opening them up for further “public input, public hearing and full due process” before they can be finalized.

But that due process has already occurred. These sorts of regulations go through truly extensive vetting before they get published in the Maryland Register. The unanimous approval by all AQCAC members present on October 6, 2014 is testament to the success of the vetting process.

These environmental regulations will have an important impact on public health in Maryland. MIT published a study in 2013 showing that air pollution is the source of 200,000 excess deaths annually in the US.  On the east coast, a substantial share of the air pollution is due to electricity generation by coal  fired power plants.  Among the types of fossil fuels used to produce electricity, coal is far and away the greatest source of air pollution.  And guess which city has the highest mortality rate in the country due to air pollution:

The researchers also mapped local emissions in 5,695 U.S. cities, finding the highest emissions-related mortality rate in Baltimore, where 130 out of every 100,000 residents likely die in a given year due to long-term exposure to air pollution.

Among the many regulations that Gov. Hogan vetoed or delayed, this should not have been one of them. It had extensive review with unanimous concurrence by the full spectrum of stakeholders. The regulation was key part of the effort to address directly the root cause of the multi-year failure of the greater Baltimore metro area to meet National Ambient Air Quality Standards, and reduce the associated cost of pollution to public health.

Regulations are often onerous with some having less merit than others. Environmental regulations, however, are critical because they force businesses to pay a cost–either in terms of public health or cleanup–that they otherwise would dump on the public. Open for business is great but not at the cost of the well-being of Maryland’s citizens.

Chicken Out

Sen. Rich Madaleno and Del. Shane Robinson sponsored bills titled the “Poultry Fair Share Act” to tax chickens at 5 cents apiece. The estimated $15 million raised would help the State pay for the dealing with the environmental consequences of poultry farming. As the Baltimore Sun explained in its editorial:

[P]oultry waste is an enormous problem in this state because of the harm it does when it runs off land and into streams, rivers and eventually, the Chesapeake Bay. It’s a major source of nitrogen and phosphorus, particularly in Eastern Shore tributaries.

A hysterical Eastern Shore Republican has tossed around the threat of hundreds of thousands of feral chickens roaming the State when the industry closes down due to the proposed tax:

When you think you’re a statesman in Maryland, you decide to write an environmental bill that taxes chickens. When you tax chickens, you close down the chicken industry on the Eastern Shore. When the chicken industry closes down, 300,000 feral chickens attack nursing homes in your district, feeding on your parents.

Less frothing at the mouth opponents express concern about how the new tax would impact farmers and the 15,000 jobs related to chicken farming in the State. Gov. O’Malley said he’d veto the bill if it reached his desk. Del. Robinson has now withdrawn his bill, so one assumes it’s dead for the year.

But the bill nonetheless raises an important concern. Republicans believe that business should respond to market forces and oppose new taxes as anti-business in general. Fine. But when farmers or companies allow so much chicken poop to find its way into the Bay, they’re dumping their costs on everyone.

In effect, this industry wants us to tax everyone else to clean up their mess or just allow the problem to continue. The real tax is not on the farmers but on the rest of us who subsidize this profitable business by letting them dump this waste on the public at no cost. And that should generate far more outrage than the proposed tax.

The State may have chickened out this year but this isn’t just a chicken shit problem.

Green Endorsements

The League of Conservation Voters and Sierra Club have endorsed a slew of General Assembly candidates. Here is a combined list of the two with non-incumbents in boldface. (L) indicates endorsed just by the League and (S) indicates endorsed just by the Sierra Club.

All of the endorsed non-incumbents for the Senate are currently delegates, though Veronica Turner is the only challenger endorsed over an incumbent for the Senate.

A total of non-incumbents have been endorsed for delegate by either organization–all for open seats. The League endorsed Rick Kessler, as well as the three incumbents in District 18. The LCV also endorsed four including two challengers–David Moon and Darien Unger in District 20..

By far the most endorsements were made in Montgomery County, an indication of the importance of environmental issues to many voters in the County. Prince George’s came up second.

District 3 (Frederick and Washington)
Senate: Ron Young (L)

District 6 (Baltimore County)
Senate: Johnny Olszewski, Jr. (L)

District 10 (Baltimore County)

Senate: Delores Kelly (L)
House: Adrienne Jones (L)

District 11 (Baltimore County)
Senate: Bobby Zirkin (L)
House: Dan Morhaim, Dana Stein

District 13 (Howard)
Senate: Guy Guzzone (L)
House: Shane Pendergrass, Frank Turner

District 14 (Montgomery)
Senate: Karen Montgomery
House: Anne Kaiser, Eric Luedtke, Craig Zucker

District 15 (Montgomery)
Senate: Brian Feldman
House: Aruna Miller, Kathleen Dumais

District 16 (Montgomery)
Senate: Susan Lee
House: Ariana Kelly, Hrant Jamgochian (S), Marc Korman (S)

District 17 (Montgomery)
House: Kumar Barve, Jim Gilchrist, Andrew Platt (S)

District 18 (Montgomery)
Senate: Rich Madaleno
House: Al Carr, Ana Sol Gutiérrez, Jeff Waldstreicher, Rick Kessler (L)

District 19 (Montgomery)
Senate: Roger Manno
House: Bonnie Cullison, Ben Kramer, Charlotte Crutchfield (S)

District 20 (Montgomery)
Senate: Jamie Raskin
House: Sheila Hixson, Will Smith, David Moon (L), Darien Unger

District 21 (Anne Arundel and Prince George’s)
Senate: Jim Rosapepe
House: Ben Barnes, Barbara Frush, Joseline Peña-Melnyk

District 22 (Prince George’s)
Senate: Paul Pinsky
House: Anne Healey (L), Tawanna Gaines (L)

District 23 (Prince George’s)
Senate: Doug Peters (L)
House A: Jim Hubbard (S)
House B: Marvin Holmes (L)

District 24 (Prince George’s)
Senate: Joanne Benson (L)
House: Carolyn Howard (L)

District 25 (Prince George’s)
House: Dereck Davis (L)

District 26 (Prince George’s)
Senate: Veronica Turner (L)
House: Kris Valderrama, Jay Walker (L)

District 27 (Calvert and Prince George’s)
House A: James Proctor, Jr. (L)
House C: Sue Kullen

District 28 (Charles)
House: Peter Murphy (L), C.T. Wilson (L)

District 30 (Anne Arundel)
House: Michael Busch

District 32 (Anne Arundel)
House: Pam Beidle

District 39 (Montgomery)
Senate: Nancy King
House: Charles Barkley, Kirill Reznick, Shane Robinson

District 40 (Baltimore City)
House: Barbara Robinson (L), Shawn Tarrant (L)

District 41 (Baltimore City)
House: Jill Carter (L), Sandy Rosenberg (L)

District 42 (Baltimore County)
Senate: Jim Brochin
House A: Stephen Lafferty

District 43 (Baltimore City)
House: Curt Anderson (L), Maggie McIntosh, Mary Washington

District 44 (Baltimore City and County)
House A: Kieffer Mitchell (L)

District 45 (Baltimore City)
House; Talmadge Branch (L), Cheryl Glenn (L)

District 46 (Baltimore City)
Senate: Bill Ferguson
House: Luke Clippinger (L), Peter Hammen (L), Brooke Lierman (L)

District 47 (Prince George’s)
Senate: Victor Ramirez (L)
House A: Michael Summers