Connecting state and local government leaders
Most states already prohibit local efforts to restrict the chemicals.
Local governments would be blocked from regulating pesticide use under a provision inserted in the sprawling farm bill draft that a U.S. House committee approved this week.
Most states already have laws that prevent local governments from imposing their own pesticide restrictions. City and county pesticide regulations that are on the books typically target chemicals used for lawn care, as opposed to industrial agriculture.
Supporters of chemical pesticide bans typically cite health and environmental hazards.
Section 9101 of the House farm bill would amend the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, limiting authority over pesticide regulation to the Environmental Protection Agency and certain state agencies. It would "restrict the authority of a political subdivision of a State," meaning a local government, "to regulate a pesticide beyond the Federal limits," according to a bill summary.
Beyond Pesticides, a group that advocates for transitioning away from toxic pesticides, said that local laws in two states, Maine and Maryland, would be overturned if the provision is included in final legislation. The group also notes that 43 states already forbid local pesticide laws.
"This is really a backdoor attempt to interfere with state governments and local governments," said Jay Feldman, executive director for Beyond Pesticides. "I think the trend is for local governments to engage on this issue," he added. "This would undermine that."
CropLife America, a leading trade organization for the pesticide industry, is backing the proposed change.
"CLA supports the language in the House Farm Bill that would ensure pesticides are appropriately regulated by federal and state lead agencies who have the resources and expertise to carry out such work," Jay Vroom, the group's president and CEO, said in a statement.
Feldman said states tend to align their pesticide regulations with those set at the federal level, but that there are instances were states have imposed tougher standards. This state authority appears to remain intact under the provisions in the farm bill.
The 641-page bill passed out of the House Agriculture Committee on April 18, with only Republican support. It covers a wide range of programs related to agriculture and rural communities and has largely drawn attention for GOP-backed changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also referred to as food stamps.
A 1991 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case Wisconsin Public Intervenor v. Mortier held that federal law does not preempt local governments from restricting pesticide use. But under the ruling states could also take that power away.
Portland is one of the municipalities in Maine that has approved local pesticide restrictions. The City Council there approved an ordinance in January by a 9-0 vote to prohibit the use of synthetic pesticides on public and private property. Maryland's Montgomery County imposed new pesticide restrictions in 2015.
The process of finalizing a farm bill is far from complete. Senate lawmakers still have yet to release their draft for the legislation.
Bill Lucia is a Senior Reporter for Government Executive's Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.