LePage plan would bar local pesticide rules

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AUGUSTA — A Washington lobbyist, golf course managers, pesticide company owners and environmentalists crowded into a legislative hearing room Monday to debate a proposal that would strip municipalities of their ability to regulate pesticides.

The pesticide regulations in the 27 Maine cities and town that have enacted limits that are tighter than state rules could no longer be enforced if LD 1505, proposed by Gov. Paul LePage, becomes law. And towns could not enact new regulations.

Among those with local ordinances are Brunswick, Harpswell, New Gloucester, South Portland and Standish, and rules are being considered in Portland, Falmouth and Cumberland.

Harpswell, with more than 200 miles of coastline, was one of the first towns to enact its own pesticide rules. The chairwoman of the town’s Conservation Commission told members of the State and Local Government Committee that lobstermen had seen increasing lobster mortality after the town had sprayed for browntail moths.

Mary Ann Nahf said an investigation determined the town’s use of the pesticide dimilin interfered with an insect’s ability to mold or form a shell, and was affecting lobsters as well. The town then passed a pesticide control ordinance in 2004, four years before the state regulated the use of pesticides near the water.

The link between the LePage proposal and national conservative and pro-industry lobbying groups was outlined by Sarah Lakeman of the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

“These bills have been handcrafted by big business to weaken – among other policies – state and local environmental laws that states have fought for and enacted over decades,” Lakeman said.

Maine is one of only seven states that allows local regulations of pesticides.

LD 1505 is similar to model legislation proposed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a national pro-business policy group funded by the Koch brothers, oil and gas industry magnates. Speaking in favor of the bill was a representative of a Washington pesticide industry lobbying group, Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment, or RISE.

Heather Spaulding of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association also cited a link between LD 1505 and national trends.

“LD 1505 is the latest in a pesticides industry-backed campaign to keep the public in the dark about agrichemicals,” Spaulding told the committee. She said Maine has no “meaningful statewide pesticide spray buffer zones to protect communities from pesticide drift,” and local ordinances fit the needs of their communities.

Backing the proposed ordinance was a strong turnout of business owners, ranging from tree services, and pest management companies, arguing that a growing patchwork of local ordinances makes their job more difficult.

Orchard owner and state Rep. Jeffrey Timberlake, R-Turner, told the committee that a rash of anti-spraying laws in the early 2000s nearly put his family farm out of business. Timberlake said he sprayed 125 acres of organic apples, using organic and Integrated Pest Management methods, and the apples have always come back with “zero chemical tolerance.”

Chuck Cotton, of Falmouth-based Lucas Tree, testified that the increasing number of town-by-town regulations made it difficult for the company to do business, and the proposed law would help “alleviate the issues created from these overlapping and sometimes conflicting regulations.”

Tom Estabrook of Estabrook’s Farm and Greenhouses in Yarmouth also testified in favor of LD 1505, saying that the varying rules from different towns made proper use of pesticides more complicated. He said cities like South Portland are not doing the proper enforcement or education around their local pesticide rules.

Golf course managers and pest control companies also turned out in force to back LePage’s proposed legislation, leading committee member Sen. Susan Deschambault, D-Biddeford, to marvel, “I never knew there were so many pest control companies.”

The State and Local Government Committee has scheduled a work session on the bill for May 8.

Marian McCue of Portland writes the paper’s monthly Capitol Notebook column.

A bill in the Maine Legislature would prevent cities and towns from regulating pesticides.

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