Kauai County Council members today publicly weighed in on Bill 2491, the pesticide/GMO bill, with a majority making it clear the measure will not pass in its current form.
Attorneys for the chemical/seed companies also made it clear that a lawsuit is a given, especially if the proposed EIS and moratorium are adopted.
Councilman Gary Hooser, who introduced the bill, said the Council has never had a public hearing with as many people or as much testimony as this one. “It's unfortunate it has to come to a jobs vs health issue, and I don't see it like that.” The bill was “drafted specifically not to impact the industry or create an significant disruption whatsoever.” He said many doctors and nurses have spoken in favor of the bill, including the state health officers for Kauai and Maui, who testified in a personal capacity.
“Both sides have exaggerated and misled people,” he said.
Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura said, “I support and agree with the intention of 2491, which is to inform and protect the public and natural environment,” and she thinks everyone on Kauai would agree with it. “However, we know that good intentions are only the start. Without effective provisions in the law that will stand up in court, we'll get nowhere.” She said the Council needs to work on a bill that “does not cause significant unintended consequences and that do not harm individuals or organizations unjustly. We need to look at what the impacts of what this bill will be.”
JoAnn went on to say she is still going through 2,000-plus emails, and while she expects a form of the bill to pass, “there's still a lot of work to do. It's a very complex bill with multiple facets.”
She also urged people to “please exercise real aloha here. There's tremendous intimidation going on here,” with small farmers being trashed by false information posted on Facebook, Yelp and elsewhere because they spoke out against the bill. Others won't speak up because they're afraid of being targeted.
“This is not what a democracy is about and that is not what our community is about,” she said. “It's happening on both sides.” She urged “the caring majority” to speak out against the bullying.
First-term Councilman Ross Kagawa, who has been reviled by some for his stance against the bill, started by saying “I feel very loved by all.” He hails from the westside and has friends on both sides of the issue. Ross said it is a state and federal responsibility to deal with pesticides and the ag industry, and if state health officers and others are concerned, they should be talking to the state and federal officials who oversee these activities.
“I don't believe they're all corrupt when it comes to protecting people's health and safety," Ross said. "I believe they'll do the right thing.” He said the county has enough trouble taking care of its own responsibilities without picking up state and federal functions, too.
Councilman Mel Rapozo said, “I don't remember a more divisive issue on this island, as far as the emotions that are running on this issue.” He has been receiving 200 to 400 emails per day, as well as phone calls, “many of them unpleasant. People who don't even know me are accusing me of selling out.” He said it isn't reasonable to expect the Council to get up to speed on the issue in a few months.
“We have the responsibility of sorting out the testimony, the emotions from the facts," Mel said. Doctors are saying they're seeing “all this happening on the westside, but we don't know what the causes are. I'm interested in finding out what those causes are.”
The Council also needs to keep the end goal in mind, which is adopting a law that can be enforced, he said. “The seed companies need to step it up, too, and make the community feel safe.”
Mel went on to say the Council is “getting inundated by emails …. from all over the world about banning GMOs. It's not a banning GMO bill.”
Councilwoman Nadine Nakamura said she hadn't been planning to make a statement, but “I would like to echo everything Mel said.”
Councilman Tim Bynum, who co-sponsored the bill, said he's spent the last 10 years getting educated about pesticides and GMOs. He said the chemical/seed companies are not engaging in production agriculture because they don't produce a commodity that's sold. “It's agricultural research practices, which are entirely different.” While he has “no doubt they put safety first” because the companies are run by scientists, and “they're very meticulous,” research fields are sprayed two or three times more frequently than production ag fields.
“What would you say if I told you they were spraying on Kauai 240 days out of the year?” Tim also said that kamaaina ag producers are being kicked off the land in favor of seed companies. This is the most important bill that's ever come before Kauai," he said, urging people to get involved.
Council Chair Jay Furfaro said, “I see myself as an exceptional steward of this place,” and he does it for his grandchildren and future generations. “Let's have an open dialogue and know that there are restrictions within the political subdivisions of Kauai that limits what we can do.”
The Council, meeting in committee, then questioned attorneys for Pioneer and Syngenta, as well as Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff. The private attorneys said the bill would be tossed out because some provisions are ambiguous and vague and others constitute an illegal taking. Paul disagreed, and said the U.S. Supreme Court “decided 30 years ago that counties do have the right to enact ordinances that restrict pesticide uses.”
Pioneer attorney John Hoshibata said, “The moratorium is going to kill the seed companies, and that's clear as day.”
Added Syngenta attorney Paul Alston, “Bear in mind it won't destroy Pioneer and Syngenta. It will destroy Kauai as a viable location for these kinds of activities.”
The bill states, “There shall be a temporary moratorium on the experimental use and commercial production of genetically modified organisms until such time as the County of Kaua’i has conducted a complete Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the health, environmental, and other effects of the production, propagation, or development of genetically modified organisms within the County. The moratorium will further continue until the County has developed and put into place a permitting process sufficient to protect the residents and environment of the County of Kaua’i from any significant effects that may be identified in the Environmental Impact Statement.”
Nadine said she has requested an opinion from the state Attorney General.
“I just wish we could do this without going to court,” Mel said, noting that Kauai shouldn't be the vehicle for deciding case law on this issue.
“We don't have a pot of gold to really challenge the laws and go through a long court battle,” Ross said.