Like papers getting sorted off my desk, clothes shifted out of my closet, some mental energy about Bill 2491 needs to be moved out of my head before the New Year begins. As a truth-seeker, I've been dismayed for months by the almost gleeful, and certainly Orwellian, glorification of misinformation – right down to the celebration of a law that ain't all it's cracked up to be.
So I'd like to end the year by debunking seven common myths about the bill and its movement. If the “red shirts” who have responded with bewilderment and fury to my criticisms read this with an open mind, perhaps they'll understand why I haven't been gung-ho, and why I have called out some activists. Their missteps have consequences for all of us who care about “home rule” and protecting people and Mama 'Aina.
#1 “It was the best bill we could get under the circumstances.”
No, it's the bill that evolved from circumstances created by its sponsor and supporters. Remember when Christi “A'ole GMO” DeMuth and other “red shirts” literally broke down in tears, begging the Council to “vote it up or down tonight, we can't go on, we're exhausted?”
So the Council obliged and passed a bill in the wee hours of the morning. It contained a number of amendments that had been hashed out behind closed doors with no chance for public review or comment.
One of those amendments has the power to derail the bill. I'm talking about language that JoAnn Yukimura introduced that prohibits growing ANY crop in the pesticide buffer zones, even organic crops. That's right. The law says no crop can be grown on ag land. Doubtless biotech attorneys will argue that restriction is both a “taking” and a violation of the state's “right to farm” act.
It's wording that would have been caught with a bit of reflection, just like another one of JoAnn's amendments, which changes the trigger for disclosure to buying 5 gallons or 15 pounds of any SINGLE restricted use pesticide. Previously, it had been 5 gallons or 15 pounds total. If the biotech companies buy small quantities of numerous pesticides, the law won't apply and we'll have no disclosure.
Furthermore, rather than choose a strong co-sponsor for the bill, Councilman Gary Hooser picked Tim Bynum, whom he described to me as “an easy keeper.” This strategy served Gary well, allowing him to dominate the spotlight. But the bill suffered badly because Gary lacked the political clout to prevent it from being seriously gutted in committee.
#2: “It's a start.”
With all the drama, angst, money, time, energy and political capital that was expanded on this issue, we should have gotten more than “a start.” But what many folks don't seem to understand is that this flawed bill has the potential to be a “finish.” If it's struck down in a court ruling that affirms the “right to farm” and/or the state's power to pre-empt certain actions by the county, we'll be left with nothing, nada, zip. Except a big razzberry from the chem companies as they operate with impunity.
#3 “It's about protecting people and the environment.”
If the bill was truly about protecting people and the environment, it wouldn't allow the companies to spray in the buffer zones so long as they erect signs. And it would have curtailed the use of pesticides, particularly in public areas where the county has clear authority. It would have addressed the toxic gas that is released into neighborhoods every time a tent is removed from a termite-treated building, the pesticides applied to golf courses that drain onto reefs. But it didn't, because it wasn't about pesticides or protection.
#4 “The bill's not about GMOs or driving the chemical companies off the island.”
Bill 2491 was all about GMOs and trying to drive the biotech companies off the island. That's why the original bill included a moratorium on new GMO crops. That's why GMO Free Kauai, Center For Food Safety and Earthjustice were so heavily involved. That's why the bill targeted the biotech companies, rather than the county or the pest control companies, both of which use far larger quantities of restricted use chemicals than ag. That's why we got in a pissing match with multinational chem companies instead of passing a bill that actually reduces pesticide use on the island.
#5 “This was a spontaneous, leaderless, grassroots movement of local kids.”
Yes, Kauai youth — and old hippies, too — did march and testify in a sincere expression of social media-fueled community concern. But the movement was orchestrated by mainland groups that funneled in money, expertise, activists and infiltrators, playing Kauai as a pawn in a bigger battle. That's why Gary told me it didn't matter if the bill was never enforced — all that mattered was getting it passed.
#6 “This movement hasn't divided the island.”
This is pure denial, an assertion made by those who are either too insular or too ignorant to assess the social and political pulse of this island. Or maybe they just don't want to admit that this issue was made far more contentious than it needed to be because of the way Gary introduced it. In any case, this issue has deeply divided Kauai.
#7 “We got them to stop poisoning paradise.”
This myth is grounded in the “stop poisoning paradise” website hosted by the Pesticide Action Network (PAN). In fact, the bill does absolutely nothing to lessen, much less stop, pesticide use on this island. All it does is require the companies to tell us how they're poisoning us.
Assuming, of course, that they are. But given the biased, elaborate, expensive — and woefully underfunded — Environmental and Public Health Impact Study the Council has planned, we'll likely never know for sure.