The Kauai County Council today overrode the mayor's veto of Bill 2491, allowing the pesticide/GMO disclosure measure to become law.
The ordinance is now likely headed to court, where the stakes are high for those of us who value home rule and local control over pesticides. A key issue is pre-emption: whether the state or the county has the right to regulate pesticides.
Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura, who voted for the bill after amending it heavily, said she thinks “the court will strike it down.” If that happens, she said, “so be it.”
However, if Kauai County loses its legal bid, it could set a precedent that would prohibit any county in Hawaii from regulating pesticide use by the biotech industry. Instead, the state and federal government will hold full sway.
The national response has run the gamut from an opinion piece in Forbes that termed the pending court battle a “legal Armageddon" to the mainland-based Center for Food Safety vowing to defend the law "on behalf of local residents and groups if necessary." It did not say it would represent the county government.
Mason Chock, who was chosen yesterday to complete Nadine Nakamura's Council term, said citizens had expressed “discontent” to him about the process that led to his appointment. The Council, after saying last week it would take the veto override vote without a seventh member, abruptly changed course on Thursday when it became clear it didn't have five votes for an override. Mason said he was assured by council staff the process was legal.
Mason then went on to vote for the override, saying “given the opportunity to make a difference in the health of a child's life, I'm gonna take it.”
Councilman Ross Kagawa told of westside residents who have shared their concerns about serious health problems they believe are caused by pesticides.
“The people here are not the kind to make things up,” he said. “We need to get answers for [them] about what's happening. This bill will not give [them] those answers.” He said that is one reason why he voted against the override.
An environmental and public health safety study is included in the bill, but has to be approved by a resolution, which the Council recently deferred. Mayor Bernard Carvalho said he would be sending the Council a bill next week to allocate funding for the study. The Council, however, has gotten hung up on who should decide the parameters of the study.
It appeared from the mayor's comments that the state and biotech companies will move forward next month with the recently announced "good neighbor" buffer zone and pesticide disclosure program. But the program is entirely voluntary, and much weaker than Bill 2491. However, the new law isn't due to take effect for nine months, and it will be over a year before its pesticide disclosure mechanism kicks in.
The new law does not address the severe dust issues that have been plaguing the westside community for more than a decade, nor does it restrict how much poison may be sprayed on Kauai. Instead, it imposes buffers around parks, schools, medical facilities, homes and streams where the companies can neither use pesticides nor grow crops. Pesticides may be sprayed in roadside buffer zones if signs are posted.
Council Chair Jay Furfaro was concerned about the conflict that erupted around the bill, saying "we need to learn how to deal effectively without damaging relationships in our community."
"I've been bothered by the divisiveness that the issue has expressed in our community," Mason said. "Healing will not occur until we unfold the truth."