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Discussion

Hawaii could become the first state to ban chlorpyrifos

Activists have been fighting for years for a comprehensive pesticide regulation bill. Now one is heading to a final floor vote after passing through conference committee.

in Pesticide Misuse

A bill that would put in place several different regulations on industrial agricultural restricted pesticide use has passed it’s biggest hurdle on the way to becoming a groundbreaking law. Earlier today, the bill passed through conference committee with unanimous support from both house and senate conferees, including Maui Senator Roz Baker, who has been a staunch industry ally in the past, leveraging her power to kill previous years’ iterations.

But activists organized a strong campaign this session that involved flying in sister island constituents, who are the most likely to be affected by industrial agricultural pesticide use, to testify; coordinating media and messaging between multiple entities; and a strengthened public awareness campaign that was able to create critical mass among the thousands of supporters of these restrictions statewide who phoned in with, what one staffer referred to with great understatement as, “an impressive volume of calls.”

“To all the people who put so much time and effort into this campaign, just know that you proved today that your voice does matter,” said Leslee Matthews, a legislative fellow for the Pesticide Action Network who is a student at UH Richardson School of Law. “Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.”

SB3095 SD1, HD1, CD1 includes provisions to establish 100-foot buffer zones around all state schools and prohibits the spraying of agricultural pesticides during school hours. It includes mandatory disclosure and annual reporting for all restricted pesticide users of what, when and where they sprayed restricted use pesticides (RUPs) to the Department of Agriculture (DOA), making it public information. It includes a pesticide drift study to determine the effects of upwind ag operations on downwind communities. And, in an historic first, it includes a complete ban on the pesticide chlorpyrifos by 2019, with exemptions allowed through 2022.

“This is huge, not just for our farmers and communities, but for farmers and communities around the nation,” said Autumn Ness, a Maui resident and organizer with the Hawaii Center For Food Safety. “It only takes one state to step up and do the right thing. Farmers that are forced to work with these chemicals all over the U.S. are going to be looking to Hawaiʻi as an example.”

“This bill is an important statement by our state, that has national implications,” said House Agriculture Committee Chair Richard Creagan. “It will bring attention to the risk to pregnant women from chlorpyrifos. It will also send a message to the 100 countries still using chlorpyrifos that tens of millions of their babies and children’s brains are at risk and show them how to reduce that risk.”

Chlorpyrifos kills as many as 10,000 people annually around the world. Its use is already prohibited in Europe and other places. In 2000, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prohibited the residential use of chlorpyrifos but did not issue an outright ban. The EPA was poised to ban the substance outright until 2017 when the Trump administration reversed that position. With this measure, Hawai‘i becomes the first state to prohibit the use of the substance to protect public health.

“Protecting the health of the people in our communities is paramount,” said House conference committee co-chair Representative Chris Lee. “This bill strikes a thoughtful balance that protects the health of Hawai‘i’s children and families and also helps ensure agricultural companies use pesticides responsibly to prevent unintended consequences.”

The bill now goes to a final floor vote before heading to the governor for approval. But the amount of time, money, energy, sweat and, indeed, tears, that have gone into getting a pesticide regulation bill this far is staggering. On behalf of the legislature, Senate Conference Chair Mike Gabbard, who chairs the Senate Ag committee and has been supportive of these efforts, apologized to the “thousands of Hawaiʻi voters who have been demanding the legislature take action on this pesticide issue” for taking so long to realize their demands.

“It should not be this hard to get this basic of bill, with these common sense regulations, through the legislature,” Ness agreed. “Getting your government to work for you should not be this hard. The good news is, we have learned so many lessons over the past few sessions about how this system works, or does not work, and what we need to do to fix it. That includes getting new people into that building, so that our allies that are already in there can be better at doing the right thing more quickly.”

Activists said they have already whipped at least 14 votes in the senate, which is enough to pass the bill through its final reading, which means the final step should be making sure the governor signs the bill.

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