Daily News Archive
From May 23, 2006                                                                                                        

Industry front group fighting local control on fertilizer bans, Sarasota
(Beyond Pesticides, May 23, 2006) Reminiscent of the Madison-Dane County Wisconsin battle over a local fertilizer ban, the industry front group, RISE (Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment) is now battling Sarasota, Florida’s ability to protect its own natural resources.

In an effort to head off major fish kills and harmful algal blooms such as red tide and blue-green algae, the county leaders are considering several proactive options for restricting nitrogen fertilizer use on private lawns and town-owned lands. However, RISE is out in force meeting with County Commissioners to block any such action. RISE, an affiliate of CropLife America, a trade association representing the manufacturers of pesticides and other agricultural chemicals, is on a massive lobby to defend the continued use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. In January 2005, Allen James, President of RISE, made the following statement in RISE's 2005 Outlook, "We are watching the entire United States, but particularly the border states of New York, Connecticut, Maine, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Washington for any activity relative to banning pesticides, especially for outdoor lawn care and parks.…”

However, industry recently lost a major battle for local control which sets an important precedent for Sarasota. After local authorities in Dane County, Wisconsin passed local ban on the use of lawn fertilizers containing phosphorus, which also included pesticide-containing “weed and feed” products (that went into effect January 1, 2005), a group of fertilizer retailers, lawn-care businesses and the chemical lawn industry sued Dane County alleging that the ordinance is pre-empted by federal and state laws and violates the equal protection and free speech clauses of the U.S. and Wisconsin constitutions.

Pre-emption means that local authorities are prohibited from implementing environmental or health regulations that are stricter than state or federal laws. (See Beyond Pesticides List of pre-emption laws by state). While local governments once had the ability to restrict the use, sales and distribution of pesticides, pressure from the chemical industry led many states to pass legislation prohibiting municipalities from passing local pesticide ordinances that are stricter than state policy. These laws, called state preemption laws, effectively deny local residents and decision makers their democratic right to better protection when the community decides that minimum standards set by state law are insufficient to protect local public and environmental health.

On June 14, 2005, Judge Barbara Crabb, of the Western District of United States Federal Court (Madison, WI) issued an order upholding a local ban of "weed and feed" products. The lawsuit, brought by the chemical lawn industry, unsuccessfully argued that state preemption law precludes Dane County and the City of Madison from restricting herbicide-based products that contain phosphorus fertilizers.

In light of southwest Florida’s worst red tide blooms in recent memory last year, several other Florida counties trying to address fertilizer runoff also encountered industry pressure. The Sarasota Herald Tribune reported that St. Johns County initiated the first Florida fertilizer ordinance made in to law in 2000 to protect the delicate Guana Marsh, but threats of a lawsuit from the industry prompted the county to weaken the restrictions, including removing requirements for slow-release fertilizers. Citrus County Commissioner Gary Bartell said the industry is also putting pressure on his board, which is considering a ban on quick-release fertilizers. Industry officials have sent e-mails and other correspondence to commissioners touting the benefit of fertilizer use and testified at board meetings about problems that could arise if restrictions are implemented. Bartell said he thinks the Citrus County measure will pass anyway. Bartell, who has long sought to protect the county's three first-magnitude springs, pressed the Legislature in 2002 for a statewide fertilizer law. "But it never went anywhere because I think there was too much pressure put on the Legislature by lobbyists," Bartell said.

The Sarasota County Commission is scheduled to meet Wednesday to discuss these proposals.

Activists applauded the Dane County decision and encourage municipalities across the country to follow Madison's lead in passing fertilizer-pesticide product bans in order to protect local water supplies. For more information go to Dane County's Lakes and Watershed website. Beyond Pesticides and the National Coalition for Pesticide-Free Lawns has called for a national ban of "weed and feed" products.