Lawn Care Issues Surfacing in 2013

by Michael O'Brien
11/30/2012

Over the last few years, lawn care professionals, golf course superintendents, sports turf managers, home and garden retailers, and even homeowners that just want a nice do-it-yourself lawn have been facing state and local legislative challenges to maintaining healthy, safe and lush green turfgrass.

These bills cover a range of categories-pesticide preemption, school pesticide bans, fertilizer restrictions, fertilizer preemption, and efforts to define integrated pest management.

  • CT HB 5125-An Act Concerning The Use Of Organic Pesticides On School Property And Authorizing Municipal Regulation Of The Use Of Pesticides On Residential Property: This bill is a nightmare for all sectors of the industry. It's number one on the watch list, not just because Connecticut is a battleground state in the turf wars, but because it would buck a trend supported by both the green industry and state regulators to manage pesticide registration, distribution and application at the state level and threatens to put pesticide regulation back in the hands of local governments. This bill also gives preferential treatment for organic products by exempting them from the ban on pesticides in K-8 schools. These exemptions are often pushed by lawn care and sports turf management companies specializing in organic treatments to gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace by legislating their competitors out of business. You can expect to see this bill or something similar in Connecticut in the 2013 session.
  • NH HB 1481-An Act Relative to Effluent Limitations with Regard to Nitrogen: This bill makes my list because it is problematic for the industry and points to challenges facing regulators in all states with the definition of slow- and control-release fertilizer and the broader enhanced efficiency fertilizer. The bill, which is currently in a House Study Committee, uses the "slow-release nitrogen" term that was used in Vermont and New Jersey with strict nitrogen limits. Maryland, which passed a nitrogen restriction in 2011, and Pennsylvania, which is currently considering SB 1191, both make allowances for enhanced efficiency fertilizer. Look for a phosphorus and nitrogen bill based on the results of the study committee in the 2013 legislative session.
  • MA S 2046 and H 1148-An Act Relative to the Powers of the Department of Agricultural Resources: I wanted to include a bill that the green industry supported-and should be supporting around the country. If there is a state that does not have statewide fertilizer preemption, this is the time to get it done. While this was not the final language that passed (the Massachusetts General Court passed H 4306, which offered some leeway to the localities to regulate fertilizer), this bill is model language for states looking to advocate for a proactive fertilizer preemption bill.
  • Local integrated pest management plan initiatives: Sun Valley, Idaho, is considering an integrated pest management (IPM) plan similar to one passed in Ketchum, Idaho, in 2011. Ketchum's IPM plan (http://bit.ly/SJThEw) was designed to ban pesticide application on public property. This particular IPM plan was written by an anti-pesticide advocacy group with a stated goal of eliminating pesticide use on all city property and asked for property owners to not apply pesticides within a 150-foot buffer zone if they bordered city property to avoid any potential drift. The vote was tabled in November 2011, but could be brought up at any future city council meeting. These local ordinances and resolutions can and will show up anywhere from coast to coast. They are dangerous because they are difficult to monitor and often have short periods to advocate. As a lawn care professional, you should notify your state and national trade associations immediately and get involved to protect the rights or your customers and your business.
  • Case 2:12-cv-00677-U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana & Case 12-civ-1848-U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York: In March 2012, 12 environmental groups including Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Law & Policy Center, the Sierra Club and the Prairie Rivers Network sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claiming that state and federal governments have not tried to keep pollutants out of the river. The lawsuit seeks to force the EPA to develop tougher guidelines under the Federal Clean Water Act and to force states to enforce the new standards. And the industry has seen it all before. The EPA and Chesapeake Bay watershed, which is a mere six states, have recently imposed some the strictest non-agricultural turf legislation and regulation in the country, and many east coast states are following suit. Legislation often tried impose strict dates for fertilizer application for both consumers and professional applicators, reduce the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen that could be applied per application and over the course of a year, increase professional standards for applicators, force golf course superintendents to develop and follow best management practices for their turf care. For now, 10 state attorneys general have petitioned to intervene in the lawsuit (Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota), so the green industry might be in a wait and see period. However, green industry professionals should be prepared to see fertilizer bills in their states as many will try to move ahead of the suit.
The 2013 state legislative sessions promise to be interesting. State and national associations should be prepared, work on their ground game and be prepared to face legislative battles in several familiar and many non-familiar states.


The author is a business development consultant for LegiNation and founder and principal of MOB Advocacy, a multistate government relations firm. He has more than 10 years' experience in state and local government relations working with corporations, national trade associations and nonprofits. Contact him at michael@legination.com.