Debate on a County Council bill that would ban some lawn care chemicals will heat up this week with the first of two scheduled public hearings.
Council President George Leventhal introduced the bill in October and on Monday said he has already gotten pushback from local lawn care companies and the chemical industry. He also expects Montgomery Parks, in charge of maintaining grassy playing field across the county, to share some concerns with how the bill might impact operations.
“You can have a beautiful, lush, weed-free green lawn without the use of toxic chemicals that threaten children and pets and the Chesapeake Bay,” Leventhal said Monday during a weekly press conference on issues facing the Council. “Lawn care companies are already adopting to the desires for safe and healthy lawn care practices. The passage of this bill will just accelerate that.”
Thursday’s 7:30 p.m. hearing will be the first. Expecting a complicated and wide-ranging debate, the Council has added a second public hearing on Feb. 12.
In an October memo to Council colleagues before introducing the bill, Leventhal wrote “this issue is among the most technically complex which the Council has ever faced.”
The bill would primarily target the use of non-essential lawn pesticides, with exceptions for noxious weed and invasive species controls, agriculture, gardens and golf courses.
It would ban some pesticides allowed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, including some prohibited in Ontario, Canada and by the European Commission.
Leventhal said the bill, which he hopes to pass later this year, is largely based on one enacted in 2013 in Takoma Park, where he lives.
“We want Montgomery County to be the safest, cleanest, healthiest county in the United States of America and we’re taking this on even though we understand that it is a new concept for a lot of people,” Leventhal said. “I absolutely believe that keeping children safe from toxics is an overriding public health priority for elected officials and I’m also very confident that has been done in Canada. There are safe and healthy methods of reducing weeds and reducing problems that would make playing fields operable without the use of toxic chemicals.”
A group of Takoma Park homeowners who opposed the 2013 bill have launched a website urging others to lobby against the countywide measure:
The “Beyond Pesticides” group that devised the Takoma Park measure is trying to spread it throughout Montgomery County like an invasive weed. Its minions are lobbying the County Council to approve a copycat proposal, with a committee hearing scheduled on Jan. 15. Opponents don’t back indiscriminate weedkiller use but feel county residents should be allowed to make their own yard care decisions without penalties for using products that are widely sold and federally approved. The legislation adopted by Takoma Park will be difficult to enforce and will waste city resources. It should not be emulated in Montgomery County or elsewhere.
The Beyond Pesticides group mentioned has a petition with almost 1,200 supporters. The group argues the cosmetic lawn pesticides that would be banned by the bill “are poisons registered by the U.S. EPA, designed to broadly kill living things — weed and insects — to make the grass look unnaturally perfect.”
Leventhal has support for the bill from co-sponsors Marc Elrich, Nancy Floreen, Nancy Navarro and Hans Riemer.
On Monday, Leventhal said the bill would also provide an economic development opportunity, claiming some lawn care companies have contacted him “extremely excited” about the measure.
“One of the things that we want to make Montgomery County known for is that we are a place where environmentally-conscious technology and environmentally-conscious methods are encouraged,” Leventhal said. “We want to be a place where those kinds of industries grow. We want a healthy economy and we want businesses to thrive here that are consistent with our values.”
The first Council Environment Committee hearing on the bill is set for Feb. 2.