In a joint hearing on Thurs., Feb. 8, the House Committees on Agriculture and Energy & Environmental Protection passed a series of bills pertaining to regulation of pesticides within the State of Hawaiʻi, including a complete ban on the pesticide chlorpyrifos, for the first time.
HB1756 bans the import, use, manufacture, sale and storage of chlorpyrifos in the state. The bill also seeks to protect workers who mix and apply the chemical and are exposed to unsafe levels of the pesticide.
The State Departments of Agriculture (DOA) and Health (DOH), along with the University of Hawaiʻi College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, the Hawaiʻi Crop Improvement Association (HCIA) and the Hawaiʻi Farm Bureau Federation (HFBF) opposed the measure, but the vast majority of submitted testimony from individuals supported the ban. Additionally, the Hawaiʻi Alliance for Progressive Action, the Democratic Party of Hawaiʻi, the Maui Farmers’ Union, the Hawaiʻi Center for Food Safety and the Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi supported the ban.
Maui resident Autumn Ness testified that even at small amounts, chlorpyrifos affects cognitive development. “This is a social justice issue,” she said. “It’s low income communities, especially native Hawaiian communities, that receive the most exposure.”
Rep. Cynthia Thielen, whose son and his family live in Kekaha, Kauaʻi, said she was “shocked that the Department of Health is not taking the issue more seriously.”
“The profits of the chemical companies are going up and the IQs of our babies—of our keiki—are going down,” said Agriculture committee chair Rep. Richard Creagan, who was an M.D. before he was a legislator. “We have an epidemic of autism and neurodevelopmental disorders in children and chlorpyrifos is one of the contributing factors.” Creagan, who represents Nāʻālehu, Ocean View, Captain Cook, Kealakekua and Kailua-Kona, has adopted a “tough stand” on pesticides, which are widely used in Hawaiʻi County farming operations.
Reps. Lynn DeCoite, Sam Kong, Bob McDermott and Gregg Takayama all voted with reservations, but the measure was adopted with a minor amendment to add a defective date. The bill now moves to the Consumer Protections & Commerce (CPC), and Finance (FIN) committees.
Other Pesticide Regulations
Another bill passed today, HB2722, would prohibit the application of neonicotinoid insecticides and the herbicide glyphosate, the primary ingredient in Monsanto’s RoundUp brand weed-killer, on state public lands without a license or permit issued by the state.
Jasmine Joy, a holistic bee-keeper and educator from Oʻahu, testified that a study of Hawaiʻi’s bee populations and honey supply found glyphosate in 80 percent of the honey that comes from Hawaiʻi. “It’s in our air and water and food,” Joy said. “Our livestock consume it, which means we consume it. It ends up in our food system and we have no way of protecting ourselves.”
She continued, “The bees in a hive function as though they are one organism, like cells in a body. Neonicotinoids scramble these ‘cells’ and negatively impact the superorganism of the hive.”
Janet Ashman, a representative from the HFBF contested the statement that Hawaiʻi’s honeybees are in danger from these pesticides, saying that endangered native bees are not at risk from pesticides but from destruction of their habitat, and from invasive species.
“If we’re going to ban glyphosate on state lands, how can we eradicate invasive species that threaten native species like our native bees?” she asked. “How are we going to keep our roads clear of vegetation?”
The DOA representative testified that banning glyphosate would have huge impacts on people across the state. “I think if we banned glyphosate, we would need to increase manpower and increase the volume of other pesticides we’re using to replace it.”
But Rep. Lee asked the DOA representative if he was aware that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had already phased out glyphosate on lands within its jurisdiction, signalling that the removal of the herbicide from use is not unmanageable. The DOA representative replied that he had not been aware of that.
HB2722 was passed with identical reservations as HB1756 from the members of the two committees.
Meanwhile, HB2721 would require mandatory pre-application disclosure of Restricted Use Pesticides (RUP) as well as annual reporting of application, when the amount of RUP exceeds 10 pounds or 10 gallons annually. Bennette Misalucha, Executive Director of the HCIA testified that the Kauaʻi County-State of Hawaiʻi Joint Fact Finding study found no evidence of negative impacts to public health or to the environment from RUP application, a standard line they’ve presented at multiple hearings in the past.
“The JFF study found that Mānoa stream had the highest pesticide concentration in the state; most pesticides are used in domestic and urban settings, not agriculture,” stated Misalucha. “We are very concerned about health and the environment, but there is no evidence that agricultural operations contributes to public health problems or environmental damage.”
While it’s true the Joint FF study could not pinpoint negative impacts from RUP application, the study makes it clear this is not because negative impacts do not exist. Rather, it is because of a lack of data—something that mandatory annual reporting would presumably seek to address.
HB2721 also received an identical vote tally as the previous two measures.
HB2303 would increase the Pesticide Use Revolving Fund threshold from $250,000 to $1,000,000. It was the only bill that received unanimous support from the members of both committees, seeing no “ayes with reservations.”
As she has done multiple times in past pesticide regulation hearings, Rep. DeCoite took the lead on enumerating the talking points from the pesticide industry playbook, namely that such regulations would harm small farming operations, and that there are more pesticides applied in household settings than in agriculture. She suggested the Department of Agriculture should regulate that use as well, an idea that the DOA representative, Rep. DeCoite, and everyone else in the room understood to be an impossibility.
On multiple occasions, the DOA representative deflected questions from the committee chairs—such as when Rep. Lee asked if the DOA was aware that chlorpyrifos is banned in the European Union—by saying that the state looks to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a framework.
But, as Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi representative Kimiko Walter noted, “We cannot rely on the EPA as longs as it is a function of the Trump administration. Glyphosate, neonicotinoids, chlorpyrifos—we need to reduce our use of these dangerous chemicals across the board. There is evidence of colony collapse on the mainland linked to neonicotinoids. Should we just wait for that to happen here?”
Rep. Creagan echoed this in his prepared remarks following the hearing: “The EPA banned chlorpyrifos for indoor use over a decade ago,” Creagan said. “The EPA in our country had thousands of pages of damning evidence and were ready to ban chlorpyrifos for all food uses when Scott Pruitt was appointed [EPA Administrator] by President Trump and scrapped that plan. Enough is enough. We cannot wait for a compromised EPA to act.”
Dawn Webster, an independent media consultant and Better Business Bureau member, commented that business interests and the interests of the public good should not be mutually exclusively. “And yet, as I listen to the testimony today, that is how it seems to align,” she said. “Big business can do good as well as harm. I’ve been a part of big business before and seen the possibilities when corporations adhere to the principle of the triple bottom-line: people, planet, profits. But I’ve also seen big business act in incredibly irresponsible ways. Business has an obligation to the community in which it operates.”
She continued, “When 18 physicians register concerns about birth defects, we should listen. When the Academy of Pediatricians says we should be alarmed, we should listen. We cannot look to the EPA for leadership.”
Rep. Creagan stated that some farmers don’t support this ban because they want to continue using a pesticide they have become accustomed to but, he said, chlorpyrifos is proven to be dangerous.
He continued, “It is time to ban this close cousin of the nerve agent Sarin. We are treating our babies like the Syrian dictator Assad is treating his own civilians. It is time we stop bowing to the dictates of the chemical companies. We need to draw our own line in the sand that surrounds our islands.”
This is the first time that a proposed ban of chlorpyrifos and restrictions of neonicotinoids/glyphosate have been advanced through State House committees; previous attempts to pass buffer zone and disclosure regulations have been shot down amid heavy lobbying by the agrochemical industry under the cover of hurting small farmers. When these bills hit the CPC committee under Rep. Roy Takumi, and the FIN committee under Rep. Sylvia Luke, the discussion will only become more intense.
Energy & Environmental Protection committee chair Rep. Chris Lee said there are passionate opinions on both sides of the pesticide debate. “What we need to do is have respect for each other, find out the facts, and do what is best for the people of Hawaiʻi,” Rep. Lee said. “Farmers want to protect their livelihoods, but families have a right to live free from the harmful effects of pesticides.”