Court Gives Green Light to Healthy Lawns Act

Photo | Submitted On May 2, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld Montgomery County’s Healthy Lawns Act 52-14, which bans the application of certain pesticides to lawns for cosmetic purposes.

Photo | Submitted
On May 2, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld Montgomery County’s Healthy Lawns
Act 52-14, which bans the application of certain pesticides to lawns for cosmetic purposes.

The Healthy Lawns Act won in the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. And members of Safe Grow Montgomery, the all-volunteer group that has advocated for a county law that would protect residents and the environment from exposure to harmful lawn pesticides since 2013, could not be happier.

“Safe Grow Montgomery and our more than 50 business and nonprofit partners are elated with the ruling to uphold Montgomery County’s Healthy Lawns Act 52-14, which bans the application of certain pesticides to lawns for cosmetic purposes,” said Safe Grow volunteer Alex Stavitsky-Zeineddin.

“The fact that the Healthy Lawns Act was upheld by the Maryland State Court is so crucial to making it clear that local municipalities and cities in Maryland do have the ability to enact laws that local residents want,” the Kentlands resident observed.

The law, Stavitsky-Zeineddin added, “was supported by thousands of Montgomery County residents who wanted to reduce their exposure to harmful pesticides used in lawns for cosmetic purposes. This is the first county (and the largest jurisdiction) in the U.S. to pass such a law. I hope this will make it easier for City of Gaithersburg to consider a similar act.”

Bill 52-14 prohibits using harmful pesticides—including weed killers—on lawns, playgrounds, children’s facilities and some county-owned properties. It also compels the county to initiate  an integrated pest management program for certain of its properties and the Parks Department to take specific steps to reduce the use of these pesticides.

The decision reversed the previous Circuit Court ruling that Bill 52-14, approved by the County Council in 2015, could not be implemented because it conflicted with state law—as was the contention of a lawsuit filed by Complete Lawn Care, Inc. and other lawn care  companies.

In its opinion upholding the bill, the Court of Special Appeals said: “From 1958 to 1962, Rachel Carson wrote ‘Silent Spring’ from her home in Silver Spring. Carson’s examination of the health impacts of DDT and other pesticides galvanized the public, and the next decade saw Congress enact a broad range of statutes that are foundational to modern environmental law. Montgomery County claims, in essence, that it is following in these footsteps, but we must determine whether it has done so consistently with state law.

“In 2015, the Montgomery County Council passed an ordinance restricting the use of certain pesticides for cosmetic purposes throughout the county. The Supreme Court held in 1991 that the principal federal law governing pesticides permits such local legislation.”

“We conclude that the ordinance does not run afoul of state law. Because the Circuit Court for Montgomery County found otherwise, we reverse both its injunction and declaratory judgment, and remand for an entry of a new declaratory judgment declaring the validity of the county ordinance.”

After a review of the effect of the new decision, the Montgomery County Attorney will advise the Department of Environmental Protection on the timing of the law’s enforcement. Originally, restrictions on the use of registered pesticides on private property were scheduled to begin two years after the law was passed to give the county time for outreach and property owners an opportunity to change their lawn care practices.

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