Maryland Court Upholds Montgomery County’s Restrictions on Lawn Pesticide Use

Maryland Court Upholds Montgomery County’s Restrictions on Lawn Pesticide Use

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals has ruled that Montgomery County’s restrictions on certain lawn pesticides is legal. This ruling reversed a prior ruling from the Circuit Court of Montgomery County that said the provisions of Bill 52-14, which was approved by the County Council in 2015, could not go into effect because State law preemptied the County law.

“This is about human safety,” said County Executive Marc Elrich, who was a co-sponsor of the bill when he was a member of the County Council. “This is about the right thing to do. Some people have said if pesticides are harmful, federal and state legislators would have acted on this. That is not true. They have not acted on it, so we had to pass this law to protect our current and future generations. Now the courts have ruled that we had the right to do so.”

The major provisions prohibit the use of certain pesticides on lawns; prohibit the use of certain pesticides on playgrounds, children’s facilities and certain County-owned property; require the County to adopt an integrated pest management program for certain County-owned property; and require the Parks Department to take certain steps to reduce the use of certain pesticides.

Following enactment of Bill 52-14, a lawsuit was filed by Complete Lawn Care, Inc., and other lawn care companies contending that Montgomery County could not impose this law because it would be counter to State law regarding pesticide use.

The Court of Special Appeals, in its opinion upholding the County’s ban on the application of certain pesticides on lawns, said:

“From 1958-1962, 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. Wisconsin Public Intervenor v. Mortier, 501 U.S. 597 (1991). Here, we are asked to decide whether the County’s legislation is impliedly preempted or in conflict with Maryland’s Agriculture Article. 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.”

The Montgomery County Attorney is reviewing the effect of the decision from the Court of Special Appeals on the implementation of the law and will advise the Department of Environmental Protection on the timing of enforcement.

Restrictions on the use of registered pesticides on private property were scheduled to take effect two years after the adoption of the law in order to give the County time to conduct extensive outreach and allow property owners to adjust their lawn care practices.