Lobbyists for pest control companies, golf courses and landscapers have mounted a full-scale assault on a bill that would delegate some pesticide regulation to cities, fearing the prying eyes of overzealous urban regulators.
The provision's backers say it's a harmless effort to help the Department of Agriculture dump costly enforcement on cities that can afford to do it themselves.
In a letter this week to the Minnesota House, a coalition of 16 organizations asked lawmakers to vote down an omnibus agriculture policy bill because it includes a provision that would let four local governments — Minneapolis, St. Paul, Rochester and Duluth — enforce rules on the use and disposal of pesticides.
The group said that could "create a crazy-quilt" of rules and "erect burdensome regulatory hurdles for future generations."
State law pre-empts local governments from making their own pesticide regulations, but it does already allow the state agriculture commissioner to delegate pesticide regulatory authority to "approved agencies," including municipalities.
That delegation hasn't happened, said Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul. He crafted a compromise measure that would merely set out the terms for the Department of Agriculture to delegate regulatory enforcement. The point of the law change, he said, is to clarify that the Department of Agriculture can make agreements with the state's four biggest cities so the cities can take on the task of pesticide regulation. It won't allow cities to make their own rules on pesticides.
"We felt that the largest four cities have the capacity to do that work," Hansen said. "The law change being proposed does not provide additional authority. It's not saying, 'Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth or Rochester, go hog wild.' "
But after a bruising election in 2018 that saw Republican allies take heavy losses in the Minnesota House, industries are wary of anything that looks like more regulation.
"People that use pesticides, if they had to check with municipalities on various and different regulations that each one had, that would be very burdensome," said Mike Fresvik, secretary of the Minnesota Pest Management Association. "It would be confusing."
Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, one of the authors of the omnibus agriculture policy bill that now includes the pesticide rule provision, said he's unclear why the proposal is even being considered.
"I think it's a solution looking for a problem, and I don't know what the problem is," Anderson said.
Gene Ranieri, director of intergovernmental relations for Minneapolis, sent a letter to state Commissioner of Agriculture Thom Petersen in support of the legislation this week, saying the city "wants to be involved in enforcing regulations related to the use, application and disposal of pesticides."
The 16 organizations that oppose the provision include the Minnesota Golf Course Superintendents' Association, Ecolab, Plunkett's Pest Control and the Minnesota Nursery and Landscape Association. They said in their letter that the bill would allow cities to ban pesticides "with little to no thoughtful consideration or scientific justification."
"These local governments lack the scientific knowledge and resources needed to assess federally registered pesticide products," the letter said.
The provision that allows municipalities to regulate pesticides, which are now regulated by the federal government and Minnesota Department of Agriculture, was in a bill introduced in committee by Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, in January. The bill's co-authors include several Minneapolis and St. Paul legislators, plus Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester.
Hansen said the response from the pest control industry is "way over the top."
The House and Senate will begin negotiations on final compromise measures soon.