By MITCH LIES
SALEM -- In a legislative committee hearing March 22, Oregon farmers and farm representatives spoke out against a bill that some say threatens to undermine Oregon's pesticide preemption law.
The 1996 preemption law prohibits cities, counties and other government bodies below the state level from regulating pesticides.
House Bill 3171, sponsored by Rep. Paul Holvey, D-Eugene, would allow a city or county "to adopt or enforce a local ordinance, rule or regulation for the purpose of preventing or controlling the presence of pesticides in surface or ground water used ... as a source of potable water."
Marie Bowers, a farmer with acreage in Lane and Linn counties, said the bill could cost her family farm 50 to 75 percent of its yield if they lose tools to control weeds and diseases in their grass seed and wheat crops.
"If our farm in Linn or Lane county was not allowed to control weeds or pests with the tools we need, that puts us at an economic disadvantage," Bowers said.
"It could impact our seed quality, making our seed less valuable compared to the same crop in another county that is allowed to use the tools," she said.
Others who testified said counties and other local government bodies aren't equipped to regulate pesticides.
"(Pesticide regulation) is highly technical," said Scott Dahlman, executive director of Oregonians for Food and Shelter. "EPA has an entire division that deals with making sure that these (pesticide) registrations and these (pesticide) labels reflect what the scientific data says."
Further, Dahlman said, state tests show Oregon drinking water is safe.
"What we're doing here is trying to give county governments a way to deal with a problem that we don't think is out there," Dahlman said.
Holvey, however, said he doesn't believe the state is adequately protecting Oregon's drinking water, and cities and counties should have the authority to act when they believe more protection is warranted.
"I think it is important that (cities and counties) sometimes have the power to do something about it," Holvey said, "because it is apparent to me that our state's system of accomplishing this does not always work."
While the House Energy and Environment Committee took no action on the bill, Rep. Mark Johnson, R-Hood River, vice chair of the committee, indicated he would not support the bill if it came to a vote.
"In my estimation, this could become pretty problematic for our agricultural communities in terms of there just wouldn't be standard playing fields for our farmers to play within," Johnson said. "There could be vastly different criteria, depending on what city, what county, what municipality had enacted some modifications."