AUGUSTA — A bill proposed by Gov. Paul LePage that would prevent Maine municipalities from limiting or banning pesticide use appears headed for defeat after a legislative committee voted 9-2 against it Wednesday.

About 20 people, fairly evenly split between opposing viewpoints, spoke at a two-hour-plus hearing by the State and Local Government Committee. Supporters of the bill said local pesticide regulation is unnecessary and bad for business, while opponents believe pesticides are dangerous and need to be regulated more stringently.

Among those who spoke against the bill were residents of some of the 30 Maine municipalities that have passed local ordinances to restrict pesticide use. Some of these ordinances date back more than a decade, but others are so new they haven’t gone into effect yet.

Portland agreed to a ban on synthetic pesticides this year, and just last week, Porter became the 30th town in the state to establish local pesticide regulation.

Pesticide use has been linked to human health problems, including cancers, but also to the well-being of ecosystems, from pollinators to fresh- and salt-water creatures affected by runoff containing pesticides.

The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association spoke against the bill, as did environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Council of Maine and Friends of Casco Bay.

Those who spoke in favor included farmers Penny Jordan of Cape Elizabeth and Lisa Turner of Freeport, as well as the executive director of the Maine Farm Bureau, Julie Smith.

Proponents of the bill, L.D. 1853, which was presented by state Sen. Tom Saviello, a Republican from Wilton, said the existing municipal ordinances and others like them would jeopardize businesses, including conventional farms that rely on pesticides for higher, more market-ready yields of fruits and vegetables.

“What is at stake are hundreds of good jobs,” said Bob Mann, a lobbyist for the National Association of Landscape Professionals. He said pesticide use should be determined at the state or federal level. Maine, which adheres to the home-rule principle, whereby local governments can self-regulate, is “fertile ground for anti-pesticide activism,” Mann said.

But members of the committee cited home rule in voting against LePage’s bill.

“I don’t think anyone around this horseshoe wants anyone to go out of business,” said state Rep. Richard Pickett, R-Dixfield, gesturing at the committee’s table. But, he added, “Home rule is a very important thing to me.”

Pickett said he’d already voted against a similar bill in the last session. The bill under consideration closely replicates another pesticide bill LePage unsuccessfully pushed in 2017 that strongly resembled model legislation crafted by the conservative, business-backed American Legislative Exchange Council, better known as ALEC. In May 2017, the same committee voted unanimously against LePage’s original attempt to limit the rights of municipalities to ban pesticides.

“I thought if there was a bill that would come back before us again it would be different,” Pickett said. “But we virtually had almost a duplicate bill and that troubled me.”

Two of 11 committee members present voted in favor of the bill: Sen. Lisa Keim, R-Oxford, and Lester Ordway, R-Standish. Keim proposed it pass with an amendment allowing for the Maine Board of Pesticides Control to have time to review and advise local ordinances relating to pesticides. Ordway was in favor of it passing without an amendment. The committee will review Keim’s amendment before making a final recommendation to the full Legislature.

Mary Pols can be contacted at 791-6456 or at:

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