Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Who should regulate fertilizer use on lawns, states or local governments?

When most of us think of preemption in terms of turfgrass care, we think of lawn care pesticides. In the United States, preemption means that the states, and not municipalities, regulate the sale and use of pesticides. Few of us think of preemption in regards to fertilizers. But that’s becoming a bigger issue across the country, as well.

Some states maintain the sole right to regulate the sale and use of lawn fertilizers and some allow municipalities or counties to enact their own fertilizer regulations. As a result, some local governments — concerned over the effects of lawn fertilizers on water quality — are passing regulations about how much nitrogen or phosphorus can be used on residential or commercial properties. Some are even forbidding the use of fertilizers during certain times of the year.

Assemblyman John J. Burzichelli has introduced a bill (A-4193) in the State of New Jersey that creates consistent regulation for towns there looking to manage residential and commercial fertilizer applications.

Referring to the proposed legislation, Nancy Sadlon, executive director of the New Jersey Green Industry Council, wrote a letter to the editor in the Millstone (NJ) Examiner, telling why she feels a consistent statewide regulation “makes uncommonly good sense.”

Here, in part, is Nancy’s piece in the Examiner:

As the executive director of the New Jersey Green Industries Council, I have a keen professional interest in laws that impact turf management. As a New Jersey resident and homeowner, I have an equally passionate interest in the quality of New Jersey's waterways. Enacting statewide legislative standards, which contribute to the common good of New Jersey's 566 municipalities, makes uncommonly good sense for our citizens and our environment.

Regulating fertilizer so that best management practices are used is in everyone's best interest for improving the quality of New Jersey's waterways, but it must be done in the right way. In the simplest terms, fertilizer is plant food. Too much is not healthy and none is not enough. We believe the same is true for fertilizer regulation. With A-4193, municipalities have an actionable sound-science blueprint for successful fertilizer management that protects our waterways, our environment and our citizens.

A-4193 calls for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) to consult with research scientists at Rutgers University Agricultural Experiment Station to identify and encourage best management practices. The rationale for supporting legislation that adequately addresses urban fertilizer contribution to non-point source nutrient loading to a water body is a perfect combination of good science and good stewardship.

Healthy lawns help control erosion, contribute to dust and noise abatement, serve as nature's best water filter, and act as a carbon sink by accumulating carbon and lessening our communities' carbon footprint. Studies conducted by universities show that proper amounts of fertilizer fed to plants does not lead to fertilizer runoff into our waterways.

Our association recently joined with regulators from the NJDEP, other industry professionals and New Jersey grassroots watershed associations in a public-private partnership, the "Healthy Lawns, Healthy Environment" initiative. In one year, through changing formulas for lawn fertilizers to reduce phosphorous, implementing best application practices and conducting educational outreach to professionals and the general public, our group effected a total annual phosphorous reduction of 1,230,332 pounds — an estimated statewide reduction of 15 percent.

A statewide model for lawn care in private and public spaces will allow us to continue the momentum of our environmental stewardship by enabling lawn care professionals to adhere to a single comprehensive set of responsible, science-based practices that have proven environmental benefits. A-4193 offers a clear, actionable blueprint for municipalities, lawn care professionals and New Jersey residents that regulates residential and commercial fertilizer application sensibly and makes uncommonly good sense. — Ron Hall

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