Kauaʻi Mayor Ignores Constituents, Vetoes Ordinance

Ordinance would provide safeguards against pesticide exposure

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Well, this is just a crying shame. After thousands of Kauaʻi residents came to show support for a popular and much-needed ordinance the County Council passed that would regulate pesticide spraying, including on the GMO crops so prevalent on Kauaʻi, you would think Mayor Bernard Carvalho, Jr. would vote in line with his constituents. Not so. In a blow to Kauaʻi citizens concerned about exposure to dangerous pesticides and dust, yesterday Mayor Carvalho vetoed the crucial ordinance.

In a letter he states: “I do not make this decision lightly, and I know that it will be controversial. However, I believe it is the right thing to do given the circumstances before me.”

Other than employees of the GMO/pesticide companies that dominate the island—DuPont Pioneer, Syngenta, Bayer CropScience, BASF, and Dow Agrosciences—few seem to agree with him. The bill would require companies that use more than five pounds or 15 gallons of restricted-use pesticides annually to reveal the chemicals they use. The bill also requires a buffer zone near medical facilities, schools and homes, among other sensitive locations, and requires disclosure of the type and general location of any genetically engineered plants being grown. Mayor Carvalho justified his veto by claiming the measure was legally flawed and therefore might be struck down in court.

The mayor also says that he and members of his administration listened to hours of testimony and other public feedback before coming his conclusion. So that means he probably heard longtime Kauaʻi resident Randi Li Dickinson’s testimony before the council about her frequent exposure to pesticides and her son’s unexplained seizures. Dickinson says that she has noticed family and children with an alarming rate of asthma, brain disorders, seizures and even Parkinson’s disease. Her sister’s child was born with three fingers. And while she can’t be sure it’s caused by pesticide exposure, the ordinance would give citizens the “right to know”—which is all she wants.

“I want to know how I can fix my child or how I can help him,” she testifies. “I want to prevent other mothers from having to go through this stress and strain.”

Dickinson wasn’t the only resident to testify on the merits of the ordinance—residents lined up hours before the latest council meeting to give feedback. When the council passed the ordinance on a 6–1 vote, it came after a 19-hour, emotion-filled meeting last month.

So it’s surprising that Mayor Carvalho says he took all of this, rather than the interests of the chemical companies, into account when he decided to veto the ordinance.

Earthjustice Attorney Paul Achitoff and George Kimbrell, senior attorney with the Center for Food Safety, sent a letter to the mayor urging him to approve the legislation.

Here is what Achitoff said after the mayor vetoed the bill:

The mayor has turned his back on thousands of Kauaʻi residents who came out in droves to support this ordinance. Kauaʻi residents are exposed to pesticides at every turn—their homes, their schools, their gardens, their hospitals. It’s outrageous the mayor has chosen to disregard their health and instead pander to industry. The excuse that the county lacks authority to enact the ordinance doesn’t wash.

Next, the County Council will try to override the Mayor’s veto. Stay tuned.

Raviya was a press secretary at Earthjustice in the Washington, D.C. office from 2008 to 2014, working on issues including federal rulemakings, energy efficiency laws and coal ash pollution.

Earthjustice’s Washington, D.C., office works at the federal level to prevent air and water pollution, combat climate change, and protect natural areas. We also work with communities in the Mid-Atlantic region and elsewhere to address severe local environmental health problems, including exposures to dangerous air contaminants in toxic hot spots, sewage backups and overflows, chemical disasters, and contamination of drinking water. The D.C. office has been in operation since 1978.