Tag Archives: local ordinances

Rules on GMO crops in Hawaii before US appeals court

The fight over regulating genetically engineered crops in three Hawaii counties was back in a federal courtroom.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in Honolulu last week on ordinances that seek to regulate or outlaw genetically engineered crops in Hawaii, Kauai and Maui counties.

Agrichemical companies and trade associations sued each county and federal court rulings sided with the businesses. The counties and interested environmental groups want the 9th Circuit to overturn the decisions.

Lawyers representing the counties argued that state laws do not specifically address genetically engineered crops relevant to the proposed regulations. The counties, which have policing powers to protect their residents, assert that they have the right and obligation to regulate the industry.

They also argued that the Hawaii Supreme Court should have taken up the issue as there is no written opinion specifically on genetically engineered crops in the state.

“This matter should have been turned over via certified question to the Hawaii Supreme Court because it’s an important issue for the entire state of Hawaii,” said David Minkin, representing the county of Kauai at the hearing.

The state Department of Agriculture regulates harmful plants in Hawaii, however, and attorneys representing the agrichemical companies said the state could and would specifically regulate genetically engineered plants if they felt it was warranted. The department has not said genetically engineered crops are harmful.

“The issue in this case isn’t whether pesticides or GE plants should be regulated or what those regulations should be. The only question here is who does the regulating. Under current Hawaii law, the answer is clear,” said Chris Landau, representing the companies in the Kauai and Big Island cases. “The state has comprehensive schemes in place.”

While the state gives counties some power to regulate issues on a local level, those ordinances cannot conflict with state laws.

In Kauai, the county wants to require the companies to report exactly where and what they are growing and seeks to ban the use of pesticides. The companies argue that the reporting process itself is a form of regulation, and the farms would risk both vandalism and espionage if that reporting were required.

Alika Atay, 62, who is a certified natural Hawaiian farmer who has lived on Maui his entire life, said his major concern is the heavy usage of pesticides.

“In a very short period of time these people have come to our island and they have poisoned our island, “Atay said.

“They are killing the Hawaiian people … if they kill us — or kill our land, kill our water — where do we have to go? This is our home. We must protect our home,”Atay said.

Companies that develop new types crops are drawn to Hawaii’s warm weather, which allows them to grow more generations of crops and accelerate their development of new varieties.

Monsanto and Dow Chemical have research farms in Maui County.

U.S. District Chief Judge Susan Oki Mollway ruled last June that federal and state law pre-empts that county’s ban on cultivating genetically engineered crops, making it invalid. She stressed then that her order addressed only the question of county authority.

Two years ago, Kauai and Hawaii counties adopted measures regulating GMO crops and pesticides. U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren struck them down, saying state law superseded them.

Wis. Republicans hand over local control to corporate America

There’s a theory in politics — subsidiarity — that maintains higher levels of government should handle only tasks that cannot be accomplished at lower levels. National defense is a good example of how that theory works; it’s not left to each state or city to defend itself.

In that spirit, the Republican Party’s stated goal is to reduce the power and scope of the federal government. State government, their argument goes, is more democratic and accountable than Washington. State officials have a deeper understanding of the unique challenges, values and goals of their constituents. And in turn, local office-holders have a deeper understanding of their own constituents than does the state.

It’s not an unreasonable position, until you start to distort it beyond recognition. And that’s exactly what Wisconsin Republicans have done.

First, to show their disdain for the feds, Wisconsin Republicans made a great show of turning down federal funds after capturing control of state government in 2011. Showily flexing his ideological bicep, Gov. Scott Walker turned down about $2 billion for Medicare expansion, high-speed rail development, and high-speed internet expansion in the state. It didn’t seem to bother him or his GOP colleagues that a portion of that money would originally came from Wisconsin taxpayers. Nor did it seem to concern them that the move cost the state thousands of jobs, as well as expanded health care and an improved business environment. Wisconsin now has the second-highest insurance rates in the nation.

In short, your representatives at the state level cut off your nose to spite Washington’s face — all in the name of local empowerment.

Yet, in a glaring philosophical disconnect, Wisconsin’s Republican leaders also believe — in the strongest way possible — that the virtues of local control come to a screeching halt at the doors of the state Capitol. Ever since they’ve commanded the state, Republicans have engaged in an unprecedented usurpation of municipal, village and other local government bodies’ powers in order to stop them from interfering with the moneyed interests that feather their nests.

A memo issued earlier this year by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau detailed more than 100 ways in which the Republican Legislature and the governor have eliminated local control while also increasing the number of unfunded mandates — i.e., costs — passed on to local communities. The Republicans’ actions have made it impossible for many local elected officials to balance their budgets while providing services for their constituents. That’s one of the reasons your potholes don’t get filled.

Just a few weeks ago, in his latest assault at local control, Walker signed a law taking away the power of local jurisdictions to protect their water. The Republican-backed law forbids municipalities from stopping property owners who want to develop land or transfer properties to erect projects that could harm local water supplies. According to the new law, in legal cases where property owners are at odds with local ordinances protecting natural resources, presiding judges must rule in favor of the property owners over the good of nearly everyone else.

That law was part of what the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters calls a “developers’ grab bag,” which along with a comparable “polluters’ grab bag,” has given polluting industries and land developers free rein over the state’s natural resources by granting them authority over local governments.

Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel has done his part to support this campaign, which makes corporations not just people but Super People. In mid-May, he ruled that environmental officials at the Department of Natural Resources cannot make decisions about high-capacity wells in order to prevent damage to local water supplies — not if Big Ag disagrees with those decisions. Schimel’s ruling puts the state’s groundwater, lakes and streams in jeopardy.

It’s not only environmental authority that the state’s GOP leaders have usurped. In the past legislative session, Republican changes included disrupting Wisconsin’s popular and cost-effective system of delivering services to seniors and those with disabilities. The party opted instead to turn those services over to for-profit companies. Republicans are also interfering with local school board elections.

By electing a solid Republican majority, voters in the state have empowered their own disempowerment while making very rich strangers even richer.

How’s that for subsidiarity?

Federal court upholds ban on sales of puppy mill dogs

A federal court has upheld a measure banning pet stores in Phoenix from selling puppies produced in inhumane, commercial, dog breeding facilities known as puppy mills.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona rejected a pet store’s federal constitutional challenge to the local ordinance.

Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president and chief counsel of animal protection litigation for The Humane Society of the United States, responded, “Not only does this type of regulation crack down on the puppy mill industry, but it also reduces local pet overpopulation and euthanasia rates in shelters by driving the market toward the adoption of homeless animals and purchases from only responsible breeders.”

According to the organization, more than 70 localities across the country have enacted similar ordinances.

Four federal courts have determined that the laws are constitutional. Those courts are in Florida, Illinois and Rhode Island.