The Maryland Court of Special Appeals on Thursday sided with Montgomery County and its 2015 law banning the use of pesticides on lawns. This reverses a 2017 circuit court ruling that struck down the measure after a lawsuit.
“This is a big win for our environment and the public health,” Councilman Tom Hucker said. “It also affirms our county’s authority to protect our residents, especially our kids, from the harmful threats that pesticide and other environmental toxins can pose.”
The law was supposed to go into effect last year, but the county council was sued by a group of homeowners and landscaping companies claiming that the law should be struck down because it banned pesticides that had been approved by the federal government.
Montgomery County Circuit Court ruled in favor of the plaintiff and called the law an overreach by the county.
In Thursday’s ruling, the Court of Special Appeals, Maryland’s second-highest court, said that the state law — which does allow the sale of pesticides and the use of it on farmland, golf courses and gardens — does not prevent local governments to regulate the pesticides.
The Court of Special Appeals also rejected the lower court’s argument that allowing jurisdictions to establish pesticide regulation would cause “chaos and confusion in the marketplace.”
“For decades, Maryland’s Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Critical Area Protection Program has authorized certain counties to regulate pesticides within the Critical Area without any record of chaos and confusion for multitiered regulation,” the court wrote.
It also said that while the state’s laws on pesticides conformed with federal law, its ruling to ban pesticides is “best regarded as an aspirational goal, rather than an obstacle to local legislation.”
In a statement later Thursday, County Executive Marc Elrich, who was a co-sponsor of the bill as a council member, said, “Some people have said if pesticides are harmful, federal and state legislators would have acted on this. That is not true. They have not acted on it, so we had to pass this law to protect our current and future generations. Now the courts have ruled that we had the right to do so.”
The county government added that the county attorney is reviewing the court’s decision and how it will affect the law’s implementation and “will advise the Department of Environmental Protection on the timing of the enforcement.”
Editor’s note: This story was initially published at 11:45 a.m. on May 3. It has been updated to include a statement from the county executive and the county government.