Gov. Ige: Leadership, core values and resolve under pressure

Gov. David Ige’s leadership, core values and resolve under pressure was clearly demonstrated by his recent signing into law SB3095. Hawaii residents concerned about their health and the health of their children and grandchildren should thank him. Progressives and those who fight daily to protect the health of our natural environment should also thank and acknowledge his leadership on this issue.

The measure was simple yet comprehensive and the protections now in place include a phased in ban of the neurotoxin chlorpyrifos, mandatory disclosure of all users of Restricted Use Pesticides (RUP), modest buffer zones around schools, pesticide drift studies and increased funding for the Department of Agriculture so it can properly do its job.

The pressure on Gov. Ige to either let it pass into law without his signature, or to veto this measure must have been significant. The largest chemical companies in the world were in strong opposition. I know from personal experience that the forces aligned against his signing are formidable and they play hard ball.

Over the past five years alone, they have spent tens of millions of dollars in Hawaii fighting attempts to regulate their industry. They spend big money on major media promoting their agenda, they invest heavily in local political campaigns and often have a “take no prisoners” attitude when it comes to politics and their opposition to increased government regulation.

However, Gov. Ige chose to do the right thing and put the protection of the health of children above the political pressure and the profits brought and sought by these international corporations who produce, sell and use chlorpyrifos and other dangerous RUP’s.

This is the same pesticide that sent a dozen Syngenta workers to the hospital last year on Kauai’s Westside. It has been found in small amounts at Waimea Canyon Middle School and in other areas when testing has been done in the past.

This same chemical has been banned already for residential use, and the EPA was preparing to implement a ban on agricultural use until its new Director Scott Pruitt reversed that decision.

To be real, the governor could have easily come up with a reason not to sign the bill, or to even veto it.

You can be sure the companies threatened to sue. They would have also said that “the science is inconclusive”, as the industry has legions of scientists in their employ whose studies naturally favor their perspective. And of course they would have argued that this will “hurt small farmers.”

It is ironic that the original proposals only impacted the very largest users, and was expanded to include “all users” only after the big companies (and their supporters in the legislature) insisted that all farmers big and small should have to comply. But the truth is that most small farmers do not use chlorpyrifos at all.

Yes, Gov. Ige could easily have side-stepped this issue and derailed its passage. And he could have come up with an explanation for his action, that for many people would have appeared reasonable.

But he did not. He could have used the standard excuses others at both the state and county level have used in the past to delay and avoid passage of similar measures. He could have alluded to perceived deficiencies (the bill is too weak or the bill is too strong), offered to strengthen the “voluntary program,” expressed concern about the legal status, and/or fallen back on the dependable “this proposal needs more study” tactic that others in the past have used to avoid making a tough decision in an election year.

But he did not. He looked at the evidence, he spoke to his advisers I am sure and reviewed the information provided by both sides. Then he took the side of protecting the health of children and signed SB3095 into law as Act 45.

Gov. Ige’s own words upon signing demonstrate his desire and commitment to protect health while acknowledging the importance of supporting agriculture, and that these goals are not mutually exclusive. He should be commended for his leadership on this issue.

“Protecting the health and safety of our keiki and residents is one of my top priorities. We must protect our communities from potentially harmful chemicals. At the same time, Hawaii’s agriculture industry is extremely important to our state and economy. We will work with the Department of Agriculture, local farmers and the University of Hawaii as we seek safe, alternative pest management tools that will support and sustain our agriculture industry for generations to come,” Gov. Ige said.