Local Attorneys Lend Support To Kauai GMO and Pesticides Bill

Does the Kauai County Council have the legal authority to require biotech companies to disclose specifics about their pesticide use?

Can the county require buffer zones between fields that are being sprayed with pesticides and public areas, such as schools and roads?

Can it require studies on the effects of pesticides and GMOs on human health and the environment?

These questions have been at the forefront of the debate over Bill 2491. Attorneys for the bitoech companies have said in past hearings that the county doesn’t have this power and that aspects of the bill could be overturned in a legal battle because they are “vague and ambiguous” or amount to an “illegal taking” of property. 

But a cadre of local attorneys are now speaking out in support of the county’s authority to implement the bill, which was amended on Friday to focus more narrowly on pesticides. 

In a statement released Wednesday, nine attorneys say that County council members should not be swayed by the biotech industry’s threats of lawsuits. 

The statement reads in part: 

No thoughtful, experienced attorney will offer blanket assurances about how any lawsuit will be decided, and the bill presents some cutting-edge legal issues. But the State expressly granted the County the authority to protect the health, life, and property of its people from just these kinds of threats. No law expressly prohibits the County from taking this action, and no court cases clearly block the County from passing and implementing this Bill. Moreover, ordinances with similar provisions have been passed elsewhere and have not been successfully challenged.

We believe that Bill 2491 is sound, and the mere threat of a lawsuit by industry interests should not prevent the Council from taking action they believe is important to their community. Attorneys experienced in these issues have given the Council volumes of detailed legal analysis supporting the bill’s legality, discussed these issues with the Council, and made their analyses publicly available for critique. Yet Bill 2491’s opponents haven’t supported their campaign of intimidation with any legal explanations.

We feel it would be unfortunate if the Council were to allow any well-financed opponent to determine public policy merely by threatening to sue. But if a vote is being based on the belief that the Bill will be struck down, we see no meaningful basis for that concern. 

The statement was signed by the following attorneys: 

Paul Achitoff - Managing Attorney, EarthJustice
; George Kimbrell - Senior Attorney, Center For Food Safety
; Peter Schey - President/Attorney, Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law
Justice; Steven Levinson (Retired - Hawaii Supreme Court); 
Alan Murakami - Attorney (personal capacity); 
Teresa Tico - Attorney and former President Kauai Bar Association; 
Kapua Sproat - Attorney and Law Professor, Richardson School of Law; 
Harold Bronstein - Attorney, Kauai
; Elif Beall - Attorney, Kauai 


Photo: One of Syngenta’s test fields on the west side of Kauai (Credit: Nick Grube, Civil Beat)

— Sophie Cocke

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