Pesticide regulation: Environmentalists, ag industry clash over local vs state control

by Marianne Goodland, The Colorado Spring Gazette

A panel of legislators on Tuesday spent nearly three hours discussing local versus state control of pesticides, an issue that arose during this year’s session but failed to gain traction.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis supports allowing local governments to regulate pesticides. So does the state Department of Agriculture, which is in charge of applicators who use restricted pesticides.

At the core of the issue is who gets to regulate pesticides. Currently, that regulation falls under the state’s purview.  

Environmentalists have been pushing lawmakers to allow local governments to handle pesticide regulations, while the agriculture industry is seeking to maintain the status quo.

Last spring, the Colorado General Assembly passed a reauthorization of the state pesticide applicators act but that legislation didn’t tackle the issue of lifting state regulation of pesticides.

The argument for local control arises out of concerns around public health, the environment and even cultural issues. Advocates for local control cite the declining population of bees, with pesticides as one of the culprits, along with pests and disease.

On the other hand, those who wish to maintain the status quo argue that handing over pesticide regulation to local governments would create a piecemeal system that would be too cumbersome and costly to navigate.   

Late in the 2023 session, Sen. Lisa Cutter, D-Littleton, tried to sneak amendments enacting local control on pesticides into a bill on banning gas stoves at the same time that the pesticide applicators act was being discussed by the House Agriculture, Water and Natural Resources Committee.

After an uproar from rural lawmakers and agricultural interests, the Senate Appropriations Committee removed the amendments, effectively killing the proposal. 


On Tuesday, the concept was back in front of the Water Resources and Agricultural Review Committee.

The panel heard from a trio of supporters of local control, including Peter Wadden, a watershed specialist for Vail who raised worries about the health and diversity of the aquatic insect populations at Gore Creek, which he said is an “impaired waterway” under state review. 

He showed the committee a photo of a milky-white substance that he said was runoff from pesticides going into the creek, although others who later testified during the hearing said the photo showed what they believe is a violation of pesticide application laws and regulations that prohibit use of pesticides to saturation — meaning that problem is law-breaking, not regulating.  

JJ Trout, mayor pro tem of Golden, said people in her community would like to control how pesticides are used. She noted that she and her father have both faced health issues from pesticides.

Longmont Mayor Joan Peck, meanwhile, told the committee that her community uses 125 goats for weed control, which, she said, has worked very well. 

While the Department of Agriculture supported local control earlier this year, the agency declined to send anyone to talk to the committee on Tuesday, according to chair Sen. Dylan Roberts, D-Eagle.

The arguments in favor of keeping the status quo came from Dan Lisco, who owns farmland in Washington, Routt, Boulder and Moffat counties.


Allowing local control would be a nightmare for agricultural producers, creating a piecemeal system, he said. A farmer might have 120 acres, half in Weld and the other half in Boulder, and each would have its own regulations about what could be used on crops, he said.

An applicator would have to split the field in half. It would create a “nightmare,” he added.

Allowing local control will also increase costs, said Ryan Riley, chair of the Colorado Pest Control Association Policy Committee.

With the agriculture department in charge or regulations, he spends about $3,500 per year for training for employees for two of his company’s divisions, which work in communities from Longmont to LaJunta. If he had to spend on training for 17 counties, the costs will increase to more than $54,000 per year, something that will get passed along to consumers, he said. 

Glenda Mostek, executive director of the Colorado Nursery and Greenhouse Association, pointed out another problem with local control: an applicator could spray a tree for Japanese beetles on one side of the street but could not use that same product for beetles on a tree on the other side of the street that is in another jurisdiction. That could lead to beetles re-infecting the first tree, she explained.

Sen. Kevin Priola, D-Henderson, who is not a member of the committee but favors local control, asked members of the status quo panel  if they would be okay with regulations that allowed for local control but exempted agriculture. Two said it would depend on how it was written, but the other three were firm “no’s.”

Colorado Counties, Inc. also weighed in through Commissioner Terry Hofmeister of Phillips County, who chairs the organization’s agriculture, wildlife and rural affairs steering committee.

The group historically supports local control, but not for this, Hofmeister said.

Local governments are not the experts; the experts the Environmental Protection Agency and the agriculture department, he said, adding, “They do the science, we don’t… you don’t want to go to a farmer’s market and end up with corn that has more bugs than corn.” 

Finally, the committee heard from Lisa Blecker, a pesticide safety instructor in the Department of Agricultural Biology at Colorado State University. She said regulations that change from one place to the other will make it difficult for applicators to remember what can be done and exactly where. 

“It’s really difficult to expect people to remember all these regulations when they’re jumping from one municipality to another,” she said.

Addressing the concerns around piecemeal regulation, Blecker said she would not assume a local ordinance in Longmont or Vail would be written or implemented in the same way. 

She also warned that local users who buy pesticides at their hardware stores won’t necessarily read the labels and apply the pesticides in accordance with local or federal regulations. 

While the committee is expected to begin the process of drafting legislation for the 2024 session, at least six of the 10 committee members, including Roberts, are opposed to eliminating state control during the 2023 session. That does not, however, preclude other members of the legislature, such as Priola, from sponsoring a bill to enact local control on pesticides. 

This article first appeared Sept. 13 in The Colorado Springs Gazette. Goodland can be reached at mari­anne.good­land@col­or­ado­pol­it­

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