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PLNA e-News: Protecting Values In Pennsylvania

EPA-Backed Turf Fertilizer Bill Approved by Senate Committee

Wednesday, February 26, 2014   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Gregg Robertson
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SpreaderHARRISBURG, PA - As expected, the Pennsylvania Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee voted 9-0 on February 4 to approve an EPA-backed bill to regulate the application of turf grass fertilizer, SB 1149.  The fate of the bill from here is not certain, but Senate sources have told PLNA that the “bill will die” on the floor of the Senate.

If, by some chance, the bill would pass the Senate, it would face stiff opposition in the House of Representatives. PLNA has been briefing the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee about the bill and PLNA’s concerns.

No Environmental Benefits

First, the bill as written would provide no environmental or water quality benefit to the Chesapeake Bay, and actually may have a detrimental impact on Bay water quality.

It will Cost You Money

And second, the bill would impose real costs on the lawn care industry for no environmental benefit.

Main Points of the Bill

1.      For fertilizer sold to the public, the application of the fertilizer according to the instructions on the bag must  result in no more than 0.7 pounds readily available nitrogen and 0.9 pounds of total nitrogen per 1,000 square feet and consist of at least 20% slow release nitrogen. With some exceptions, no fertilizer sold to the public can contain phosphorus.

2.      The bill also restricts the application of fertilizer to impervious surfaces or frozen ground. On unfrozen ground between November 15 and March 1, no fertilizer can be applied at a rate of more than 0.5 pounds per 1,000 square feet.

3.      The application of fertilizer within 5 feet of the top of a stream bank is prohibited, unless using a drop spreader, a rotary spreader with a deflector shield, targeted spray liquid or other targeted application technology, in which case fertilizer can be spread to the top of the stream bank.

4.       Any product containing nitrogen or phosphorus cannot be used as ice melt.

5.      Professionals (fertilizing for hire) must adhere to the application rates of 0.7 pounds per 1,000 square feet of readily available nitrogen, 0.9 pounds per 1,000 square feet of total nitrogen and zero phosphorus, with exceptions for specific soils (with test), establishing and reestablishing lawns, or is using an enhanced efficiency fertilizer, a natural organic  fertilizer or organic base fertilizer.

6.      Professionals applying fertilizer must be certified by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, or be working under the supervision of a certified fertilizer applicator.

Letter to Senate Ag Committee Chair

In a letter to the Senate Ag Committee chairman Senator Elder Vogel (R–Beaver), PLNA Board Chairman, Paul Kimicata and Government Relations Committee Chairman Dan Eichenlaub outlined PLNA’s objections to the bill, which are summarized below:

1.      The bagged fertilizer available at retail garden centers and big box stores is already at the application limits proposed in the legislation. Scott’s took the lead on this several years ago when New Jersey and Maryland passed similar laws and most of their competitors followed suit. The private sector has already acted. Why impose a law that is no longer needed?

2.      The application rates specified by the bill are in conflict with the science based recommendations of Penn State. In fact, there is no scientific basis for the application rates specified in the bill.

3.      We agree that fertilizer should not be applied to frozen ground, but the application restriction dates in the legislation are arbitrary for a state that spans six climatic zones. Ground freezes at different times in McKean County than in Philadelphia County.

4.      The bill imposes another regulatory burden on small lawn care businesses for no apparent benefit. According to the Chesapeake Bay Commission’s own Expert Panel, the most credible study of lawn care behavior in the Chesapeake Bay watershed shows that only 50% of homeowners fertilize at all, and of that 50%, 91% are do-it-yourselfers (page 34). The Expert Panel also points out that this study is comparable to national results. That means that only 4.5% of the lawns in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are fertilized by professionals. Yet, professionals are regulated in this bill and the do-it-yourselfers are not. Professionals have an economic incentive to not over-apply fertilizer and have more training and experience than do-it-yourselfers.

5.      The CBC Expert Panel report concludes that "Educational and outreach are the critical link to change the fertilization behaviors of individual homeowners and commercial applicators.” Yet, the legislation contains no funding or program for such educational efforts.

6.      The Expert Panel could find no evidence that a program of certifying professionals, such as that proposed in the bill, would result in a reduced rate of fertilizer application, or that such a reduction would reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

7.      The bill relies on certification and enforcement by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, a department whose staff has been reduced over the past several budget cycles, but provides no additional resources to do so. The Department staff resources to carry out its existing program responsibilities under the Plant Pest Act are stretched to the breaking point. Why pass a law that cannot be enforced?

8.      The CBC has not demonstrated that any environmental benefits will result from his bill. According to the CBC Expert Panel, research has shown that healthy turf produces less runoff and pollution than thin turf. Those that care for their lawns are actually producing environmental benefits, not the other way around.

Click here to download a copy of the letter sent to the Senate committee by PLNA. To download a copy of the full text of SB 1149, click here.

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