Sunset Ordinance

(This column was first published in the March 8, 1999 Buffalo News.)

    On March 2nd, the Buffalo Common Council legislative committee held hearings on an ordinance proposed by the Buffalo Pest Management Board. Over a three year period the new law would, if enacted, reduce the city's use of toxic pesticides to near zero. Referred to as a "sunset ordinance" -- that name originated in San Francisco where a similar law is being successfully implemented -- it is an important piece of legislation in the on-going battle of local environmentalists to reduce the poisons to which we are exposed. (The proposed sunset section is well worth examining as is the entire ordinance now before the Common Council.)

    As a member of the city pest management board I submitted remarks for the record -- although illness prevented my attendance. While my comments do not speak to some central issues, I believe that they are worth repeating here.

    The pest management board held a series of meetings with city personnel invited to react to early drafts of the proposed legislation. In those meetings one thing became immediately clear to me: those opposed to this legislation are not simply reactionaries interested in protecting their domains. These are good citizens. I hold nothing but respect and admiration for, for example, Steve Mead representing the Buffalo Zoo, David Headley the Botanical Gardens of Buffalo and Erie County and Jim Horning the Buffalo Bisons Baseball Team. Jim is now also a fellow pest management board member.

    The concerns these people raised are reflected in the legislation before you. Exceptions have been incorporated; responsibility and reporting significantly improved. They deserve great credit for the current bill, but some of them remain opposed to it. Some are concerned about timing, others about priorities; a few believe that current measures are sufficient. To a major concern that they have communicated to us -- the need to undertake public education -- I pledge my full support. I still believe that their opposition to the bill is wrong but I honor their positions. If this legislation is approved, however, I am certain that these honorable opponents will continue to seek appropriate alternatives to toxic pesticides that fit within the law.

    Council members know, because they have been actively lobbied and have read about their problems in this newspaper, that we have among us Buffalonians who are chemically intolerant. These neighbors are homebound during the lawn spraying season and they cannot visit our zoo or our botanical garden or our parks because of the chemicals sprayed there. We owe these people our concern but we also owe them our gratitude for they identify a problem for us as well. We do not all suffer as badly as they do, but we do suffer -- because we too are chemically intolerant. We differ only in degree. We're dealing here with poisons that are doing insidious damage to us as well as the bugs, bad and good, and other animals and birds and fish.

    Some opponents of this bill say that, instead, we need to bring the public into line. When the city cuts down its pesticide use, the rest of us will simply buy our own poisons and do worse. Although education may help a little, we need to get these toxic chemicals off store shelves. Unfortunately, that requires state or federal action; the city has no power here. I abhor the failure of our state and federal legislators to override deep-pocket chemical industry lobbying to attack this problem but their failure does not absolve us from moving forward and sending them the strongest possible message through this fine local ordinance.

    I urge my city readers to support this ordinance with your legislators. I urge others to seek similar reductions in their own communities and to discipline their personal use of chemical toxins. -- Gerry Rising