On January 18, 2022, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy (D) signed S.1016, a bill that restricts the outdoor use of neonicotinoid (neonic) pesticides in the state. The bill’s passage followed a 54-21 vote in the Assembly and a 33-6 vote in the Senate. Supporters of the legislation argue that the bill’s passage will protect pollinator populations, specifically bees.
These supporters state that bees, often honeybees, face decreased growth rates and increased navigational challenges resulting from ingesting pollen that has absorbed neonics. Opponents of the legislation argue that the sustainable and responsible use of neonics is vital to plant health, specifically those subject to harmful pests. For instance, many TCIA members support the use of neonic pesticides as a responsible and practical solution to mitigating the impact of certain pests.
New Jersey law
This law amends the New Jersey Pesticide Control Act and requires neonic pesticides to be classified as “restricted use,” and further prohibits any use of neonics except for agricultural use. Specific exemptions from the law are given for uses such as domestic pet and indoor applications, applications to manage pests in and around a structure – as long as the neonic is not applied to any plants – applications for the protection of agricultural seeds and applications to control invasive-pest emergencies.
The law requires the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJ DEP) to issue rules by January 18, 2023, classifying neonics as restricted-use pesticides, and provides a specific deadline – October 31, 2023 – after which the nonagricultural sale or use of any neonic pesticide will be prohibited.
While the legislation requires a rule to be issued by January 18, NJ DEP has indicated it will not meet that timeline. It also has indicated that an anticipated 2023 proposal will include requirements established by both S.1016 and Federal EPA changes resulting from the 2017 Certification of Pesticide Applicators’ final rule. The Federal EPA rule seeks to reduce exposure to restricted-use pesticides through encouraging use methods that ensure applicators, the environment and the public remain free of potentially adverse effects.
The EPA final rule expands private-applicator competency standards; adds additional categories of applicators; establishes a maximum recertification interval of five years; sets standards for noncertified applicators to be under the supervision of a certified applicator; establishes a minimum age of 18 for applicators, 16 for those working under the immediate supervision of a family member; allows Indian tribes to follow the state, federal or tribal plan of their choice; and updates the requirements for submission, approval and maintenance of state-, tribal- and federal-agency certification plans. The New Jersey rulemaking, including these federal guidelines and S.1016’s requirements, is estimated to be adopted in 2024.
Non-agricultural uses still prohibited as of October 31, 2023
Unfortunately, the rulemaking delay in classifying neonicotinoids as restricted use will not have any bearing on the non-agricultural prohibition of any sale or use of neonic pesticides beginning October 31, 2023. As noted above, the legislation does provide certain exceptions to this prohibition. For instance, it grants certified and licensed applicators within the Department of Agriculture and the NJ DEP the ability to apply neonics for the control of invasive pests. It also allows the Commissioner of NJ DEP, in consultation with the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, to authorize one or more licensed pesticide applicators to use neonics in the case of an environmental emergency where it is found that the pesticide would be effective in addressing the emergency and no other less-harmful pesticide would be effective. However, the legislation provides no general exception for commercial-
landscape or tree care applicators to use neonicotinoids on customer property.
Potential for implementation in additional states
In addition to New Jersey, other states are expected to follow suit in banning the use of neonics. At this time, other states considering legislation related to the use of neonics include Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Tennessee and West Virginia. While legislation in these states remains under consideration or has died upon adjournment of the legislature, we expect to continue to see the passage or reintroduction of proposed restrictions. Similar to New Jersey, five other states have approved legislation or motions limiting the use of neonics, including Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island. However, enacted legislation in these states varies, as Maine and New Jersey passed comprehensive restrictions on nonagricultural uses, while other states solely limit consumer use.
Of the states mentioned above, three have applied restrictions through legislation. Maine’s law, established by LD.155, prohibits the application of neonics to outdoor residential landscapes, including lawn, turf or ornamental vegetation. Notably, Maine recognizes the value of neonics in protecting the state’s public and natural resources, allowing for their use to combat emerging invasive pests, explicitly referencing the Asian long-horned beetle, emerald ash borer and hemlock woolly adelgid. The Maryland General Assembly enacted a ban on neonic pesticides for civilian use through S.198/H.211 in 2016. Rhode Island’s H.7129, which was signed into law by the governor in June 2022, classifies neonics as a limited-use pesticide, restricting their use to certified applicators.
Apart from the above-mentioned states that have sought restrictions through legislation, New York and Massachusetts utilized alternative methods. Earlier this year, the New York Department of Conservation (DEC) announced that neonic pesticides would be reclassified as “restricted use” beginning January 1, 2023 – limiting their application to targeted instances for use by qualified professional applicators. Products labeled for “limited directed application,” to be used on tree trunks and the ground at the base of trees, shrubs and plants, are exempt from the reclassification. In Massachusetts, the Pesticide Board Subcommittee restricted the use of neonics from retail stores and required that only licensed pesticide applicators use such products for lawn care or on turf, trees, shrubs and gardens, effective July 1, 2022.
As states continue to promote legislation and motions banning the consumer use of pesticides, it is essential that they remain aware of the benefits of responsible applicator neonic use. Through targeted applications, tree care companies have effectively used neonics to address challenges posed by the spotted lanternfly, emerald ash borer and hemlock woolly adelgid – devastating, non-native species that have wreaked environmental and economic havoc on communities. As a result of the aforementioned pests’ capability to spread, the East Coast and Midwest remain at risk due to pest distribution in suitable regions, making it ever more important that our industry remains empowered to best serve its communities.
Given the benefits of neonic pesticides, their responsible use must continue. Through selective use, appropriate application and proper application timing, the alleged negative impacts of these pesticides can be reduced while allowing crops, trees and other plants to prosper. TCIA has previously opposed patchwork regulation containing little regard for science at the federal level, and will continue to do so.
TCIA will keep its members apprised of relevant state and federal updates regarding pesticide regulation.
Josh Leonard is a legislative assistant with Ulman Public Policy, TCIA’s Washington, D.C.-based advocacy and lobbying partner.
Want to know more about TCIA’s advocacy efforts? Visit advocacy.tcia.org.