March 21, 2015
A federal judge has pushed back her stay on the implementation of a voter-approved Maui County moratorium on the farming of genetically engineered crops from March 31 to June 15.
In an order issued Thursday, U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway said that she will wait until the state Legislature completes its session before proceeding further. Mollway acknowledged that House Bill 849 and Senate Bill 986 – which would have rendered the county’s anti-GMO ordinance moot – are technically dead because they missed a key legislative deadline last week.
Although unlikely, she said that legislation affecting the case still could find its way into other bills.
“Given the chance, however remote, that legislation might affect the present dispute, a discussion was held on March 10 regarding whether the ordinance should be stayed until the Legislature adjourns in May 2015,” Mollway said in her order.
After the March 10 hearing, citizens group Sustainable Hawaiian Agriculture for the Keiki and the Aina Movement, or SHAKA Movement, urged the court on March 13 to stop the delays. To prolong the case would cause “irreparable harms” to the environment, public health and safety, Native Hawaiian interests and the integrity of the political process, SHAKA said.
In November, Maui voters approved the ballot initiative that called for a moratorium on farming GMO crops until scientific studies are conducted to determine their safety and benefits. The initiative was spearheaded by SHAKA, which maintains that the farming of GMOs is harmful, and that pesticide and chemical drift during cultivation may hurt people and the land.
Monsanto Co. and Agrigenetics Inc., a unit of Dow Chemical Co., filed a lawsuit to prevent the implementation of the voter-approved law. An agreement between the court and plaintiffs late last year called for delaying implementation until March 31 to allow for a hearing on the case.
SHAKA argued that it was not a party to discussions about the stay, so it should be allowed a hearing to oppose the delay.
Mollway countered in her order that SHAKA did not identify facts in its March 13 filing that would be resolved by further hearings. Even if hearings were scheduled, the judge said that they would be heard after March 31.
The judged cited the reasons for holding up the implementation of the ordinance until June 15. She said that both seed companies and their customers could lose business and not be able to compete in the market. The county would waste taxpayer money installing “infrastructure” needed to enforce the law only to have it scrapped if seed companies prevailed. Jobs, particularly on Molokai where unemployment is high, could could be lost if the ordinance were enacted now.
“Unemployment cannot be confined to purely monetary effects. The loss of jobs affects the availability of health insurance and of college and other opportunities for the laid-off worker’s family members. These personal losses could have long-term effects on the county as a whole,” Mollway said.
The judge said that a short delay in the implementation of the ordinance in light of the legislative process and judicial review “does no harm to the integrity of the political process at the county level.”
Mollway also did not accept SHAKA’s arguments regarding the delay’s potential impact on the environment or public health and safety.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.