December 13, 2010

William deCamp Jr
Jennifer O'Reilly


Save Barnegat Bay’s Fertilizer Bill Passes Both Houses in Legislature

In Save Barnegat Bay’s biggest victory ever, the both houses of the New Jersey legislature today passed the statewide lawn fertilizer bill that originated in our Lavallette office. Governor Christie has pledged to sign this bill as part of his plan for Barnegat Bay.

According to legislative testimony by Scotts MiracleGro in August of this year this bill, once it becomes law, will become the model for most other states.

The law will be the first in the country to regulate the content of fertilizer rather than merely rely on homeowners to read and follow the directions on the bag as the mechanism for protecting estuaries.

“We are extremely proud that a bill that will affect the whole country started in Save Barnegat Bay’s small office here in Ocean County,” said Jennifer O’Reilly, Executive Director of Save Barnegat Bay. “It shows that acting locally can make change globally.”

The basic concepts of the bill were researched by Michael Borgatti during 2008 when he was Science Research Associate for Save Barnegat Bay. Following that Mr. Borgatti, Save Barnegat Bay Chairman William deCamp Jr., and attorney Michele R. Donato placed these concepts into a model ordinance intended for municipalities in the Barnegat Bay watershed.

The pivotal moment in the campaign came in the summer of 2009 when Senator Bob Smith, D-Middlesex, and Assemblyman John McKeon, A-Essex, who are the chairmen of the environment committees in their respective houses, learned of Save Barnegat Bay’s ordinance and incorporated its substance in their matched bills, S-1411 and A-2290.

“We are very, very grateful to the Committee Chairmen, Senator Smith and Assemblyman McKeon,” said Mr. deCamp. “They were willing to listen to us instead of to certain powerful interests, and the whole state and country will benefit from that.”

In the Senate the primary sponsors were Senators Bob Smith and Jennifer Beck, and the co-sponsors were Senators Andrew Ciesla and Christopher Connors of Ocean County as well as Senators Jeff Van Drew, Brian Stack, Loretta Weinberg, and Christopher Bateman.

In the Assembly the primary sponsors were John McKeon, Reed Gusciora, and Valerie Huttle. Ocean County Assemblymen and woman James Holzapful, David Wolfe, Brian Rumpf, and Diane Gove were co-sponsors as was Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan Jr and Assemblywoman Connie Wagner.

Among the provisions in the bill are these:

- Any fertilizer sold or used in New Jersey will be required to have at least 20% of its nitrogen in slow release (water insoluble) form.

- Directions on fertilizer bags will be required to result in only 0.9 pounds of total nitrogen going down per thousand square feet.

- Phosphorus will be banned from lawn fertilizer except in special cases.

- Professional applicators will be subject to a lesser standard than homeowners but will all be required to take a brief course and be certified by the state.

Environmentalists were forced to make substantial compromises in that the requirement for slow release nitrogen is 20% not 30%, golf courses are not included, and professionals are held to a lesser standard. They noted, however, that golf courses contribute far less nitrogen than is popularly believed and that their professional groundskeepers will have to be certified.

Although 20% may seem to some to be a low figure, it should be understood that as long as the overall feeding is not excessively large the grass will generally absorb most of the water soluble content in the fertilizer.

Because phosphorus is banned in the bill, and because phosphorus is the major cause of eutrophication in fresh water, this bill is a major victory for the fresh water streams, rivers, and lakes of our state and nation.

Nitrogen is the primary cause of eutrophication in salt water bodies such as Barnegat Bay. Since the majority of nitrogen entering Barnegat Bay falls in the rain, this victory in itself will not solve the bay’s nitrogen problem. Clean air and land use reforms must follow.

“The environmental groups with a presence at the State House, such as the Sierra Club, the New Jersey Environmental Federation, Environment New Jersey, Clean Ocean Action, and the American Littoral Society, were wonderful and indispensible in getting the bill passed,” deCamp continued. “We knew the concepts, but they know their way around Trenton. We got much more help in the state capital than we did back in Ocean County.”

Mr. deCamp strongly praised Mr. Borgatti who is now a third year law student at Rutgers Camden and a part time employee at the Board of Public Utilities. Mr. Borgatti used a Bachelor of Science degree and an interest in law to master the scientific, legal, and political aspects of lawn fertilizer, which are complicated.

“Above all I am grateful to Save Barnegat Bay’s Board of Directors and staff for keeping our organization up and running during this campaign against wily and powerful opponents,” deCamp concluded.

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