waskington state lake images
WATERLINE - June, 2011

Long march to phosphorus-free fertilizer is successful!

by Jonathan Frodge

General Sherman was called a lunatic when he predicted that the Civil War would not be over quickly, would drag on for years, but would ultimately turn out to be successful. While not quite on the scale of the Civil War, WALPA’s efforts to limit the use of fertilizer containing phosphorus with the passage of HB 1489 took way longer than predicted and had some lunatic trappings, but was ultimately successful. Governor Christine Gregoire signed the bill into law on April 14th, 150 years after the fall of Fort Sumter.

Jonathan Frodge and Beth leDoux celebrate the signing of the phosphorus bill in Olympia.

Passage of this law is an important addition to WALPA’s legislative initiatives, complementing previous bans on phosphorus in laundry detergent and in dishwasher soaps. Together, this legislative trio removes sources of non-point phosphorus pollution from waters throughout Washington. While we were not the first state to push these legislative approaches for protecting our lakes, rivers, and streams, our Pacific Northwest efforts have had impacts across the United States.

Our bills have been the proverbial straw that broke the back of this phosphorus-laden camel, bringing corporate changes to the formulation of national brands of detergent, and leading to phosphorus-free formulations of national brand lawn fertilizers. This impact is demonstrated by the support given the Washington legislation by Scotts Lawn Care Corporation and their change in their national fertilizer formulation. And don’t tell Thelma and Louise from Spokane that their phosphorus raids to Idaho are worthless, as Cascade also quietly took phosphorus out of their dishwasher soap nationwide.  This was our premise all along: we can painlessly stop polluting our waters and save money for more important things without harming users of these products.

While we should celebrate our recent WALPA victory, the byzantine machinations of the democratic process were amply demonstrated during this effort to pass legislation we initially thought was a fall-off-a-log-obvious slam-dunk. During hearings, a number of us were ‘educated’ by a WSU extension member that phosphorus binds to the soil and is never washed off.  We also learned from an industry lobbyist that leaves and dead animals rather than fertilizer pollute water, and that child care facilities, senior residences, and private grass air strips should be exempt from the legislation whether they need phosphorus or not. The bill was also taken hostage and killed last year in a debate over whether to close the budget shortfall with a sales tax.  I think Senator Jacobsen predicted all of these phenomena when he spoke at the WALPA plenary on this topic four (five?) years ago.

WALPA was successful in passing this legislation because we represent a broad citizen scientist and professional coalition across Washington. We should be proud of what our organization has accomplished and the efforts many of our members undertook to make this happen.  You should visit the bill’s info page here (http://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/summary.aspx?bill=1489&year=2011) to see an account of how this sausage was made.  Oh, and don’t worry about the reference to a partial veto by the Governor on April 14.  That was a ‘poison pill’ the opposition stuck in the bill to prevent the Department of Agriculture from issuing civil penalties in an attempt to kill it. But the Governor didn’t buy their argument and the bill was actually improved, once again proving that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”