HONOLULU (CN) – Federal law preempts a Maui ordinance prohibiting cultivation of genetically engineered crops, so the Hawaiian law is unenforceable, a federal judge ruled.
Chief U.S. District Judge S. Oki Mollway on June 30 struck down the county ordinance as inconsistent with the Plant Protection Act.
“It is a familiar and well-established principle that the Supremacy Clause invalidates state laws that interfere with or are contrary to federal law,” Mollway wrote. She blocked enforcement of the law in March.
With the exception of a state’s historic police powers, “state laws can be preempted by federal regulations as well as by federal statutes,” the judge ruled Tuesday.
The Plant Protection Act gives the Secretary of Agriculture authority to prohibit or restrict the importation, entry, exportation, or movement in interstate commerce of any plant, plant products, biological control organism, and noxious weed.
It also states that “no state or political subdivision of a state may regulate the movement in interstate commerce of any article, means of conveyance, plant, biological control organism, plant pest, noxious weed or plant product, in order to control a plant pest or noxious weed.”
States may regulate movement of plants and plant products only on two occasions: if the Secretary of Agriculture has issued such a regulation or order; or if the state demonstrates to the Secretary of Agriculture through sound scientific data or a thorough risk assessment that there is a special need for additional prohibitions.
Mollway also ruled that Maui’s ordinance “intrudes into the field of potentially dangerous plant regulation reserved exclusively to the state.”
“Any ordinance that conflicts with the intent of a state statute or legislates in an area already staked out by the legislature for exclusive and statewide statutory treatment is preempted by state law,” Mollway ruled.
She said the ruling is based on legal grounds and does not take a stand on whether GE organisms are good or bad, beneficial or dangerous.
Maui voters adopted the law by ballot initiative in November 2014.
It made it “unlawful for any person or entity to knowingly propagate, cultivate, raise, grow or test GE organisms within the County of Maui.”
Maui- and Molokai-based organizations sued in December, seeking summary judgment that the law is pre-empted by the state, by the federal government, and that it violates the Maui County Charter.
Mollway rejected the interveners’ argument that pre-emption issues are not ripe for adjudication.
She gave the county until July 10 to voluntarily dismiss or amend the County Charter claim.
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