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Mon., Feb. 28, 2011, 6 p.m.

WA Lege Day 50: The green grass of home

OLYMPIA – Washington homeowners would be restricted from putting fertilizer with phosphorus on healthy lawns under a bill that passed the House Monday.

Despite complaints from Republicans that homeowners are able to decide what fertilizer to put on their grass or that restrictions will send grass-growers across the border into Idaho for bootleg lawn spreads, Democrats passed a bill sought by Spokane and other cities seeking to cut down phosphorus in nearby lakes and streams.

Rep. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, the bill’s sponsor, said similar restrictions in other states have been successful in lowering phosphorus levels that boost algae growth. The bill allows phosphorus fertilizers for new lawns, restoring dead lawns, for golf courses and for agricultural uses; it requires stores to sell non-phosphorus fertilizer for healthy lawns.

“Phosphorus is necessary in some uses but it is not necessary for a healthy lawn,” Billig said.
Representatives from Eastern Washington dominated much of the debate...

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....with Republicans from suburban and rural areas arguing it was a bad idea. Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, argued a previous ban on phosphorus in dishwasher detergent sent his constituents across the border to the east. “The folks in Spokane Valley are going to go to Idaho again.”

Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, agreed, saying the bill should be renamed Idaho Development of Commerce Act. “We are exporting commerce…for things that sound good.”

Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy, said phosphorus applied properly binds in the roots and is not likely to run off. Algae growth in lakes is the result of many things, including human and animal waste, not just fertilizer.

“The citizens of this state are not idiots,” Rep. Charles Ross, R-Naches, said. “My neighbor can adequately figure out how to fertilize his 50-by-100 foot lawn.”

But Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon, said the bill has the support of retailers and cities, and is really about clean water: “If we don’t have drinkable water, we’re not going to have economic growth.”

And lawns will be just as green, said Billig, adding that he’s a part owner of the Spokane Indians baseball team: “We have the nicest patch of grass in all of Eastern Washington. It will be just as nice (after this bill becomes law) as before.”

The bill now goes to the Senate, which passed a similar bill last year.


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Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981. He is currently the political reporter and state government reporter in the newspaper's Olympia bureau office.

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