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Light-green regulation?
Environmental managerialism and golf’s conspicuous exemption
in The greening of golf

This chapter looks at governments’ responses to concerns about golf’s environmental impacts. If the golf industry has indeed sought to manage impressions of its environmental record in the post-war years, the question becomes, how have those with regulatory authority responded to this? It is here where we focus especially on recent legislation in Ontario, Canada that exempted the golf industry from an otherwise stringent law on pesticide use for cosmetic reasons. In this chapter we also look beyond Ontario to understand the nature of environmental regulation at present in more general terms. We ultimately suggest that golf’s self-proclaimed leadership on environmental matters has been met by a desire among governments to find industry-friendly mechanisms for environmental regulation – one fits ‘hand in glove’ with the other. This has fomented what has been termed a ‘post-political’ situation whereby alternative, perhaps ‘radical’, ways of addressing environmental problems fall by the wayside in favour of light-green environmental strategies.

“Our generation has taken to the cosmetic use of pesticides and I think, perhaps unwittingly, not fully understanding the dangers it represents to ourselves and, most importantly, to our children” (Campbell, 2009).

This was the pronouncement of Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty – fittingly delivered on Earth Day, 2008 – as he prepared the public for his provincial government’s new environmental initiative. McGuinty’s view of pesticide risks may ring familiar: it is not unlike the frank admissions of many in the golf industry in recent decades that an irresponsible past in the realm of environmental sustainability needed to give way to a responsible present and future. Whereas the golf industry in turn adopted measures such as IPM in response to the perceived ‘dangers’ of chemicals, McGuinty’s Liberal government unveiled the Cosmetic Pesticides Ban Act.

To this point in The greening of golf, we have focused mainly on the activities of the golf industry itself. Although examining these activities is crucial for reasons that should be obvious by now, we think that studying and appraising responses by governments to questions about golf’s relationship with the environment is equally and perhaps even more important. We say this because golf industry members are, in our view, acting in mostly predictable ways – ways intended to ultimately preserve golf’s economic viability. By contrast, governments are typically compelled by a number of different causes (including, in theory, the cause of protecting the environment and public health) and hold the authority to dictate industry behaviour through legislation. In other words, then, industry leadership on environmental issues might be accepted or rendered moot depending on the decisions made by those working at different levels of government.

Ontario’s Cosmetic Pesticides Ban Act presents an interesting case in this regard. Surely to no one’s surprise, the governing Liberal Party in Ontario championed the merits of this Act – and especially its stringency – before and after its unveiling. Most notably, the government stressed that the law was the product of consultation with health experts such as the Canadian Cancer Society, and that it followed from the ‘convincing case’ they had heard for protecting against pesticide exposure (Ontario Ministry of the Environment, 2013). In turn, the Act was championed by health and environmental organizations as well. Environmentalist David Suzuki’s eponymously named Foundation suggested that, “the new ban has the potential to meaningfully protect human health and the environment from an unnecessary source of chemical exposures” (David Suzuki Foundation, n.d.). Peter Goodhand, CEO of the Ontario Division of the Canadian Cancer Society remarked: “This is a significant success in our efforts to further our mission to eradicate cancer” (CNW Group Ltd., 2009).

As its name suggests, the Cosmetic Pesticides Ban Act pertains to cosmetic pesticide uses, as opposed to non-cosmetic applications in, for example, agriculture. It therefore prohibited the use of pesticides for cosmetic reasons on lawns, vegetable/ornamental gardens, patios, driveways, cemeteries, and in parks and schoolyards across the province. The Act went on to ban more than 250 pesticides for sale and outlawed over ninety-five pesticide ingredients for cosmetic uses (Ontario Ministry of the Environment, 2009). The stringency of the law was also marked by a shortage of ‘excepted’ uses, or loopholes. For our purposes, however, one excepted use stood out: pesticides could still be deployed on the province’s golf courses. In a curious wrinkle, a law banning pesticides earned support from the pesticide-reliant golf industry.

To fully understand the Cosmetic Pesticides Ban Act and golf’s positioning within it, it is necessary to turn first to Canada’s evolving system of environmental (and especially pesticide) regulation. This, as we shall see, is an exercise in accounting for nuance: environmental regulation has in many ways become more stringent over the years in Canada while at the same time becoming more susceptible to industry influence. The argument we present in this chapter is that golf’s positioning in the Cosmetic Pesticides Ban Act is telling of environmental policy in general: it is representative of the turn to voluntarism in contemporary environmental regulatory systems, and of governments’ reliance on the ‘responsibility’ programmes that various industries have so carefully crafted. In other words, the light-greening of golf has been forged in a policy context open to light-green solutions.

Having also considered the intersections of golf, voluntarism, and regulation in the United States, we conclude this chapter with reflections on government-industry relations and the aforementioned concept of ‘post-politics’. We also situate our analysis of the arrival of responsible golf from Chapters 5, 6, and 7 along the PAAR continuum, thus placing it within the wider narrative of The greening of golf.

The exception in context: pesticide regulation in Canada

The Cosmetic Pesticides Ban Act was introduced into a Canadian regulatory system already laden with stipulations pertaining to the testing and approval of chemicals. These regulations can be divided into two broad categories for our purposes. One category includes ‘pre-market’ regulations that pertain to the fate of pesticides before they reach the applicator’s hands. This form of oversight falls within the remit of the country’s federal government. The second category includes ‘post-market’ regulations that pertain to the actual use of chemicals once in the applicator’s possession. Post-market regulation is for municipal and provincial governments to decide.

As Ivo Krupka (2000) recounts, the federal government’s involvement in (pre-market) pesticide legislation stretches as far back as the 1927 Act to Regulate the Sale and Inspection of Agricultural and Economic Poisons. The focus in this initial Act, however, was on combatting fraudulent claims regarding a pesticide’s purported merits. It was not until the post-war years, and specifically the 1969 PCPA, that legislative attention turned towards safeguarding both the environment and the Canadian citizenry.

As readers will have gleaned by this point, the timing in this regard was not coincidental. Apart from the ‘chemophobia’ inspired by Silent Spring and the general DDT fallout, the legislative imperative of the 1960s was one of reining in ‘big business’. This constituted a corrective to the liberal economic climate that preceded the Great Depression; in hindsight, it also makes for a stark historical contrast to the deregulatory turn in the decades that followed. Douglas MacDonald (2007) lists some key exemplars of the turn to dirigisme in the 1960s: restrictions on cigarette sales, heightened attention to automobile design, tightening of food and drug regulations, and efforts to control pollution, to name a few. Canada’s 1969 Pest Control Products Act stands as a key contribution along these lines. In combination with the PCP Regulations that passed three years later, the Act set out that pesticides could not be imported or sold in Canada without registration and sufficient labelling. Successful registration required (industry-supplied) data on a ‘control’ product’s environmental and health-related risks, as well as information on its value and efficacy (Hughes, 2000). A theme was thus instituted that would remain in place to this day: that federal pesticide legislation should account for economics and health at the same time.

This does not mean, however, that pesticide regulation at the federal level was impervious to change. The most significant modifications came in the mid-1990s with the formation of the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA), and in the early- to mid-2000s with the rewriting of the PCPA. As David Boyd recounts, there were many perceived problems with the old PCPA at this time:

The PCPA and its regulations were criticized for not considering multiple sources of exposure, total exposure, or cumulative effects; not assessing formulants (chemicals mixed with the active ingredients); not considering impacts on vulnerable groups, particularly infants and children; not requiring regular review and reevaluation or postregistration monitoring; not providing opportunities for public involvement; lacking a national compliance strategy; not requiring companies to report the results of new research indicating adverse effects; not including pest reduction as a goal; and not requiring the availability of less harmful substitutes to be considered in registration decisions.

(Boyd 2003, 120–121)

The Canadian system was furthermore seen to be lacking in comparison to those of other countries, and to be opaque when it came to sharing information with the public.

The new PCPA took aim at many of these problems. For example, in the government’s eyes it supported risk reduction “by ensuring that only pesticides that make a useful contribution to pest management are registered and by expediting the registration of lower-risk products” (Health Canada, 2006). Among other measures, it was also established that ‘pest control products’ would be re-evaluated on a fifteen-year cycle, meaning new science could pick up on problems overlooked in times’ past. The opacity question was addressed through public consultations and a public registry (Health Canada, 2006). In short, and as Boyd wrote around the time this new framework was being crafted, “The new PCPA creates a modern system for the evaluation, registration, labelling, import, and export of pesticides” (Boyd, 2003: 120).

At the heart of the revised regulatory system was, and remains, the PMRA, a body situated within the wider agency Health Canada. Created in 1995, the PMRA is responsible for administering the PCPA. By way of Health Canada’s own description, the PMRA’s role is “to determine if proposed pesticides can be used safely when label directions are followed and will be effective for their intended use” (Health Canada, 2013). Thus, the PMRA evaluates industry-supplied science in order to assess the toxicity of a given pesticide (i.e. a ‘risk assessment’) as well as its potential utility (a ‘value assessment’ – see Parliament of Canada, 2000, Chapter 1). The agency thus retains the dual focus in pesticide regulation on economics and health that began with the formation of the PCPA in the 1960s. These twin priorities are further codified in the PMRA’s advisory bodies: the Economic Management Advisory Committee, housing representatives from industry; and the Pest Management Advisory Council, replete with spokespeople from health, environmental, and consumer groups, and from industry as well. As we shall see, this dual focus has not come without controversy.

From pre- to post-market: municipal and provincial oversight

Canada’s pre-market regulatory system is therefore built around a host of important actors: the Health Minister (working within Health Canada), the PMRA, advisory bodies, scientists reviewing pesticide studies, and of course industry, who supply research in support of their products. The question remains: what of the fate of chemicals once in the possession of applicators such as golf course superintendents? The post-market use of chemicals, as noted, is a matter for provincial and municipal governments. It is also where Ontario’s 2009 Cosmetic Pesticides Ban Act becomes relevant.

The basic principle by which provinces and municipalities must abide is that legislation may further restrict, but never relax, the permitted uses of a product according to federal regulators. As Boyd writes, “All provinces have laws governing the sale, use, transportation, storage, and disposal of pesticides, as well as emergencies such as spills” (Boyd, 2003: 123). He adds that for industrial uses, sellers and applicators are often required to obtain certificates and permits, and in some cases education and training as well. Historically, consumers have been mostly unencumbered in their quest to obtain chemicals for deployment on private property. This has changed, however, in the wake of recent legislation.

Perhaps the most significant event in the history of post-market pesticide regulation in Canada came in 1991, when the small town of Hudson, Quebec passed legislation stopping the use of non-essential chemicals within its boundaries. If such a decision in a town of less than 5,000 people at first glance seems inconsequential, for chemical producers and applicators it was evidently an unsettling precedent in the making. The protracted legal battle that followed was one that mobilized both pro- and anti-chemical antagonists from far afield (McAllister, 2004: 122). The outcome of the case, not settled until 2001, was a 9-0 decision from the Supreme Court of Canada in favour of the municipality. The non-essential use of pesticides was outlawed.

Hudson’s fate was therefore settled, yet there were broader ramifications still. Most significantly, Hudson indeed set a precedent, for in the wake of the Hudson verdict municipalities across Canada devised similar laws. A noteworthy case along these lines came in the mid-2000s when Toronto, Canada’s largest city, enacted a municipal ban on cosmetic pesticides. As in Hudson, supporters and opponents of the ban prepared for a confrontation. On one side, the Toronto Environmental Alliance fervently advocated for new legislation, at first by canvassing the city for support from the public (Porter, 2013), and later by defending the ban in court. In carrying out the latter act they were flanked by other health and environmental groups, such as the Canadian Environmental Law Association, Environmental Defence, and the Ontario College of Family Physicians. On the other side stood CropLife Canada, a trade association representing the manufacturers, developers and distributors of ‘plant science technologies’ such as ‘pest control products’ (CropLife Canada, 2013a), and one motivated to challenge the by-law in Canada’s Supreme Court. CropLife’s President commented: “Municipal regulation that restricts the use of registered pest control products works at cross-purposes to the federal regulatory regime for pest control products and deprives the public access to beneficial products” (CropLife Canada, 2013b). In CropLife Canada’s view, the above-described pre-market regulatory system was stringent enough (see Sandberg and Foster, 2005).

Nonetheless, Toronto’s by-law survived CropLife Canada v. City of Toronto. And in that the precautionary principle was called forth in both the Hudson and Toronto cases – that is, the notion of striving for harm prevention even in the absence of final evidence about, for example, a pesticide’s capacity to inflict harm (e.g. see Boyd, 2003: 125; Canadian Environmental Law Association, 2012a) – an interventionary regulatory climate was ostensibly taking hold.

Yet if we zoom out from the municipal to the provincial level, the picture in the mid-2000s was one of a regulatory patchwork: municipalities were acting on their own accord, and not in harmony. The partial effect of the Cosmetic Pesticides Ban Act was to overlay Ontario with blanket legislation. To be sure, environmental groups persisted in calling for further intervention (i.e. beyond changes in the federal PCPA). Writing in the Canadian Journal of Public Health, Neil Arya (2005) recounted common pesticide-related concerns: continued exposure to pesticides on the part of ‘vulnerable’ groups such as children and pregnant women; the possibility for multiple and/or chronic exposures; uncertainty surrounding pesticides’ endocrine effects; and the PMRA’s reliance on industry-supplied data in chemical reviews. Public health officials, Arya concluded, must therefore be heard: “Their voice should be measured, credible, allowing uncertainty as to the precise magnitude of effects, but they certainly must support a ban on any and every non-essential pesticide use” (Arya, 2005: 92).

In 2008, a collection of well-known health and environmental organizations released a joint statement in support of province-wide legislation. In doing so, groups such as the David Suzuki Foundation, the Canadian Cancer Society, the Ontario College of Family Physicians, and the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment reported survey evidence that 71 per cent of Ontarians are in favour of province-wide restrictions on pesticides and that environmental protection is the top priority for those living within Ontario’s boundaries (Canadian Environmental Law Association, 2012b).

Representatives of the chemical industry voiced their perspectives on the implications of province-wide pesticide legislation as well. For example, spokespeople for MREP Communications – who themselves represent applicators of synthetic and organic products – and, once again, CropLife Canada, expressed their views to a provincial Standing Committee on Social Policy in June 2008 (many of the above-noted health/environmental groups did the same; see Legislative Assembly of Ontario, 2008). CropLife Canada also made their policy submissions pertaining to the Bill available online, expressing therein (among other things) the already stringent nature of Canada’s regulatory system and their support for exemptions for a variety of stakeholders – the golf industry among them. Pesticides, they stressed, were being unfairly stigmatised, while the legislative climate risked stifling innovation (CropLife Canada, 2009). More broadly, CropLife Canada has positioned itself as an environmental caretaker, much as health and environmental groups have over the years. This includes listing on their website precise ways in which the plant science industry is “protecting people and the planet” (CropLife Canada, 2013c).

Ultimately, the Cosmetic Pesticides Ban Act would not be impeded. As noted, the government named the Canadian Cancer Society specifically in claiming they had followed medical expertise (Ontario Ministry of the Environment, 2013).

A conspicuous exemption: golf and Ontario’s new law

It might be expected that the golf industry too would mount a defence against Ontario’s new law. Even with the ‘greening’ of golf, the industry had not abandoned pesticides. As we have seen, so too had golf industry representatives spoken out against government intervention in the past.

Yet in the time before the Cosmetic Pesticides Ban Act became law, golf associations of various stripes outwardly supported it. As Ken Cousineau (2008), Executive Director of the Canadian Golf Superintendents’ Association (CGSA), explained, the support of groups such as the CGSA, the National Golf Course Owners Association, and the Royal Canadian Golf Association was based on two factors. First, the passage of municipal anti-pesticide bylaws in recent years in their view made for ‘piecemeal’ legislation, and in turn engendered regional inconsistencies and forced “the golf industry to utilize a significant volume of resources lobbying municipalities” (Cousineau, 2008: 45). Overarching provincial legislation was deemed a remedy for this problem. Second, and presumably more important, golf was to be exempted.

To be specific, golf courses were and are conditionally exempted from the Cosmetic Pesticides Ban Act, provided they follow what the McGuinty government described as “tough new rules” (Ontario Ministry of the Environment, 2009). Golf courses were required to prepare an annual report on their pesticide usage and convey this to the public at an annual newspaper-advertised meeting. More significantly, by 2012 golf courses were required to obtain accreditation in IPM, the turf management system described in preceding chapters that urges reduced chemical usage through a combination of targeted spraying and, where possible, non-chemical alternatives. The gambit, then, on the part of the provincial government, was not to deny the golf industry pesticides registered through federal regulation, but to leverage industry’s scientific expertise in the realm of course management. Indeed, IPM, as we have seen, has been key to the golf industry’s ecological modernization project. In the view of the IPM Council of Canada – the body responsible for administering IPM accreditation – “science has shown IPM ensures environmental sustainability and minimizes the requirement for pesticides” (IPM Council of Canada, 2013a).

As MacDonald (2007) notes, it is difficult to ascertain with complete certainty whether and the extent to which policy makers are swayed by lobbyists. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that the IPM provision was one clearly favoured by industry in the prelude to the Cosmetic Pesticides Ban Act. As CGSA Director Ken Cousineau wrote in 2008, the CGSA, Royal Canadian Golf Association, National Golf Course Owners Association, and two Ontario-based turfgrass groups offered responses to the government’s initial proposals on the law. One shared element across their replies was that municipalities indeed be prohibited from adopting more stringent laws – a caveat that was ultimately adopted (see Ontario Ministry of the Environment, 2013). The other response, wrote Cousineau, was that “IPM certification be the requirement established by the legislation and the standard to which all golf facilities in Ontario should be held in order to have full access to the use of approved products” (Cousineau, 2008: 45). After all, in the preceding decades, IPM had already become an established ‘best practice’ in environmental management. In that these recommendations were ultimately adopted, the long arc of golf’s professionalization was paying dividends.

Managing the environment in a time of ‘environmental managerialism’

How can we make sense of golf’s conspicuous exemption from the Cosmetic Pesticides Ban Act? The ‘light-greening’ of golf that we have described in previous chapters – the fact that golf industry members pursued ecological modernization (EM) in order to position themselves as responsible environmental stewards – is no doubt important. The McGuinty government was not dealing with just any industry, but rather one that was keen to profess its environmental credentials.

But this, we argue, only accounts for part of the story. The sensibilities of governments, and indeed their sometimes-competing responsibilities, are equally important. Industry stewardship, if it is to exist at all, requires a welcoming hand.

We can turn to both theory and empiricism in explaining the policy side of golf’s place in the Cosmetic Pesticides Ban Act. Theoretically, John Hannigan (2006) uses the term ‘environmental managerialism’ to point to the perceived need among governments in contemporary times to balance economic and environmental concerns. That is to say, governments now inherently face a ‘dual mandate’: there are simultaneous pressures towards dirigisme in the name of environmental protection and deregulation in the name of private sector growth. The result, in Hannigan’s view, are policies that gesture towards environmentalism while ensuring, to the greatest extent possible, that growth is indeed realized. In Hannigan’s words:

[G]‌overnments often engage in a process of ‘environmental managerialism’ in which they attempt to legislate a limited degree of protection sufficient to deflect criticism [e.g. about environmental concerns] but not significant enough to derail the engine of economic growth. By enacting environmental policies that are complex, ambiguous and open to exploitation … the state reaffirms its commitments to strategies for promoting economic development.

(Hannigan, 2006: 21; see Redclift, 1986)

Hannigan’s observations hark back to the criticism that EM – and particularly its ‘weak’ variant – is overly trusting of corporate responsibility. EM is, after all, typically reliant on a decentralized governance style, which is to say one that mobilizes industry proactivity as a solution to environmental problems (Berger et al., 2001).

Empirically, while a credible case can be made that Canada’s pesticide regulatory system has moved along a progressive, linear trajectory in the post-war years (a case we have made above), there are complexities that also need be considered. Most of all, scholars such as Boyd (2003), MacDonald (2007), and McKenzie (2002) highlight the mounting use of voluntarism as a policy instrument when it comes to environmental regulation in Canada in general – as well as the often negative effects of voluntarism on Canada’s system of environmental oversight.

In the most direct sense, voluntarism has meant embracing voluntary environmental programmes. Boyd writes, “For example, instead of passing laws or regulations to govern greenhouse gas emission, reduce smog, increase motor vehicle fuel efficiency, or require energy-efficient buildings, the federal government made voluntary agreements with industry” (Boyd, 2003: 243). A programme instituted at the national level in 1995 entitled The Climate Change Voluntary Challenge and Registry Program is a case in point (Government of Canada, n.d.) – one that Boyd characterized eight years later as deeply unproductive. MacDonald lists several potential causes for the transition to voluntarism in Canadian governance that took hold especially in the 1990s, including the perception that law-based regulation was not working to, for example, curb pollution, the wider deregulatory climate of the day, and, most difficult to discern with complete certainty, the lobbying pressure of business groups. Whatever their cause, MacDonald is in turn critical of voluntarism’s effectiveness: “While some new regulatory initiatives were put in place, for the most part governments were unable or unwilling to do more than ask politely for voluntary improvements in environmental performance” (MacDonald, 2007: 172).

These observations hint at the second side of voluntarism: budgetary cutbacks. With a federal election looming in 1993, both the incumbent Conservatives and soon-to-be governing Liberals appeared ready to act on the environmental side of their ‘dual mandate’, to borrow from Hannigan’s description of environmental managerialism. What followed, however, was an ‘unprecedented downsizing’ of environmental departments, including a 30 per cent cut to Environment Canada’s budget by 1998 (Boyd, 2003: 239). Cutbacks have come again more recently under the aegis of Stephen Harper’s Conservative government (see Leahy, 2011; May, 2012). All told, McKenzie (2002) labels the post-1996 era one of ‘deregulation, destaffing, defunding, and voluntary compliance’ when it comes to environmental policy. Of course, Hannigan’s description of environmental managerialism and the empirical turn to voluntarism across the past two decades are interrelated: voluntarism is a mechanism to assuage the tensions inhered in governments’ dual economic/environmental mandate.

The most direct interpretation of how these critical assessments of Canadian environmental policy pertain to the Cosmetic Pesticides Ban Act is one that sees golf’s exemption as a case of voluntarism at work. In one sense, the IPM Accreditation Program (IPMAP) in which golf courses must now enrol, is built (as the name suggests) on IPM: a system with no definitive guidelines on how much or what kind of chemicals should be utilized, but rather one that suggests the use of chemicals when necessary, which in theory means when other tactics (e.g. biological or cultural control) have proven ineffective. In another sense, IPMAP itself began as an industry-led programme (IPM Council of Canada, 2013b). The IPM Council of Canada, which oversees IPMAP, is composed of representatives from various turf-related industries – including representatives from the golf industry and from CropLife Canada (IPM Council of Canada, 2013a). The latter organization, you may recall, was noted above for their staunch opposition to recent pesticide legislation. In other words, the opponents of pesticide legislation have themselves become regulatory agents.

The point here is not to speculate on the precise decisions that members of the IPM Council make regarding golf course accreditation. Though intuitively it makes sense for individuals from groups such as CropLife Canada to favour the ongoing use of chemicals on golf courses, it is at least possible that in their role on the IPM Board they act precisely as any other observer would. The point is not even to criticize these groups; it is to be expected that they would desire influence in the pesticide regulatory system. The point is that the principles of voluntarism have found their way into the process of regulating pesticides on golf courses in Ontario, much as they have infiltrated other aspects of environmental regulation in Canada in recent years (MacDonald, 2007). Thus, whereas Premier Dalton McGuinty stressed that his government listened to medical experts in devising the Cosmetic Pesticides Ban Act, the Liberal Party evidently overlooked the recommendation of the Canadian Cancer Society, among other health and environmental organizations, to ban pesticides on golf courses too (Canadian Cancer Society, 2013; also see Bachand and Gue, 2011). Moreover, the Canadian Cancer Society does not support integrated pest management in cases of cosmetic applications – recognizing as it does that IPM pledges only to reduce, and not eliminate, pesticide usage. Society representatives have stated, clearly and unequivocally, that “in practice [IPM] does not work as its principles are vague and open to interpretation” (Kaminsky and Seely, 2011).

Of course, golf course pesticides are still regulated; post-market restrictions operate alongside the federal government’s pre-market regulatory apparatus. This point is not without merit when made by groups opposing pesticide legislation. But this analysis has another layer. The federal system of pesticide regulation has also faced criticism, and indeed from a noteworthy source.

Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development

Specifically, in 2000, a Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development in the Canadian House of Commons released a report on federal pesticide oversight. The committee made a number of recommendations, some of which were indeed reflected in the aforementioned revisions to the PCPA in the mid-2000s – for example, for heightened transparency in the chemical review process. But the Standing Committee’s main point was a radical one: it was to problematize the very existence of the PMRA, the agency in Health Canada administering the federal PCPA. The Committee chair made this clear in his preface to the report:

We looked at the current system of regulating pesticides in Canada and we asked ourselves whether it is possible for one agency, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA), to perform two virtually conflicting tasks, namely that of approving chemical pesticides as requested by industry while at the same time regulating them in order to protect human health. We asked ourselves whether it is possible to strike a balance between economic and health protection goals.

(Parliament of Canada, 2000: Chair’s preface to the report)

The answer in the Committee’s estimation was evidently “no” – it was not possible to strike a satisfactory balance in this way. Ultimately, the PMRA’s Economic Management Advisory Committee – composed as it was of industry representatives and tasked with advising on efficiency, cost-effectiveness and competitiveness – “unduly tilts the balance in favour of trade and economics” according to the report (Parliament of Canada, 2000: Chapter 15, Institutional changes). Put simply, in the view of the Committee’s government officials, “the PMRA should not be in the business of supporting industry competitiveness” (Parliament of Canada, 2000: Chapter 2, The need for new legislation). As such, they ultimately recommended the dissolution of the Economic Management Advisory Committee in the interest of public health (Parliament of Canada, 2000: Recommendations). It is hard to imagine a clearer description of environmental managerialism, the idea that governments face a dual and oftentimes conflicting mandate on health and economics.

In the end, radically restructuring the PMRA was not adopted as a course of action. At the time of this writing, the Economic Management Advisory Committee evidently remains in place and flush with representatives from companies such as Syngenta, Monsanto Nufarm, and DuPont Canada (Health Canada, 2012). It is of course possible that, behind the scenes, the authority of this Advisory Committee has been hindered. But the point made in the government review speaks to an apparent conflict of interest lying in the Economic Management Advisory Committee’s very existence. This is in addition to the smaller-scale conflict – also noted by the Standing Committee – lying in the PMRA’s exclusive reliance on industry-supplied science in the registration process. There are also reports that voluntarism’s other arm – funding cuts – have reached the PMRA as well. For example, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives recently reported that a hundred PMRA jobs belonging mainly to biologists had been affected by budgetary cutbacks (Nelson, 2014; also see Krupka, 2000: 255).

Canada’s regulatory framework for pesticides is thus suffused with complexity. It should not be forgotten that Ontario’s Cosmetic Pesticides Ban Act was widely lauded. But golf’s exemption from this act tells an important story. It tells a story of a regulatory context that has grown more thorough in the policing of chemicals in some ways and more open to self-policing on the part of businesses in others. In addition it tells a story about golf itself: golf’s adoption of greener practices makes sense in a context where governments are indeed searching for responsible partners upon which to download regulatory responsibility. Golf’s exceptional status in Ontario’s cosmetic pesticide law is in fact unexceptional once contextualized in this way.

(Voluntary) regulation beyond Ontario

Ontario’s Cosmetic Pesticides Ban Act is not without compare. Outside Canada’s largest province, golf has earned conditional exemptions in provincial pesticide bans in Quebec, Alberta, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador (Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, 2012). Legislation similar to Ontario’s was also under consideration recently by a committee in British Columbia composed of members of the provincial Legislative Assembly.

Ahead of the British Columbia committee’s verdict, Canada’s National Allied Golf Association (NAGA) urged that golf should once again receive special status. Their reasoning at this point might be predicted; it included, for example, information on golf’s adoption of IPM, on the obtainment of Audubon certification by some courses, and on golf’s substantial economic impact (NAGA, 2011). The idea of exempting golf specifically was ultimately rendered moot: the committee recommended against any province-wide ban on cosmetic pesticides, whether on golf courses or not (CBC News, 2012). It did, however, make a golf-related recommendation: “Ask the golf industry to develop a province-wide certification process, or to modify an existing one, that will ensure a high standard of pesticide use by all golf courses in BC, including the use of IPM principles” (Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, 2012: 52). The language of ‘ask’ and ‘certification’, and the promotion of IPM are all consonant with the principles of voluntarism.

Moreover, the legislative landscape surrounding golf is not entirely dissimilar in the American context. In one sense, both federal and state governments are involved in regulating chemicals:

[The Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA] and the states (usually that state’s agriculture office) register or license pesticides for use in the United States. EPA receives its authority to register pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). States are authorized to regulate pesticides under FIFRA and under state pesticide laws. States may place more restrictive requirements on pesticides than EPA. Pesticides must be registered both by EPA and the state before distribution.

(EPA, 2014b)

The EPA was originally formed in 1970 at the behest of Republican President Richard Nixon. As David Kinkela (2011) recounts, Nixon was moved by the great success of Earth Day in 1970, and by the political potential of acting on the environmental concerns of the time. FIFRA, similar to Canada’s Pest Control Products Act, came about in the early 1970s as well, mainly in response to the lingering DDT controversy (Schroeder, 2011: 262).

In another sense, environmental regulation in the United States has been subject to the whims of ‘pendulum politics’ (Andrews, 2006), much as it has moved between stringency and leniency-through-voluntarism in Canada over time. The making of the EPA swung the pendulum in one direction in the 1970s, though in the early 1980s President Ronald Reagan mounted what Richard Andrews characterizes as a campaign against environmental regulation. Acting in the spirit of Reagan’s small government ideology, Reagan’s budget director, David Stockman, mobilized a policy of deregulation, defunding, and devolution:

Deregulation meant not simply regulatory reform or consolidation, but halting outright the growth of federal regulations, and relaxing existing ones that were targeted as especially burdensome by the regulated industries. Defunding meant drastic cuts in the regulatory agencies’ budgets, along with large tax cuts to prevent future spending. Devolution meant turning over as many functions as possible to state and local governments, or to voluntary action if state and local governments were unwilling to accept them.

(Andrews, 2006: 257; emphasis in original)

The pendulum would swing yet again in the mid-1980s as part of the backlash to these measures – for example, Congress passed a range of environmental laws and amendments while the EPA increasingly sought harsh penalties for environmental infractions (p. 256).

Yet even as the pendulum ‘swung back’ towards governmental authority – sometimes termed ‘command-and-control’ environmental politics – a movement was afoot, as in Canada, to find environmental solutions that could leverage industry expertise. In Aseem Prakash and Matthew Potoski’s assessment, a shift was under way in the 1980s and 1990s from reliance on centralized governance, technology specification, and the enforcement of complex laws, “to finding incentives to induce firms voluntarily to undertake environmentally progressive action” (Prakash and Potoski, 2006: 11). The Pollution Prevention Act of 1990, for example, ultimately left the implementation of pollution prevention in the hands of industry and voluntarily enacted initiatives (Andrews, 2006: 265).

Moving from environmental regulation in general to pesticide regulation in particular, the latter has not escaped the politics of voluntarism in the United States either. Perhaps the best case in point in this regard is the Pesticide Environmental Stewardship Program (PESP), established in 1994. As explained by the EPA:

PESP is a voluntary membership and grants program that works with the nation’s pesticide-user community to reduce human health and environmental risks associated with pesticide use. PESP and its sub-initiatives promote the adoption of innovative, alternative pest control practices such as IPM. PESP is guided by the principle that voluntary programs complement the standards and decisions established by regulatory and registration actions. The informed actions of pesticide users can further reduce the risks from pests and pesticides by playing a major role in ensuring human health and environmental safety.

(EPA, 2013a)

PESP is in fact part of a family of voluntary and grant-giving pesticide-themed programmes offered by the EPA. The GCSAA joined in this programme in 1995. In 2002, the GCSAA was named a PESP champion: “GCSAA was selected as a Champion for providing education and information to its members that enable them to effectively utilize pesticides as one tool in IPM programs for golf course maintenance” (Anon., 2003: 17). The GCSAA currently holds a ‘Gold’ membership with PESP – a designation that recognizes ‘outstanding’ environmental stewardship (and specifically, once again, the successful use of IPM – see EPA, 2012). The USGA holds ‘Silver’ membership for its ‘higher’ environmental achievements (EPA, 2013b).

Once again, the point is not that voluntary programmes are the sole means for controlling pesticides on golf courses and beyond. The point is that in a context where governments must show a commitment to environmentalism without unduly constraining industry, and where industries seek profits while needing to profess their green sensibilities, voluntary environmental programmes emerge as palatable options on both sides.

Of course, golf’s environmental impacts extend beyond pesticides specifically, and include matters such as land and water usage as well. The EPA has thus at times shown concern for golf in general – the best example being the formation of a document entitled ‘Environmental principles for golf courses in the United States’ in the mid-1990s. The principles were in fact endorsed by a wide range of interested parties: the EPA, USGA, GCSAA, and environmental groups such as Audubon International and the National Wildlife Federation, among other organizations. They pertained to matters from planning and siting to designing and constructing to maintaining and operating a golf course in the interest of the environment. Sound maintenance, for example, involved employing IPM and using “native, naturalized or specialized drought-tolerant plant materials wherever possible” (USGA, n.d.). Good design involved, among other measures, striking a balance between accommodating environmentally sensitive areas, playability, and aesthetics. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these principles were explicitly said to be voluntary:

The principles are meant to be used as a guide to making good decisions relative to the planning and siting, design, construction, maintenance and operation of a golf course. They are voluntary, and should be interpreted as representing a whole philosophy of good environmental design and management rather than specific dictates, each of which must be met in all cases. It is hoped that the principles will be widely adopted and used to improve the level of environmental awareness, practice, dialogue, and quality achieved within the game of golf.

(USGA, n.d.)

Conclusion: the light-greening of golf, complete

The thread that runs through the different initiatives described in this chapter is the adoption of self-governance mechanisms on the part of industries with a contentious environmental past. As noted above, voluntarism has been spurred by a number of factors. It has also had many advocates.

In the face of potential regulatory alternatives – for example, banning pesticides outright or severely restricting their use by outlining specific conditions and quantities in which they can be deployed – the golf industry might offer the plausible rejoinder that golf courses are different from one another, and thus have differing maintenance needs. Industry representatives might add that the public continues to expect idyllic golfing conditions in exchange for their green fees (remember Augusta National syndrome). Andrews (1998) notes that apart from potential environmental benefits, self-regulation can have financial merits – for example, in leading to reduced waste and energy costs. Coverage in the trade publication Golf Course Management of the GCSAA’s involvement in the EPA’s PESP moreover offers what some might see as a heartening vision of industry and government officials constructively discussing environmental best practices with equal authority. As the article concluded, having already described a process of reciprocal industry-government dialogue, “GCSAA will continue to work to strengthen its relationship with the agency and provide data and information the EPA needs to make sound decisions on golf course products” (Riordan, 2003: 32).

Yet the political instrumentation of voluntarism has engendered criticism as well. A concern in principle about voluntary environmental programmes is their potential toothlessness. As Jill Harrison argues in her analysis of pesticide drift in the United States, voluntarism typically offers little by way of punitive recourse: “incorporating sanctions would undermine the ‘voluntary’ and industry-friendly quality that compels firms to participate in [self-regulation] programs in the first place” (Harrison, 2011: 57). There is a concern too that ‘success stories’ can draw undue attention. MacDonald (2007) points to an EPA initiative that began in 1988 called 33/50, which invited 7,500 companies to reduce the release and transfer of seventeen priority chemicals (e.g. mercury and mercury compounds) by 33 per cent by 1992 and 50 per cent by 1995 (also see EPA, 1999). The EPA hailed the programme as a success in the end; indeed, two thirds of the 500 largest invited companies ultimately participated. MacDonald takes a less optimistic view, noting that a full third of large firms faced no regulatory pressure at all (MacDonald, 2007: 144; also see Webb and Clarke, 2004). There is a concern as well that the positioning of financial benefits as extra incentive on top of environmental ones calls to light the possibility that environmental action will be viewed through a cost-benefit lens, and that businesses can thus make rational choices by eschewing environmental best practices (e.g. see Leiss, 2003). This tension between profits and environmental stewardship was not lost on the aforementioned Parliamentary Standing Committee in Canada that recommended abolishing the PMRA’s economic focus at the beginning of the 2000s.

In golf, the effectiveness of regulatory mechanisms such as the Ontario Cosmetic Pesticides Ban Act remains to be seen. Yet groups that have sought more stringent pesticide legislation such as the American organization Beyond Pesticides have also pointed to recent legislation in Denmark that calls for specific ‘impact ceilings’ when it comes to the usage of different pesticides (see R&A, 2013). What is most noteworthy in the context of this discussion is that this recent legislative imperative follows on the heels of a voluntary agreement, initiated in 2005, in which Danish golf courses were urged to reduce their pesticide usage to 0.1 kg of active substance per hectare. The measured figure in 2009 was in fact 0.24 kg of active substance per hectare, and so the voluntary arrangement was found unsuccessful. As Beyond Pesticides (2011) notes, a stricter long-term plan for phasing out pesticides was thus deemed necessary.

Yet beyond these debates over voluntarism, our analysis in this chapter reveals a broader point: the completion of golf’s post-politicization when it comes to the environment. Post-politics, as described in previous chapters, involves the displacement of contentious politics in favour of multi-stakeholder consensuses. This requires, in one direction, those historically placed in a defensive position on environmental issues to adopt a proactive environmental stance – to effectively say, ‘we are not the cause of environmental harm, but rather a source of environmental protection’. In the other direction, it requires policy makers to accept a populist notion of imminent environmental danger; in Hannigan’s (2006) terms, it requires that governments adopt an environmental mandate in addition to their existing economic one. But, as Eric Swyngedouw writes in his discussion of post-politics and the environment, the latter mandate not only accompanies, but also typically sets boundaries for the former:

The architecture of populist governing takes the form of stakeholder participation or forms of participatory governance that operates beyond the state and permits a form of self-management, self-organization and controlled self-disciplining (see Dean, 1999; Lemke, 1999), under the aegis of a non-disputed liberal-capitalist order.

(Swyngedouw, 2010: 223 emphasis added)

For example, that new golf courses might be built in Ontario in the name of economic expansion, and thus affect the overall use of pesticides in the province, falls outside the boundaries of the Ontario Cosmetic Pesticides Ban Act.

In his 1964 response to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Gene C. Nutter, writing as executive director of the GCSAA, fretted over heightened governmental control: “the threat of increased governmental controls is a threat to greater freedom of action in our country and to the necessary use of essential agricultural tools” (Nutter, 1964: 50). In the subsequent decades, the golf industry would adopt: (a) measures for building and treating golf courses in a ‘sustainable’ fashion; (b) measures for expressing to the public their progress in this regard; and (c) measures for engaging governments proactively and directly. Governments, for their part, carefully balanced their ‘dual mandate’, though by the 1990s were doing so largely through voluntary environmental measures. By 1994, GCSAA President Joseph Baidy could express a more optimistic view than Nutter once did: “our ongoing contacts with government officials allow us to help shape realistic regulations, responsibly minimizing the burden of compliance where possible” (Baidy, 1994: 7).

Thinking across our analysis in The greening of golf, the developments described in Chapters 5, 6, and 7 constitute an ‘alter-golf’ response to concerns over golf’s environmental impacts (see Figure 1 from Chapter 2). The Promethean, or pro-golf – response described in Chapters 3 and 4 hinged on a belief in humankind’s implicit right to manipulate the earth and to reign over surrounding non-humans. The alter-golf response described since then places tremendous value on nature. But it also values humankind’s ability to protect nature where necessary, and to improve it where possible. A golf course, by Audubon International’s telling, can be a sanctuary for wildlife. Said otherwise, this is a vision of reformism bound together with the principles of ecological modernization: golf’s potential flaws are recognized, but are counter-balanced by industry’s ability to adopt a leadership position on environmental issues. Were governments not willing to recognize industry leadership in this case, golf’s professed environmental stewardship would be moot. Golf’s ‘light-greening’ has been a two-way street.

To be sure, some things remain in place from golf’s earlier Promethean age. This is not an outright rejection of golf – an ‘anti-golf’ response – as the dominant view remains that golf is good, and that the golf industry should continue to grow unabated. Neither is this a transformative ‘alter-golf’ response in which synthetic chemicals are fully excised from the superintendent’s ‘arsenal’. In the two chapters that follow, we turn our attention to these ‘darker-green’ points of view.

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The greening of golf

Sport, globalization and the environment


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