by A.J. Higgins
MPBN Radio news story
Environmental activists in Maine are looking back at the just-completed legislative session, assessing victories and defeats. Representatives of the Maine Environmental Priorities Coalition cited examples of 13 bills that they worked particularly hard to defeat in Augusta this session. Of those, six new laws were approved, including the elimination of the state’s pesticide notification registry and a partial easing of the state’s building and energy efficiency code.
Maine’s environmental lobby worked with state lawmakers this year to beat back numerous bills they say would have reversed much of the progress the state has made in consumer safety, air and water quality and energy efficiency. They also claim success in passing bills that provide safer alternatives to BPA, a chemical used in the production of household products, protection of vernal pools and new product stewardship laws designed to reduce waste and lower costs for local communities. But lawmakers fell short of maintaining environmental protections in several areas according to Maureen Drouin, Executive Director of the Maine Conservation Voters Education Fund.
“The reality is that some damage was done this session to our environment and public health and people and businesses across this state will feel the negative effects now and in the years to come,” Drouin said.
Drouin was one of the representatives of the Maine Environmental Priorities Coaltion, which called a statehouse press conference to review the wins and losses of the past session. Drouin says the group was unable to stop lawmakers from doing away with the pesticide notification registry, to support a bond effort to purchase more state land or to dismantle the Land Use Regulatory Commission that oversees development in Maine’s vast unorganized territories. But, Drouin said one of the inspiring high points of the session was the way that many citizens, advocacy groups and legislators collaborated to advance new public policy that will benefit consumers and the environment.
“Maine people from across the state and from many walks of life, spoke out to encourage lawmakers to maintain important environmental protections as a means of creating jobs and supporting Maine’s economy and Maine legislators came across party lines to say loud and clear that good jobs and a clean environmental go hand-in-hand,” said Drouin. “We must have both for Maine families and businesses to grow and thrive.”
Earlier this year, Governor Paul LePage (R) raised some eyebrows for an offhand comment about how products made with the chemical BPA, if place in a microwave, might cause women to grow little beards. The governor’s reluctance to recognize BPA as a potentially dangerous chemical led many environmentalists to fear that protections against the chemical might disappear. But Representative Melissa Walsh Innes, a Yarmouth Democrat, said her Environmental and Natural Resources Committee did not allow partisan politics to influence its decisions.
“When a major substantive rule came forward from the board of environmental protection to ban BPA from sippy cups and reusable containers, the ENR Committee overwhelmingly passed it,” Innes said. “BPA was the first chemical identified through Maine’s new chemical framework process and shows that it is working to reduce our exposure to the most concerning chemicals in our environment. Maine’s move to address chemical safety concerns signals to the market that now is the time to find safer alternatives to certain chemicals.”
Although the coalition members were happy with the Legislature’s stance on BPA, they were disappointed in what they said was a weakening of Maine’s Building and Energy Efficiency Codes. Richard Burbank, owner of Evergreen Home Performance in Rockland, said the Legislature’s decision to exempt over 400 Maine towns from the codes will result in serious energy waste. And Pete Didisheim, of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said that many of the communities exempted under the law are the precisely the ones that would benefit the most from new energy efficient housing.
“Instead, their housing is going to be substandard and potentially be wasting more of their precious dollars than in some of the larger and better-off communities,” Didisheim said.
Maureen Drouin said that while several contentious environmental bills were put on hold until next year, she’S optimistic that continued collaboration on both sides of the aisle would result in positive outcomes.