Majority of Rollbacks Rejected in Response to Overwhelming Opposition
As the Legislature adjourned this week, it left behind a pile of defeated environmental rollback bills that were deemed too extreme and too strongly opposed by Maine people to be enacted into law. “More bills were introduced this session to weaken or repeal Maine’s environmental laws than at any point in memory,” said NRCM Advocacy Director Pete Didisheim. “Fortunately, lawmakers made a series of good bipartisan decisions to reject most of these proposals, which would have threatened clean air, clean water, and the health of Maine people and our environment.”
Governor LePage’s proposed “Phase I Regulatory Reform Proposals” announced in late January marked the beginning of heightened controversy over whether Maine’s environmental laws should be drastically curtailed. The “Phase I” document included 63 proposals, most of which would have weakened or repealed environmental laws and regulations. “The Governor’s anti-environment agenda opened the floodgates for additional rollback proposals from legislators,” said Didisheim. “By early March, Maine faced the most sweeping anti-environment agenda that we have ever seen.”
NRCM this year tracked the “50 Most Anti-Environment Rollback Bills” introduced during the session. As lawmakers left town on June 29, they had voted down 37 of these bills, approved 8 of them, and deferred action until next year on five bills. All but a small handful of the Governor’s “Phase I” proposals also were rejected, once it became clear that they were out of step with the views of Maine people.
Highlights include legislators defeating bills that would:
- Weaken Maine’s bottle bill.
- Curtail shoreland zoning, which helps protect Maine’s lakes, rivers, and coastal waters.
- Reduce protections for vernal pools, which serve as important habitat for a broad range of wildlife.
- Suspend Maine’s renewable energy standards.
- Require Maine to leave the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative – the nation’s most important regional effort to reduce climate-changing pollution.
- Eviscerate the Kid-safe Products Act. The rollback bill was completely reworked to continue this important law to phase-out toxic chemicals in consumer products.
- Allow billboards in Maine.
“In general, legislators did their homework, paid attention to the science, recognized that a clean and healthy environment is vital to Maine’s economy, and listened to the views of Maine people,” said Didisheim.
Lawmakers opted for minor adjustments to improve the implementation of Maine’s environmental laws, rather than scrapping the laws. This was especially true with regulatory reform, an issue that was launched with sound and fury and ended in quiet bipartisan compromise and near-unanimous approval. The final regulatory reform bill, LD 1, focused on improving implementation of Maine’s environmental laws, and not on weakening them.
This outcome is consistent with polling data released by NRCM in March showing that 90% of Maine voters believe that protection of the environment should be a priority for the Legislature. The poll demonstrated strong opposition to specific rollback proposals introduced this year, with a full 50% of Maine voters indicating that they would be “very concerned” if they learned that their elected representative voted to weaken Maine’s environmental laws. Only 9% said that they would be “not concerned at all.”
Although NRCM is generally pleased with the hard work of legislators to keep Maine’s environmental laws intact, it also identified significant disappointments, including:
- Repealing Maine’s aerial pesticide notification program – which means that 2,000 people who signed up to be notified about pesticide applications by neighbors will not receive the information they wanted to help protect themselves and their families.
- Gutting Maine’s Uniform Building and Energy Code – through adoption of a bill that exempts all towns with a population less than 4,000, which is 40% of Maine. This change means that people in smaller towns likely will not be protected from substandard construction of new homes, resulting in high energy costs.
- Weakening environmental enforcement – through adoption of a six-year statute of limitation on all of Maine’s environmental laws. This change in law could result in transfer of environmental clean-up costs from businesses to Maine taxpayers.
Lawmakers generally failed to adopt forward-moving legislation on the environment and clean energy. The Legislature defeated bills that would have reinstated rebates for residential solar and wind energy systems; expanded commuter bus service in southern Maine; increased funding for energy efficiency; promoted plug-in hybrid vehicles; improved planning in Maine’s North Woods; ensured that toys are free of cadmium; and curbed pesticides at playgrounds and day care centers.
However, there were some positive environmental developments this session, including expansion of Maine’s electronic waste (e-waste) program to include small businesses, schools, and hospitals, and approval of rules to phase out the toxic chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) from some products.
“Stopping rollbacks is vital, but Maine also should build on the framework of laws that are successfully contributing to clean air, clean water, sustainable energy, and a healthy Maine environment,” said Didisheim. “Lawmakers fundamentally rejected the notion that Maine’s environment needs to be sacrificed in order to improve our economy. Instead, they affirmed the broadly-held view that Maine’s environment is our most important economic asset. Next session, we will be looking to the Legislature to build on Maine’s bipartisan laws that contribute to both economic prosperity and protection of our natural resources.”