by Susan Sharon
MPBN radio news story
The sponsor of a bill that environmentalists say would dramatically weaken Maine’s Kid Safe Products Act acknowledged today that the chemical industry drafted the language. Republican Rep. Jim Hamper says the proposed reforms are necessary to improve the act, which he thinks is overly broad and creates uncertainty in the business community. The LePage administration supports the bill, but is also supporting another measure that’s being billed as a “compromise.”
Overwhelmingly approved by Maine lawmakers three years ago, the Kid Safe Products Act was designed to protect Maine children from toxic chemicals in consumer products. The law directs state toxicologists to review science on chemicals, identify the most hazardous to children’s health and bring proposals for restricting them to the Board of Environmental Protection, which can adopt rules to designate them as “Priority Chemicals.”
Manufacturers are required to report which Priority Chemicals they use in their products. And the products and chemicals can even be phased out–but only if safer, affordable alternatives exist, and only if the Legislature approves.
“I urge you to put the emotion aside, because emotion drove this process in 2008. It was pure emotion. Let’s not do that again,” said Republican Rep. Jim Hamper, sponsor of a measure that would alter the scope of the original bill that he says is too broad and creates too much fear and regulatory uncertainty in the business community.
But at a public hearing on his bill, Hamper himself became emotional when he was asked whether his bill was protective enough of both children and industry. “I want to take a more rational approach to this whole issue. I don’t consider anything here to put my grandson at risk,” he said emotionally. “And, you know, quite honestly I take offense to emails that I receive.”
Environmentalists are critical of Hamper’s bill, which would remove current health protections for teenagers and pregnant women and only target products sold to kids 12 and under. It would also prevent the state from adding new Priority Chemicals to its list or restricting them unless the government met higher thresholds of scientific proof that they’re hazardous.
Currently there are more than 1,700 chemicals on Maine’s list of chemicals of concern. But only two have been designated as “Priority Chemicals” and only one–Bisphenol A–has been targeted for phase out.
“There’s a lot of misperceptions about the law out there–I actually had a friend of mine who’s a boat builder call me and say that he was concerned that this law was going to prevent him from using epoxy resins in his boat shop, which is just ludicrous,” says Matt Prindiville, the clean production project director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, which opposes Hamper’s bill but agrees that the current law needs strengthening.
So Prindiville, along with the Environmental Health Strategies Center and other environmental groups, are supporting a bill sponsored by Democratic Sen. Seth Goodall that would narrow the scope of chemicals of concern from 1,751 to several dozen.
“Businesses right now don’t necessarily know which chemicals off that list of 1,751 are going to potentially be next in terms of Priority Chemical,” he said. “The heart of my bill is let’s provide greater predictability. The commissioner would identify 10 to 50 chemicals that could potentially be considered as a priority chemical.”
Carli McLean, a natural resource policy advisor to Gov. Paul LePage, says the administration supports both measures.
“We believe that both of these bills provide useful approaches that address an unworkable process–namely, we support greater flexibility regarding listing and de-listing Priority Chemicals and we also support amendment to the process that prioritizes toxic chemicals,” she said.
“Not one single Maine business has been adversely affected by this law; yet it’s protecting the health of Maine children,” said Mike Belliveau of the Environmental Health Strategies Center. Belliveau says without the Kid Safe Products Act, it’s difficult for consumers, particularly parents, to find out what chemicals are in the products they use.
Belliveau says the chemical industry has resisted efforts to adopt safeguards at the federal level. And even Rep. Hamper now admits that the industry wrote his bill to relax Maine law. “Industry people, obviously, well, I’ll say–wrote it–yes.”
Hamper says he wanted committee members have it in a format they could understand. That comes as little comfort to environmentalists who think many of the efforts to roll back Maine’s environmental regulations are coming from out-of-state interest groups that don’t have Mainers’s best interest at heart.
Hamper’s bill is also supported by the Maine Chamber of Commerce and by individual business owners that won’t come forward out of fear they will be labeled as unfriendly to children.