by Jon Olsen, Coastal Journal contributor
AUGUSTA — Less than a week after the conference called by Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) to meet with Governor Paul LePage, a meeting attended by some 500 people at the Augusta Civic Center, reported in the Coastal Journal January 26, Phase I of the Governor’s Regulatory Reform Proposals was issued. In general, a review of cumbersome, obsolete, and simply bureaucratic laws and regulations is to be welcomed. Streamlining government is an idea that is politically neutral. The issue then becomes “what are the details, and what values lie behind the proposed changes?” Last week, it appeared that the 28 speakers and LePage were generally holding congruent viewpoints, in view of their respectful remarks, as well as his own concluding the event.
However, the proposals just issued sent shock waves through the staff of NRCM. When asked for a comment, the organization e-mailed this general viewpoint:
“The Governor stated to 500 Maine citizens on January 20 that he believes in “real, strong environmental laws”, and yet 72 hours later he released a draconian set of proposals that would gut Maine’s environmental protections – protections that have been enacted with strong bipartisan support. This is a full-out attack on Maine’s clean air, clean water and the health of our families. It also undermines our economy, which relies on the health of our natural resources,” wrote Lisa Pohlmann, Executive Director, Natural Resources Council of Maine.
Some changes proposed by Gov. LePage appear to be quite common sense and uncontroversial. For example:
• Create a Small Business Ombudsman in the Department of Economic and Community Developent to help businesses navigate regulatory processes.
• Adopt a standard for rulemaking requiring rules to be predicated on valid science and clarity of language.
• Eliminate significant hurdles to beneficial reuse of materials that would otherwise be classified as a waste by DEP (Department of Environmental Protection).
But the majority of the changes, according to NRCM, would ‘weaken or eliminate’:
• Rule to restrict the use of the toxic chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) in baby bottles, sippy cups, water bottles, and reusable food containers
• Clean air law to reduce sulphur dioxide pollution, and associated asthma attacks, acid rain, and poor visibilty due to haze
• Law to create transparent process for indentifying candidate products for producer-financed collection and recycling programs.
• Maine’s Kid-Safe Products Act -identifies and phases out the ‘worst of the worst’s toxic chemicals in everyday products that threaten children’s health.
• Law to replace bromated flame retardant with safer alternatives.
• Law to prevent sprawl and protect Maine’s community character by requiring certain large scale developments to conduct economic-impact analysis on local communities.
• Several laws relating to safe collection and disposal/recycling of products using mercury, such as some light bulbs, thermostats, automobile switches, and dental amalgrams. In this regard, the current fishing regulations (2010-2012) Dept. of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife booklet, states, specifically referencing mercury “Pregnant and nursing women, women who may get pregnant, and children under age eight SHOULD NOT EAT ANY FRESHWATER fish from Maine’s inland waters. Except for brook trout and landlocked salmon, 1 meal per month is safe. All other adults and children older than eight CAN EAT two freshwater fish meals per month. For brook trout and landlocked salmon, the limit is one meal per week.” This is generic advice. Some bodies of water cited in the booklet are more toxic to the point of earning a “no consumption” recommendation. Regulations being proposed would weaken laws for mercury disposal.
Besides these quite specific proposed laws and regulations changes, more sweeping changes are likewise proposed, according to the NRCM analysis:
• Removes all environmental standards for new permitting under the Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC).
• Rezones at least 3 million acres of Maine’s North Woods for development.
• Scraps the current LURC Comprehensive Land Use Plan which is intended to guide development in the North Woods.
• Require every proposed development to be rushed through for a permit in 30 days, a pace that would overload DEP staff, make it difficult to ensure that the proposal meets legal standards, or to allow for adequate citizen input.
• Eliminate Maine’s right to choose its own environmental safeguards by prohibiting stricter standards than federal standards.