BANGOR, Maine — Nearly 100 Mainers turned up at Eastern Maine Community College on Thursday to weigh in on a series of proposed regulatory reforms aimed at improving the state’s business climate and economy and creating jobs.
While no one opposed either of those concepts, proposals from Gov. Paul LePage’s administration to rewrite or roll back dozens of environmental laws drew fire from many of those who spoke.
Among the most unpopular call for replacing many of Maine’s air and water pollution standards with less stringent federal standards, and repealing new rules that require the chemical bisphenol-A, or BPA, to be phased out of children’s products sold in Maine.
Opponents of relaxing Maine’s strict environmental rules said doing so would hurt Maine’s reputation as a clean, healthful place to live and work.
“I’ve read through the governor’s reform proposal and I don’t see a single thing that’s going to help my business,” said Suzanne Kelly, who with her husband, Bob, owns two Bangor businesses, House Revivers and Kelly Realty Management.
“We choose to live and run our business in Maine because of our quality of life,” she said.
Lucy Quimby, also of Bangor, noted that her husband, Geoff Gratwick, is a rheumatologist who is approaching retirement, as is his partner.
Now actively recruiting successors for their practice, the partners are finding that two factors are proving key. One is financial assistance for medical professionals working in underserved regions. The other, she said, is Maine’s natural environment.
Michael Belliveau, executive director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center in Bangor, said states with the strongest environmental protections have been shown to have better economic growth than those that don’t.
Belliveau cited several examples of Maine businesses that are benefiting from the manufacturing of environmentally safe products, some of them made from recycled corn, wood and potato waste.
Thursday’s hearing was the last of seven held around Maine over the last three weeks by the Legislature’s Committee on Regulatory Fairness and Reform.
The 15-member committee, which consists of nine Republicans and six Democrats, was formed by the Legislature as a vehicle for LD 1, a bill submitted by Senate President Kevin Raye and Speaker of the House Robert Nutting, to improve Maine’s business climate and facilitate job creation.
The group’s mission is to write an omnibus regulatory reform bill.
Sen. Jonathan Courtney, R-Springvale, and committee co-chairman, said the group has heard some intriguing ideas while on the road.
“We believe that the best ideas come from Main Street, not Augusta,” he said, adding that the committee’s role will involve balancing environmental and economic considerations.
Nate Libby, spokesman for the Maine Small Business Coalition, said that members submitted 120 letters in opposition to the governor’s environmental proposals.
“I remember when our rivers were filthy and our air was not healthy. I remember cement dust covering everything from the plant in Thomaston,” wrote Sharon O’Brien, a coalition member who owns Jess’s Seafood Market in Rockland.
“My father died from mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos. I remember when a lot more clam flats were closed due to pollution. Please do not go backward,” she wrote, adding, “We need to keep our seafood healthy to eat. Allowing pollution at the expense of our very valuable lobster and shellfish supplies would be very shortsighted economically. Many people make their living from the sea.”
Aside from the environmental concerns, however, the panel did hear about some regulations that some Mainers do think are onerous.
These included an increasingly cumbersome processes for accessing unemployment benefits and child care.
Information on the committee is available at www.maine.gov/legis/house/jtcom/rfr.htm.