Record Number of Rollback Bills Proposed to Weaken Environmental Safeguards
Although the governor’s proposed “Phase I Regulatory Reform Proposals” announced in late January have drawn considerable scrutiny and opposition, today’s event revealed that a much broader anti-environment agenda is taking shape in Augusta, comprised of the Governor’s proposals, plus a host of other bills that would repeal or weaken Maine’s environmental safeguards. Some bills overlap with the governor’s proposed rollbacks, but the 50 rollback bills identified today go far beyond the Governor’s agenda.
“We have never seen such a widespread assault on the laws that protect Maine’s clean air, clean water, and the health of Maine people and wildlife,” said NRCM Advocacy Director Pete Didisheim. “If implemented, this sweeping anti-environment agenda would put Maine people out of work, increase our exposure to toxic chemicals, damage Maine’s $10 billion tourism economy, and harm Maine’s most important asset– the quality of our environment.”
Among the “50 worst bills for Maine’s environment,” drawing criticism today are ones that would:
- Repeal Maine’s bottle bill;
- Eliminate the state’s energy efficiency building codes;
- Weaken Maine’s shoreland zoning law that protects our lakes, rivers and coastal waters;
- Undermine enforcement of Maine’s environmental laws;
- Abolish the planning board for Maine’s North Woods: the Land Use Regulation Commission;
- Weaken laws that protect Mainers from exposure to toxic chemicals;
- Weaken Maine’s pesticide notification system; and
- Weaken laws that protect significant wildlife habitat, sand dunes, and vernal pools.
“These rollbacks are not consistent with the values of Maine people, who strongly believe that we need both a healthy environment and a strong economy,” added Didisheim. “Our message today to lawmakers is plain and simple: Protect Maine. Stop the environmental rollbacks. Use common sense and vote against these bills.”
Jack Schultz, whose family has owned a camp on Great Pond for 74 years, spoke about several bills that would weaken the buffer zones that protect Maine’s lakes, rivers and coastal waters. “These bills are a disaster. When I was a kid, we used Great Pond for drinking water. The water was beautiful; like a reservoir. But now it’s on the list of Maine’s endangered lakes. What will it be like if you allow people to cut all the trees down and build within 75 feet of the lake? What will the quality of the water be then?”
Laura Thompson Brady, a mother who lives in Hallowell, spoke out against bills that would weaken laws phasing out toxic chemicals in products: “I recently learned that there are two bills in the Maine Legislature that would dramatically weaken the laws that protect Maine children. These bills apparently would overturn a law that phases out the use of unnecessary, dangerous, brominated chemicals in mattresses, furniture, home electronics, and also plastic shipping pallets that transport food. I hope the Legislature votes down both of these bills.”
Sean Mahoney, Maine Director of the Conservation Law Foundation, expressed concerns about a bill that would weaken environmental enforcement. “We’re deeply concerned about a bill that would establish a five-year statute of limitations on environmental violations. If someone buried toxic waste and it didn’t contaminate the local water supply for 10 years, then this bill literally would let the violator escape accountability and leave taxpayers with the full clean-up costs.”
Jack Meehan, Meehan Construction in Jefferson, opposed efforts to repeal Maine’s energy efficiency building codes. “Twenty-five years ago, I might have resented a building code that told me what to do. But today, with high energy costs, which are only going to increase further, it is absolutely the right thing to do. Maine should stay the course with an enforceable statewide energy and building code.”
Lisa DeHart, registered Maine Guide who lives in Gardiner, opposed bills that would abolish or weaken the Land Use Regulation Commission. “If LURC were abolished and its duties handed to county commissioners, some counties might weaken standards that protect the woods, lakes, rivers and streams in Maine’s crown jewel: the largest remaining undeveloped forest in the east. Or, there could be completely different rules in each of the eight counties that make up Maine’s North Woods, which would invite chaos, not careful stewardship of this incredible resource.”
Speakers also expressed concern that more rollback bills could emerge, including from the Governor, who has said that all of the controversial elements of his “Phase I” proposals will be introduced. As explained by the governor’s spokesman Dan Demeritt: “I don’t want to characterize them [items not in the Governor’s initial amendment] as having been removed, they just haven’t been put in yet. There are going to be different pieces of legislation that are going to be forthcoming.” At this point in the legislative process, about 800 of the nearly 1,800 proposed bills have been printed. For those not yet printed, only their titles are available. The Governor can introduce a bill at any time.
“Maine people need to understand the full scope of the attacks being waged on the safeguards that protect Maine’s environment. The idea that increased pollution and lower environmental standards will create jobs is sheer folly, and must be rejected here at the State House,” said Didisheim.
Listed below is a partial list of concerns raised by environmental rollback bills and bill titles for legislation yet to be printed, as of February 28, 2011. Additional concerns may emerge (and some concerns may be eased) as bills are printed and presented at public hearings.
Weaken shoreland zoning: Sen. Snowe-Mello (Androscoggin) has introduced LD 219, which would drastically reduce the shoreland zone in Maine from 250 ft to 75 ft. Sen. Collins (York) has introduced LD 434 that would exempt a broad range of wetlands from being protected by shoreland zoning laws. Rep. Strang Burgess (Cumberland) has introduced a bill title to amend Maine’s shoreland zoning law; Rep. Curtis (Madison) has a bill title to allow flexibility under municipal shoreland zoning ordinances, and Rep. Moulton (York) has proposed a bill to modify the requirement to replace trees cut in the shoreland zone.
Concerns: These bills will weaken Maine’s shoreland zoning law, which helps curb pollution of lakes, rivers, and coastal waters. Maine has some of the clearest and cleanest lakes in the nation; they are the envy of nearby New England states. Passage of laws that weaken shoreland zoning would mean diminished buffers that help reduce pollution. With an increased in polluted runoff, the number of Maine lakes with summer algal blooms would increase, reducing property values (which have been directly linked to water quality). Weakening our shoreland protections also would harm important wildlife habitat and damage the character and recreational uses of Maine’s waterways.
Abolish or weaken Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission: Rep. Paul Davis has introduced a bill (LD 17) to abolish Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission, transferring responsibilities to the counties. Sen. Kevin Raye (Washington) has also introduced a bill title to abolish LURC. Rep. Gifford (Lincoln) has introduced bill titles to “streamline” and “reform” LURC.
Concerns: Shifting LURC’s responsibilities to eight different counties would be more expensive, less efficient, less protective of Maine’s environment, and less predictable for developers. LURC has an important mission protecting the natural character, values, and uses of Maine’s North Woods, facilitating development in appropriate locations, and protecting jobs in the forest products and recreation industries. Dismantlement of LURC could lead to increased fragmentation of the forests, increased development on remote ponds, and scattered development across LURC jurisdiction in a fashion that literally could end the North Woods as it currently exists – as the largest unbroken forest of its kind east of the Mississippi.
Repeal or weaken energy efficiency building codes: Eight bills have been introduced that would eliminate or weaken Maine’s uniform building and energy codes. Rep. Harvell (Farmington) has a bill (LD 43) to repeal the uniform building and energy codes. Sen. Saviello (Franklin), Sen. Thibodeau (Waldo), Rep. McKane (Newcastle), and Rep. Malaby (Hancock) have each introduced a bill title to “amend” or “modify” the energy codes. Rep. Hamper (Oxford) has introduced a bill to “delay implementation” and Sen. Saviello (Franklin) and Rep. Davis (Sangerville) each have introduced bill titles to provide exemptions to certain communities.
Concerns: Maine’s uniform building and energy code was adopted in 2007 because Maine was the only state in New England and one of only 10 in the country that didn’t have such a code. Because of that, thousands of homes were being built that wasted energy – resulting in unnecessary pollution and imposing unnecessary fuel costs on homeowners. Before the law was enacted, only 15% of Maine homes were meeting baseline energy efficiency standards. Full implementation of the energy codes is projected to save $100 million in energy costs over the next 10 years. Repealing the law would put Maine people at higher risk of buying homes that waste energy.
Repeal or weaken Maine’s bottle bill: Sen. Tom Martin (Benton) has introduced a bill title calling for repeal of Maine’s bottle bill. Rep. Kerry Prescott (Topsham) has proposed a bill to “create consistency and fairness in Maine’s bottle bill.” Sen. Hastings (Oxford) has introduced a bill title suggesting that Maine’s bottle bill can be replaced with a more effective system—an approach advanced by bottle bill opponents in other states.
Concerns: Maine has a highly successful bottle bill that reduces road-side trash, reduces solid waste to our landfills, and fosters a culture of recycling and reuse of materials. This is a landmark program in place since 1978. A referendum to repeal the bottle bill was on the 1979 ballot, but was rejected with 85% of the votes cast against (226,687) and only 15% cast in favor (41,480). Maine people support our bottle bill and it is extremely effective. Implementation improvements can be accomplished without legislation. Repealing the bottle bill would put as many as 1,500 jobs at risk. Attempting to replace it with single stream recycling programs would result in less recycling, more pollution, and more litter in Maine’s environment.
Weakening Maine’s product stewardship program: Rep. Bernard Ayotte (Caswell) has introduced a bill title to “clarify the law governing product stewardship in the state.”
Concerns: This appears to be an effort to weaken Maine’s product stewardship law, adopted last year 134-0 in the House and 35-0 in the Senate. The product stewardship law will promote the sustainable reuse of materials, help prevent the release of hazardous chemicals into the environment, and reduce costs for taxpayers and local governments, while creating jobs through the collection and recycling of formerly discarded products. Weakening this program could disrupt development of initiatives to divert solid and toxic waste away from Maine’s landfills and incinerators into recycling programs that involve a shared approach with product manufacturers.
Attack the phase-out of the toxic pollutant “Deca”: Sen. Snowe-Mello (Androscoggin) and Rep. Cray (Palmyra) have introduced bills to “clarify” the phase-out of a toxic flame retardant.
Concerns: These bills appear to be aimed at weakening Maine’s law that protects human health from exposure to a toxic chemical (DECA), by allowing other toxic flame retardants to be used as substitutes for DECA. These “clarifications” are being advocated by out-of-state interests, including the bromine industry. The original bill was adopted in 2007 by a vote of 129-0 in the House and 29-5 in the Senate, and was amended in 2010 unanimous votes in the House and Senate. Weakening the law would increase exposure by Maine people to toxic chemicals, and undermine the legislative intent to require safer alternatives when they are available.
Weaken protections for vernal pools: Sen. Thomas (Ripley) has introduced two bills (LD 341, plus one not yet printed) that would weaken protection of vernal pools and other bodies of water.
Concerns: Vernal pools are important for a broad range of species. As described by Maine’s Department of Inland Fish and Wildlife: “over half of the state’s amphibians, turtles, and snakes frequent vernal pool habitats during their life cycle, as do myriad more familiar species such as black and wood ducks, great blue herons, broad-winged hawks, deer, moose, fox, mink, bats and other small mammals.” The science-based definition of “Significant Vernal Pools,” the focus of state regulations, received unanimous bi-partisan support by the Natural Resources Committee of the Legislature in 2006. The state’s approach strikes the right balance between private development interests and the state’s public trust wildlife responsibilities. Weakening vernal pool protections would cause increased harm to important habitat.
Abolish Office of Energy Independence and Security: Rep. Moulton (York) has introduced a bill (LD 789) to eliminate the Office of Energy Independence and Security.
Concerns: This office coordinates government programs to help reduce the vulnerability of Maine people to energy price shocks, and help promote energy independence and a diversified energy mix. At a time of increasing energy costs, it would be a mistake to eliminate this office.
Weaken enforcement of environmental laws: Sen. Snowe-Mello (Androscoggin) has introduced a bill that would provide a five-year statute of limitations for violations of environmental laws.
Concerns: This bill would weaken environmental enforcement in Maine through establishment of an arbitrary five-year statute of limitations. Many serious environmental violations are not discovered or even discoverable within five years. Passage of a bill like this literally could enable someone that buries toxic chemicals to escape accountability. The pollutants might not contaminate a local water supply for ten years or longer from when the illegal action occurred, leaving the violator free from enforcement and transferring clean-up costs to taxpayers. An arbitrary deadline such as this also could force more enforcement matters into litigation.
Weaken pesticide notification requirements: Rep. Timberlake (Turner) has introduced a bill (LD 16) that weakens requirements regarding public notification of aerial pesticide spraying and Rep. Edgecomb (Caribou) has proposed a bill (LD 228) that would repeal the existing registry that ensures public notification of people living within prescribed distances of certain aerial pesticide operations.
Concerns: These bills drastically reduce the requirement of farmers who spray pesticides using aircraft (helicopters or airplanes) or air blasters (powerful pump spraying machines similar to snow guns) to notify nearby residences. People living near spray areas should have the right to take simple measures, such as shutting windows, to protect their families.
Weaken protections for significant wildlife habitat: Rep. Ayotte (Caswell) has introduced a bill to “amend the laws protecting significant wildlife habitat.” This appears to be a bill to dramatically reduce the protective buffer around habitat around some freshwater wetlands.
Concerns: Maine’s significant wildlife habitat law is designed to help “avoid and minimize impacts” on valuable waterfowl and wading bird habitat and shorebird feeding and roosting areas. These protections have been carefully developed to provide a balanced approach to development and habitat protection. Waterfowl habitat is critical for protection of duck populations.
Attack on wind power development: At least a dozen bills have been introduced to hamper wind power development in some fashion. Rep Dunphy (Emden) has introduced a bill (LD 502) that would establish a six-moratorium on wind power development in Maine, as has Rep. Wes Richardson (Warren).
Concerns: Wind power generation helps displace fossil fuel use as part of the New England electrical grid, thus providing significant benefits in terms of diversifying our energy mix and reducing carbon pollution and other air pollutants. Continued development of properly-sited wind power can provide further economic and environmental benefits. A moratorium would block these benefits.
Weakening Review of Development Proposals: Sen. Saviello has introduced legislation (LD 159) that would double the size threshold for DEP reviews under the Maine Site Location of Development Law.
Concerns: This bill would undermine the effectiveness of Maine’s “Site Law,” which contains measures designed to minimize the impacts of development on water quality and wildlife habitat. Many projects that now must take these measures to protect Maine’s environment would be exempt from if LD 159 were enacted. This bill also specifically targets measures that protect water quality in Maine by doubling the amount of impervious surfaces and disturbed area required for a project to trigger the Site Law protections. Impervious surface is made up of roofs, roads, driveways, and disturbed areas stripped of vegetation. Runoff from impervious surfaces and disturbed areas is a major threat to all of Maine’s waters, from pristine inland lakes to Casco Bay. These changes would thus increase polluted runoff to Maine waters.
Statement by Pete Didisheim, NRCM Senior Director, Advocacy
See the full list of 50 environmental rollback bills here.