After weeks of storm and fury, the effort to overturn Maine’s ban on bisphenol-A is likely to end in a whimper.
The Maine House voted overwhelmingly Thursday — and we mean overwhelmingly — to phase out BPA when used in children’s products. The final tally: 145-3.
A similarly lopsided vote is expected in the Maine Senate next week.
The veto-proof size of the margin marks a setback for Gov. Paul LePage, who included killing the BPA regulations in his original regulatory reform package.
Perhaps sensing a losing cause, the administration testified neither for nor against the ban during a March 25 public hearing.
The vote marks a victory for the Republican Legislature, which showed it was not only willing to ignore the governor, but the U.S. chemical industry and its lobbyists, as well.
The companies had spent hundreds of thousands on the last election in Maine, and they have had highly paid lobbyists working the issue for several years.
The vote is also a positive sign for bipartisanship in this state. The last Legislature did its committee homework and, after seeing the facts, voted in a bipartisan fashion to phase out BPA, 129-9 in the House and 35-0 in the Senate.
Just because the legislative majority switched from one side to the other didn’t mean legislators were willing to undo what they had done, especially not based upon instructions from Washington.
The short history of this issue is interesting and instructive.
Nobody was even talking about BPA until it emerged on a list of red-tape regulations targeted for repeal by the governor’s office.
The list, the governor’s office said, had emerged from listening sessions conducted by businesspeople around the state.
But nobody had even raised the BPA issue during those sessions. Some Maine companies had even supported the BPA ban when it was introduced last year.
Nobody could identify any Maine jobs threatened by the BPA ban or clearly identify how lifting the ban would create any.
So, where did this idea come from?
From far, far away, apparently.
The governor’s office had inadvertently presented its red-tape hit list with something called a tracking number. This is a number in the margin of a document that can be used to identify its source.
The number was eventually linked to a computer at the politically connected Maine law firm of Preti, Flaherty, Beliveau & Pachios.
The governor’s communications director later explained that the document was compiled by Ann Robinson, a Preti Flaherty lawyer who lobbies on behalf of big drug companies and the Toy Industry Association of America.
Robinson also served on the governor’s transition team.
As it turns out, the industry’s lobbyist had compiled the regulatory hit list for the governor’s office.
Nothing illegal about that, but it shows the extraordinary access to power the chemical industry now has.
The BPA fight may already be history, but attention in the Legislature quickly will turn to a proposal sponsored by Rep. James Hamper, R-Oxford, which may more evenly divide the Legislature along traditional lines.
Manufacturers and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce are lined up against environmental groups that say Hamper’s act will gut the state’s Kid-Safe Products Act.
It will be a challenge, but we hope legislators can find a middle ground that will encourage manufacturing in the state, yet ensure products used by children are safe.
Whatever happens, it should be a law that best serves Maine, not outside interests.