by Steve Mistler, staff writer
AUGUSTA â Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bill Monday that would have bolstered a state program to phase out toxic chemicals in children’s products.
Advocates said they would return to the State House Tuesday to urge lawmakers to override the governor’s decision. The focus will likely shift to Republican lawmakers who have helped sustain most of the governor’s vetoes this session, even after initially voting to pass legislation.
The bill, L.D. 1181, sponsored by Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, would require manufacturers of 49 chemicals on the so-called “high concern list” to report what products contain the chemicals identified by the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention. The bill passed the Senate without debate and the House voted 108-37 to approve it
The veto came several hours after a rally of about 20 supporters in the State House Hall of Flags. The rally featured parents who said they should know whether bisphenol-A, or BPA, was used in children’s food packaging.
L.D. 1181 would require food companies that gross over $1 billion in annual sales to report their use of BPA in food packaging.
The bill had been the subject of intense negotiating among lawmakers, state officials and the chemical industry. The LePage administration opposed the bill, saying it would cost the Department of Environmental Protection $1.47 million over the next two years through the hiring of additional staff.
Fiscal notes are verified by the Legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal and Program Review. The fiscal office later found that the Department of Environmental Protection estimate was mostly accurate, prompting supporters of the bill to offer a version requiring less staff.
The new fiscal note is more than $373,000 for two years, still a significant obstacle for the governor’s approval. LePage has vetoed several bills this session that require funding or assume a department can handle additional duties with existing staff.
Supporters hoped the governor wouldn’t use that justification for L.D. 1181. The LePage administration has taken fire for its 2011 efforts to repeal the Kids Safe Product law. More recently, a seven-month investigation of the DEP by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram found that department staff members were under pressure to delay implemention of the priority chemical list.
In the 2½ years since Gov. Paul LePage took office, the Department of Environmental Protection has failed to put forth a new toxin to add to the priority list identified by the Baldacci administration.
The Department of Environmental Protection administers the Kid Safe program.
The governor has been widely criticized for his 2011 effort to repeal the law and for saying in 2011 that the only side effect of BPA was that it would result in some women growing “little beards.”
Supporters of L.D. 1181 thought the BPA comment and the administration’s reported resistance to the Kid Safe program could prompt LePage to either sign the bill or allow it to become law.
The effort to regulate BPA in Maine is part of a national effort. Eleven states, including Maine, regulate the chemical’s use in food and containers in some manner, according the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The multi-state advocacy effort was sprung after efforts to regulate the chemical stalled in Congress several years ago. However, by 2012 the federal Food and Drug Administration banned the chemical from baby bottles and sippy cups. The FDA’s current stance is that the “scientific evidence at this time does not suggest that the very low levels of human exposure to BPA through the diet are unsafe” and later said the sippy cup ban was not because of the chemical’s safety.
If the veto is overridden, Maine would join Connecticut and Vermont as one of three states whose regulation of BPA exceeds federal law. In January, the Board of Environmental Protection voted to support a total ban of BPA in baby food and infant formula in containers made with the chemical.
The Legislature has not yet approved the ban.
A DEP staff report said 92 percent of baby-food manufacturers that responded to a state survey inquiries said they have removed or are taking steps to remove BPA from packaging. It also said that studies show it’s unclear if BPA used in baby food lids comes into contact with food.
But supporters of L.D. 1181 said Monday that large food manufacturers, like Del Monte, Campbell’, and ConAgra are not required to disclose their use of BPA.
“As a consumer and a parent, I should have a right to know which foods contain this harmful chemical and which do not,” stated Morgan Pottle-Urquhart, a mother from Bangor.