Senator Saviello, Representative Welsh, and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, my name is Sarah Lakeman and I am the Sustainable Maine Project Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. I appreciate this opportunity to testify in opposition to LD 1045. While we oppose this bill, we do believe that the Committee and the Legislature have an opportunity to make positive changes to Maine’s mercury-thermostat stewardship law—which I will describe as a possible substitute for the language in LD 1045.
First, let me focus on why all Mainers should care about the safe removal and recycling of mercury thermostats from our homes and businesses. Mercury-containing thermostats pose a significant public health risk when they are improperly disposed of in landfills or incinerators. If these thermostats are not kept intact and recycled properly, the mercury can be released into the environment where it makes its way into our lakes, rivers, and streams, and contaminates the fish we eat. Even in very small quantities, mercury can cause severe health problems such as cardiovascular disease and neurological damage, and endanger the development of a human fetus and young children.
We commend the leadership this Committee provided in passing Maine’s mercury thermostat collection program in 2006, a law that has established Maine as a national leader in reducing mercury pollution. Due to our incentive-based program, which provides a $5 incentive for each recycled thermostat, Maine has maintained one of the highest mercury thermostat collection rates in the country. Our collection rate is far greater than it is in states without an incentive to recycle. However, we are concerned that our mercury thermostat collection rates have drastically declined during the past two years. This decline is happening despite the fact that there is still a significant number of mercury thermostats coming off the walls in Maine each year and we believe can be attributed to inadequate performance by the Thermostat Recycling Corporation (TRC).
TRC claims that the drop in thermostat collections in Maine is due to a decline in mercury thermostats coming off the walls—but there is strong evidence to refute that assertion. Knowing how many thermostats remain in our homes and businesses is important information, both to assess TRC’s performance and for the purpose of establishing appropriate performance goals for the program. For this reason, NRCM joined with the Multi-state Mercury Products Campaign to support a detailed, statistical analysis and validation of the number and type of thermostats in Maine’s homes and businesses and how many are being removed annually today, and over the next several decades. was conducted by Skumatz Economic Research Associates (SERA), which has done similar studies for California, Illinois, and Rhode Island. This report shows that we still have an estimated 630,200 mercury thermostats on the walls of Maine buildings, which have in aggregate more than 2.5 metric tons of mercury. Also, the report concludes that Maine has not yet reached the peak in mercury thermostat removal rates, and we may not see a decline in the flow of mercury thermostats out of buildings until 2025. The SERA study also shows that Maine’s existing statutory performance goals are unattainable. As such, NRCM recommends that the Committee update our performance standards based on current, statistically significant data provided by the study, and set collection goals similar to those in other states (suggested amendment is attached).
Due to the severity of the risks associated with mercury consumption, and the fact that the estimated number of mercury thermostats coming off walls in Maine each year is still increasing, not decreasing, we believe that now is the time to strengthen efforts to capture, collect, and recycle mercury thermostats. LD 1045 does the opposite, which is why we oppose the bill.
The provisions in LD 1045 are based on the false assumption that mercury thermostat removal rates are declining. This bill weakens Maine’s program by restricting who can turn in a thermostat and increases administrative burden on contractors to report detailed information that is of little use. LD 1045 unnecessarily asks DEP to evaluate and report on the clearly effective incentive program,. This bill would also allow TRC to provide less information in their annual report, yet it moves the report due date to later in the year; this will reduce the time it takes them to prepare their report and delays this Committee’s ability to institute legislative fixes to potential declines in collection rates. And the worst part of this bill is that it suggests a sunset date for our incentive-program in 2023, well before even half of the total remaining mercury thermostats could be collected.
As written, we oppose all of the provisions of LD 1045. Instead, we support action by the Committee to update existing statutory performance standards, based on the results of the SERA study, and to require that TRC meet and maintain a higher collection and recycling rate than at present. Based on 2014 recycling rates, we can assume that Maine’s incentive-based program is effectively capturing about 50% of the thermostats available for collection—a much higher rate than states with voluntary programs. We believe that with a little more effort, TRC can do an even better job and achieve a 75% recycling rate of available mercury thermostats by 2019.
For instance, TRC currently is focusing all of its outreach and education efforts toward HVAC contractor businesses, but they could achieve higher rates of recycling by increasing the reach of their program to more people and potential collection points. A more comprehensive education and outreach strategy should include thermostat retailers, electrical wholesalers, homeowners, housing authorities, and service technicians. TRC’s own analysis shows that participation by contractors and technicians peaked in 2010 when DEP did a direct mailing to all licensed technicians. We believe that TRC should be doing more targeted outreach to a broader range of audiences as part of a strategy to increase recycling rates.
Additionally, during a meeting with NRCM several months ago, TRC stated that they saw a spike in collection rates as a result of site visits by DEP staff. This type of personal outreach has proven to be very effective in addressing any issues that collection site may have due to staff turnover or confusion about how to receive the $5 incentive payments from TRC. TRC should work in conjunction with DEP staff to schedule field visits aimed at increasing awareness of the program and to help boost collection rates.
Furthermore, we believe that TRC needs to make it easier to participate in the mercury thermostat program. LD 1045 would make it more difficult, not less difficult, by placing a new level of reporting and administrative requirements on HVAC contractors. No other state requires special reporting requirements for contractors as contemplated in the bill. The problem right now is that collection site staff must mail a coupon to TRC, separate from the thermostat, and wait for TRC to match up the coupon with the thermostat before receiving their incentive payment 3-12 months later. The hassle of participating in the program, and lag time to receive the incentive payment, creates a disincentive for contractors and technicians to repeatedly use this program. TRC is fully aware of this issue and could make it much easier by just letting people include the coupon with the thermostat.
NRCM urges the Committee to strike the provisions in LD 1045 and that updates the program’s performance standards and requires TRC to take steps to improve collection rates. Adopting this approach would preserve the integrity of our successful incentive-based program, lead to higher collection rates for mercury thermostats, and help to protect Maine people and their families from the dangers of mercury exposure. I appreciate this opportunity to testify against LD 1045 and would be glad to answer any questions that you may have.
 For instance, in 2014 the voluntary TRC program in New Hampshire (population 1.327 million) collected only 1,969 thermostats while Maine’s (population 1.33 million) incentive-based program collected 4,341 thermostats.
 TRC has had a long history of working against Maine’s incentive-based thermostat program. TRC opposed the original Maine law, has spent substantial sums in other states lobbying against proposed laws similar to Maine’s, advocated with DEP in 2011 to repeal Maine’s program, and made it difficult for contractors who return thermostats to wholesalers from getting their incentive payments. The TRC’s agenda is to block incentive programs like ours, and to promote the reportedly less effective voluntary programs.
 TRC hired Skumatz Economic Research Associates to conduct this same type of study in CA.
 Mercury thermostats each contain an average of 4 grams of mercury.
 Executive summary of the SERA study is attached; a full version of the report was given to Tyler Washburn and is available on NRCM’s website.
 The current goal is based on merely a “best-guess” estimate of Maine’s mercury thermostat stock using 15-year-old census data.
 Our statute requires that TRC try to collect 160 lbs. of mercury annually through the thermostat program, however there may only be up to 78 lbs. of mercury even available to be collected each year.
 The data clearly shows that recycling rates increased with the adoption of the $5 incentive program in 2008. DEP’s 2014 Product Stewardship report provides data that further substantiates the positive role of a financial incentive in boosting collection rates of mercury thermostats. Specifically, the report documents a significant increase in thermostat collections in response to a temporary program in which ecomaine supplemented TRC’s $5 incentive with an additional $5 (for a total $10 incentive)—this led to a significant increase in the number of thermostats turned in through municipal HHW collections in that region.
 DEP response to TRC’s 2014 annual report states: “In reference to TRC’s assertion that the current financial incentive program is ineffective, upon review of the limited amount of data that the TRC analyzed to reach this conclusion, the Department respectively disagrees with TRC’s conclusion, given that an examination of more complete and relevant data does not support that conclusion.”
 TRC’s Annual 2014 report to CA reads: “Conversations with collection location staff indicate that technicians prefer ‘instant’ rewards and the additional effort to create an account and redeem points negatively affects participation rates. This is a significant issue with providing remunerative incentives and is not unique to California. Data from the mandatory incentive program in Maine provides additional insight on this issue. In Maine, participants must complete and mail a coupon to TRC to receive the $5 incentive. Additionally, payments are not made until receipt of the thermostat, meaning there is often a 3 to 12 month lag between recycling and payment. “