February 28, 2011

BPA battle to gauge LePage's clout

Some Republicans likely to back chemical regulation

By Rebekah Metzler
MaineToday Media State House Writer

AUGUSTA -- Gov. Paul LePage's proposed repeal of Maine's efforts to restrict bisphenol A, a chemical that state health agencies concluded poses a health risk to babies, will likely test his ability to pass controversial measures, even though Republicans control the Legislature.

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Gov. Paul LePage

2011 Press Herald file

The proposal, submitted as part of the Republican's regulatory reform package, has generated a firestorm of criticism from the public -- even before the governor made national headlines for saying that the worst case impact of the endocrine-disrupting chemical would result in some women getting "little beards."

No state senators and only nine state representatives opposed the 2008 passage of the rules regulating BPA, which were part of a law known as the Kid-Safe Products Act (LD 2048). The law set up an extensive process for the Department of Environmental Protection and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to identify "priority chemicals," based on sufficient scientific evidence that they exposed children to health risks.

"The intent was to, like bisphenol A, look for and identify certain types of chemicals that were the lead ones that we might know wouldn't be safe and to try to remove them out of products," said state Rep. Dana Dow, R-Waldoboro.

Dow, along with then-state Rep. Hannah Pingree, D-North Haven, participated in a study that tested what chemicals were found in their bodies. The results surprised both, and the two lawmakers, along with several others, co-sponsored legislation that became the Kid-Safe Product Act.

BPA and nonylphenol were the first two -- and so far, the only -- chemicals identified by the state agencies as being dangerous enough to warrant regulation. In addition to both the DEP and Maine CDC needing to review available scientific evidence and agree on which chemicals should be regulated, the Board of Environmental Protection was also required to hold public hearings on the proposals. The BEP, which is a 10-member volunteer, citizen board of gubernatorial appointees, also issued the final rules regulating the identified chemicals.

Finally, any recommendations for regulations -- such as the proposed ban on BPA in sippy cups and bottles -- that are considered to be substantive rule changes, must be approved by the Legislature. As such, lawmakers will vote on the BPA ban legislation (LD 412) later this session.

LePage's initial proposal for regulatory reforms, part of his top priorities as governor to eliminate red tape and make Maine more business-friendly, included the recommendation to "repeal BPA rule and rely on federal EPA and FDA standards." A subsequent list of proposals presented to the legislative panel charged with writing the legislation did not contain the BPA repeal. But when asked at a recent news conference if that meant he was backing off, LePage said no.

"Why? Until I see science that tells me BPA is a problem and I haven't seen it -- quite frankly, the science that I'm looking at says there's not been any science identifying that there's a problem," he said. "The only thing that I've heard is if you take a plastic bottle and you put it in a microwave and then heat it up, it gives off a chemical that's similar to estrogen."

But Republican lawmakers as well as advocacy groups argue that there's plenty of science indicating real risks posed to infants by BPA.

"I think we are going to try to see if we can just pull that completely out of any consideration so it won't go any further," said Dow, referring to LePage's BPA repeal proposal.

All three members of Senate Republican leadership were in the Senate during the 2008 unanimous vote on the Kid-Safe Product legislation, and Senate Majority Leader Jon Courtney, R-Sanford, said he still supports the process established by the measure.

(Continued on page 2)

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