February 4, 2011

Environmentalists vow to take on LePage

Governor plans to repeal some regulations, loosen others

By Beth Quimby
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- Maine environmental groups say that fighting Gov. Paul LePage's proposed repeal of environmental regulations is their priority for this legislative session.

The Maine Environmental Priorities Coalition, which represents 25 groups supported by about 100,000 members, vowed Thursday to fight any weakening of the state's environmental protections and came out in support of four measures, including several that the LePage administration opposes.

The groups announced their legislative agenda Thursday at the State House after a breakfast with lawmakers.

"Every step we take must maintain our forward-thinking approach to natural resource stewardship and reflect the core values Maine people hold dear," said Maureen Drouin, executive director of the Maine Conservation Voters Education Fund.

The coalition is backing efforts to protect land from development and put the state on a timetable to reduce its dependence on oil. The group also endorsed measures to expand the state's electronic waste program to small businesses and ban a controversial chemical from some baby products. Both of the latter measures are on LePage's list of regulations the governor says ought to be rolled back or repealed to improve the state's business climate.

LePage introduced his six-page, 63-item list last month. It includes proposals to open up the Maine wilderness to development, toss out many of the state's recycling laws and scale back Maine's regulatory standards to match less stringent federal ones.

The environmental coalition's proposals are drawing support from some Republican and Democratic lawmakers who in the past gave bipartisan support to environmental legislation.

Howewver, the environmental coalition faces a vastly different atmosphere in Augusta this session, with a tea party Republican governor and a Republican-dominated state house.

Drouin said she believes both parties will work to ensure that the state's environmental protections remain intact.

"The values have not changed. We are optimistic we can forge alliances," Drouin said.

Sen. David Trahan, R-Waldoboro, is pushing for a $48 million bond that includes $28 million for the Land for Maine's Future program. The rest would support farms, working waterfronts, state parks and natural resource infrastructure improvements.

Rep. Stacey Fitts, R-Pittsfield, has filed legislation to require Maine to cut its use of oil for transportation and heat by 30 percent by 2030 and 50 percent by 2050, by shifting to other energy sources.

"We are out of balance," Fitts said.

Rep. Melissa Walsh-Innes, D-Yarmouth, is leading an effort to persuade the Legislature to ban bisphenol-A in baby bottles and drinking cups. The Board of Environmental Protection, under the Kids Safe Products Law, recommended the phase-out of the chemical, which has been linked to cancer and other diseases.

Walsh-Innes also has filed six bills under the state's product stewardship law that would add paint, pharmaceuticals, syringes and other so-called medical sharps to the list of products that manufacturers are responsible for recycling.

Walsh-Innes also wants to expand the state's household electronic waste law to small businesses. The law now requires manufacturers to pay for the recycling of consumer products such as TVs, computers, desk printers, video game consoles, digital picture frames and fluorescent lamps.

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