In first few months of 2012 the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine (ACHM), of which MPA is a proud member, scored some remarkable victories to protect consumers from toxic chemicals.
In the last legislative session, Maine's landmark Kid Safe Products Act (KSPA) faced a serious challenge with the introduction of an industry supported bill that would have gutted its most important provisions. Instead, the almost unanimous passage of a compromise bill actually strengthened KSPA and became a signature success in a difficult legislative session.
Fighting Back Against the Chemical Industry
Having failed to weaken KSPA in the legislature, the toy industry instead lobbied the DEP behind the scenes to change elements of the law. One of these changes would have allowed corporations to petition to remove BPA from the “Chemicals of Concern” list without any study or public input. Another change would have labeled BPA as an incidental “contaminant” in the production process. By doing this, companies could have been exempted from having to report the presence of BPA in child food containers by simply claiming they didn’t purposefully put it in the product, rather that it “contaminated” the product. Fortunately, ACHM brought these changes to light and, much to the chagrin of the chemical industry, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) removed the offending language.
Despite the desire of Maine citizens to know what toxic chemicals their children are being exposed to, and despite clear actions by the Maine legislature requiring that corporations selling BPA-lined baby food containers report its presence, several companies continued to ignore the law, while the DEP stood mute. ACHM undertook scientific testing of several brands of baby food containers to determine the presence of BPA, both in the lining of the containers, and in the food itself. On Valentine’s Day, over one hundred activists from all across the state, many of them mothers and young children, rallied at the State House to present the results of the testing and to demand that the DEP immediately act to enforce the law. Within hours of the rally, Maine DEP had sent letters to the companies informing them that they were in violation of Maine law and that they needed to immediately report any baby food sold on Maine shelves that contains BPA.
Protecting laws from corporate meddling is an important job but, given the stakes, playing defense is simply not enough. Maine People's Alliance members have been collecting hundreds of signatures to expand the list of products covered by KSPA to any food marketed to children under three years of age.
Strengthening State and Federal Toxins Laws
Maine is a leader on the issue of toxic chemicals, but states can only do so much in the face of opposition from one of the largest industries in the country. Meaningful reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the broken federal legislation that is supposed to regulate the use of over 80,000 chemicals found in our homes, is at the heart of MPA’s toxics work.
This session the Maine Legislature unanimously passed a resolve supporting TSCA reform embodied in the Safer Chemicals Act which is currently before the US Congress. This May, Maine moms joined mothers from across New England on a bus to Washington DC, where they took part in a stroller brigade of parents from all over the US in a march on Congress to meet their legislators in support of the Act. This represents the best chance for action by Congress on this important issue in decades.
Takings and Mining: Assaults on our Natural Resources
Rep. John Martin (D-Eagle Lake) introduced LD 1853, An Act to Improve Environmental Oversight and Streamline Permitting for mining in Maine. This sweeping legislation would have gutted Maine's mining regulations, opening up the possibility of unrestrained open pit mining across the state. MPA joined other environmental groups in opposing this bill through calls to legislators and public testimony. Ultimately, a version of LD 1853 with some of the worst provisions removed, still passed the legislature.
An even larger piece of legislation LD 1810, known as the “Takings” bill, was defeated in the special session. This bill would have allowed property owners to sue the state for the loss of any land value due to environmental regulations. In doing that, this bill would have opened the floodgates and inundated the state with frivolous and expensive lawsuits. The only winners with this bill are those who wrote it – especially out-of-state corporations. MPA joined coalition partners in testifying against this bill as well as generating member phone calls to key legislators. Despite an incalculable cost to taxpayers, this corporate giveaway was passed in the House by a razor thin 74-72 vote after several moderate Republicans were browbeaten by party leadership. Unable to muster enough votes in the Senate, Republican leadership delayed another vote on LD 1810 until the Special Session where it was indefinitely postponed by the Senate. The bill is defeated until the next legislative session, where it may come up again.