This legislative session saw the onslaught of anti-environmental legislation that Governor LePage and conservative Republicans promised to advance as soon as they gained power last November. The chemical industry and other corporate special interests jumped on the opportunity to push for hundreds of bills that have been voted down in past legislatures. This alliance between ideological politicians and industry-funded lobbyists resulted in a massive assault on dozens of environmental protections, but Mainers rallied to oppose this assault in historic numbers. Some of the worst bills were killed outright, some were watered down, some passed, and some were delayed for consideration until next year. One thing became very clear: we’ll have to keep the pressure up if we are to defend the legacy of robust environmental protections that make Maine the place we love.
MPA and our allies were able to secure a few exciting victories for the environment and public health this winter, including: protecting and even strengthening the Kid-Safe Products Law, securing the ban on Bisphenol A (BPA), defeating bills aimed at gutting Maine’s bottle deposit law, and halting attempts to severely restrict wildlife habitat protections. MPA members were especially active in the campaign to defend the Kids-Safe Product Law and to ban Bisphenol A (BPA), and the victories on these issues are testaments to the power of effective coalitions (such as the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine) and the impact of thousands of everyday people making their voice heard in the halls of Augusta.
Another victory for Maine’s environment was the degree to which the slew of regulatory rollbacks Governor LePage originally proposed for the LD1 legislation were stripped from the bill that ultimately passed. After the Governor released his list of proposed environmental rollbacks destined for this bill, dozens of organizations representing hundreds of thousands of Mainers worked together to show their opposition to the Governor’s extremist proposals. MPA alone collected over one thousand postcards from Mainers who opposed the Governor’s corporate handouts, and we worked with our allies to make sure these voices were heard in the State House. Some pieces of the original LD1 legislation were split off and sent to various committees as separate bills and some disappeared all together, and the final piece of LD1 legislation that passed was ultimately largely supported by Maine’s environmental community.
Unfortunately, not all our efforts to defend Maine’s environment were successful. For example, LD 281, which passed along party lines, creates a five-year statute of limitations on environmental violations. Although the final product was less egregious than the initial bill proposed by Senator Snowe-Mello, this new law still makes it easier for corporate polluters get off the hook and potentially to pass the cost of cleanup onto taxpayers.
Another big loss was the repeal of the pesticide notification registry, which completely eliminates the system set up to let people know when pesticides will be sprayed near their homes. This defeat was compounded by another bill that makes the Board of Pesticide Control friendlier to industry by removing the qualification that two of the seven seats be filled by members of the public with “a demonstrated interest in environmental protection.”
Finally, there was the passage of LD1534, a bill which sets up a commission (stacked with allies of Governor LePage) that is likely to recommend the abolishment of the Land Use Regulatory Commission (LURC), which oversees the North Woods’s 10.4 million acres and serves as the main line of defense against excessive development of some of Maine’s most pristine wilderness. The Governor would have preferred immediate elimination of LURC and this issue will certainly become a major focus of environmental organizations in 2012.