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Activists model Maine anti-chemical law on California, European regulations

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Baldacci task force, Hannah Pingree and “Kid Safe Act” laid groundwork for DEP to list “chemicals of high concern”

Following the passage of bipartisan legislation directing the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to focus on regulating the safe use of chemicals, DEP has released a list of 49 “chemicals of high concern” that are now subject to intense scrutiny.

If anti-business activists have their way, these commonly used chemicals that are critical to producing many consumer products could ultimately be banned from use in Maine. Some of the “chemicals of high concern” on the list include formaldehyde, benzene, styrene, mercury, nickel, arsenic, cadmium and quartz.

Many of these naturally occurring substances contained in necessary products like, batteries, cups, paint remover, magnets, fluorescent bulbs, thermometers, ammunition, sandpaper, glass and jewelry.

The cursory reports in the Maine press about the list virtually ignored the significance of DEP’s power to ban common substances found in everyday products. Without providing any scientific evidence, the stories stated simply that these four-dozen chemicals “could cause a danger to children” and that some were even “proven” to cause cancer.

Some reports quoted an advocate who said the list is a “baby step” and that these chemicals should be completely banned, ignoring any consideration of scientific review.

Contrary to the perfunctory reports in the press, the release of the list marked a major moment in Maine regulatory policy. The list is a milestone in what has been at least a six-year campaign by well-funded outside groups pushing for broad, sweeping chemical bans and local liberal legislators who now lobby for those same groups.

And thanks to their efforts, Maine is poised to follow California by becoming a significant outlier when compared to how other states are managing chemicals, which means even more uncertainty for business and job creators across our state.

By executive order in early 2006, Governor Baldacci created a task force that was assembled to “promote safer chemicals in consumer products.” The group’s final report, released in December 2007, and the noble-sounding “Kid Safe Act” that followed in 2008, laid the groundwork for the recently released list of “chemicals of high concern.”

The report from the task force, made up of 11 representatives from DEP, other state government departments, labor groups, public health organizations and three members of the business community, first recommended as “an immediate priority” that Maine “adopt and publicize a list of high and moderate concern.” Although businesses were at the table during these taskforce meetings, DEP and advocates overruled their concerns.

But other recommendations in the report provide insight into exactly what advocates hope to accomplish by developing the list of “chemicals of high concern.”

The task force recommended that Maine “establish the authority to require consumer product manufacturers to report which chemicals of high and moderate concern are present in their products.” The task force then suggested that Maine “establish authority to restrict the use of chemicals of high concern in consumer products.”

Just five months after the task force released its report, a bill appeared on the floor of the Democratically controlled Maine legislature to implement the exact anti-business recommendations made by the task force.

Then-Maine Speaker of the House Hannah Pingree, a Democrat legislator who is now an independent advocate for national environmental interests, sponsored the bill, LD 2048, the innocuously named “Kid Safe Act.” The legislature took the task force’s recommendations in the Pingree-sponsored bill and approved them into law.

During the discussion about the law in 2008, activists supporting a ban on a broad range of chemicals put on the full-court press. One of Pingree’s publicly stated reasons for sponsoring and promoting the bill was a “body-burden” chemical study Pingree had received to test her own body.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine, one of the leading activist groups in the push to pass LD 2048, administered the test and kept the results a secret—except to say that Pingree had “35 chemicals detected that are not supposed to be found in the human body.”

Matt Prindiville, at the time the “toxic project director” for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, pointed to the results as a reason a list of “chemicals of high concern” should be developed. “The average Maine citizen should not have to learn about all this information,” Prindiville said in a news story. “That’s the government’s job.”

Prindiville is now the associate director at the Product Policy Institute, a group dedicated to developing “cradle-to-cradle producer responsibility, which makes manufacturers responsible for collecting and recycling their products and packaging.”

The effort is designed to create a cottage industry in Maine not based on innovation and the public welfare, but through government regulation. All of this comes at the expense of established businesses and taxpayers in Maine through poorly designed and overly restrictive regulations.

Activists are also trying to sell support for this approach through a false bill of goods. Another strong supporter of the law was the Environmental Health Strategy Center, a Tides Foundation-funded group headed by Mike Belliveau. A nationally known activist for “environmental justice,” Belliveau vigorously pushed the “Kid Safe Act” in halls and committee rooms of the State House, as well as in the public.

Prindiville and Belliveau are advocates for heavy-handed, command-and-control government regulations, masking their efforts with alluring names like “Kid Safe Act, which give them broad appeal but hide their true intent and lack of scientific rigor.

Belliveau was not just an advocate of the “Kid Safe Act”: he helped craft it. An environmental radical originally from California, Belliveau played a key role as a member of the task force that made the recommendations that led to LD 2048.

Identified as the task force representative from a “Maine public health organization,” Belliveau is well known for his tactics of intimidation and hardline stance in support of expensive and burdensome regulations.

Belliveau testified in support of LD 2048, holding up the questionable regulations in California as examples of how Maine should approach regulatory policy. Recently, Belliveau has worked again with Hannah Pingree, who is now a “consultant” for the “Safer Chemicals Healthy Families” group to promote a new national effort to ban chemicals under the “Safe Chemicals Act.”

Belliveau is a “Senior Advisor” for Safer Chemicals Health Families. Pingree is also the Vice Board Chair of Belliveau’s Environment Health Strategy Center.

The “Kid Safe Act” bill ultimately passed the Maine legislature with support from both parties. Because much of the discussions were one-sided, legislators had little idea about the can of worms they were opening. The law allowed the Department of Environmental Protection to choose thousands of common substances to add to the list of “chemicals of high concern,” creating an overly cumbersome regulatory system that would be driven by the actions of other states and political pressure, rather than science.

Since then, Republicans and Democrats have begun to recognize the shortcomings of the original law. Legislators, based in large part on sign-off by all interested parties, made improvements to the law in the most recent legislative session, including a more focused approach that limits the number of chemicals that can be listed to 70.

Belliveau, Pingree and those who pushed the “Kid Safe Act” law were seeking to emulate California and Washington’s strictest-in-the-nation anti-chemical laws. In fact, the law allowed DEP to use those states lists as an authority for which chemicals should be placed on the “high concern” list in Maine.

The architects of the “Kid Safe Act” also looked to Europe for guidance, authorizing Maine’s DEP to choose chemicals from a list of substances subject to authorization and regulation by the European Parliament.

Ranging from Baldacci’s task force to a Maine law modeled after California, Washington and Europe, from the list of “chemicals of high concern” to changing how businesses operate and provide common consumer products, the political process used to develop and implement the “Kid Safe Act” marks a major, and concerning, turning point in Maine’s regulatory environment.

It demonstrates that efforts by activists and environmental advocacy groups through the use of strong-arm tactics could draw Maine further away from the bipartisan and common sense approaches that other states have taken on chemical regulation. The potential result is a more restrictive and uncertain regulatory climate for those who live, work and run businesses in Maine.

VIDEO: Hannah Pingree speaking at a “Stroller Brigade” event in Washington D.C.

About Steve Robinson

Steve Robinson is the former editor of The Maine Wire and currently producer for the Howie Carr Show. Follow him on Twitter @Stevie_Rob or send him an email at Steve@HowieCarrShow.com.

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