LePage's secret puppeteers

By COLIN WOODARD  |  February 10, 2011

A little context: the relevant federal law – the Toxic Substances Control Act – is notoriously weak, requiring that regulators – not producers – present "substantial evidence" of toxicity before banning a substance. The Government Accountability Office has repeatedly recommended Congress change this, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency couldn't even successfully ban asbestos under current provisions. In the absence of federal action, states like Maine have passed more stringent standards to protect their citizens, despite opposition from industry.

"Not a single Maine business testified in opposition to the regulations on BPA," says Amanda Sears, associate director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center in Portland. "The opposition to these proposals from these corporate lobbying firms is entirely about national precedent setting. These industries haven't had the power here that they have in DC to stop these things from being enacted."

Similarly, Aho and her Pierce Atwood colleagues represented the Dallas-based BROMINE SCIENCE AND ENVIRONMENTAL FORUM, an alliance of four chemical companies that manufacture a toxic fire retardant that was banned in Maine in 2007. (Vermont, Washington, and Oregon also prohibit it.) LePage's wish list would repeal the ban, as it exceeds federal standards. The legislature may be inclined to play along. The two member companies that are based in the US —ALBEMARLE and CHEMTURA — spread $20,000 out among various legislators via their questionably named Sound Science for Maine PAC. Recipients included Senator John Nutting (D-Leeds), Representative Kathleen Chase (R-Wells), and Representative Stephen Hanley (D-Gardiner), and the personal PACs of Assistant House Majority Leader Andre Cushing (R-Hampden); Senate Majority Leader Jon Courtney (R-Springvale), and Senate President Kevin Raye (R-Perry).

The governor also seeks to reverse a suite of PRODUCT-STEWARDSHIP AND RECYCLING LAWS "to develop a policy that ensures that manufacturers do not have to pay to recycle their consumer products and that these standards do not exceed those set in federal law" — a move that would effectively reverse Maine laws for capturing or recycling e-waste, mercury-bearing thermometers and car batteries, and other products. This will please PhRMA and AstraZeneca, who hired Preti to fight last year's product-stewardship law. Both entities also gave generously in support of LePage's candidacy last year, investing $140,000 and $344,000 respectively via the Republican Governors Association's Maine PAC. (See "LePage's Secret Bankers," by Colin Woodard, January 21.)

This provision troubles Maine's municipalities. "Product stewardship has positive benefits, because in Maine, we're the ones responsible for solid waste disposal," says Geoff Herman of the Maine Municipal Association. "These laws get the manufacturer to be at least partially responsible for recycling hazardous stuff, so they at least share with property-tax payers the responsibility for their products."

Other provisions in the governor's plan favor politically connected Maine companies. Take the governor's desire to repeal the year-old ACT TO ENSURE THAT REPLACEMENT CULVERTS PERMIT FISH PASSAGE. Under George Smith, the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine vigorously supported the measure, which recognized that brook trout and other species can't swim through the high-velocity currents that can occur in culverts that aren't big enough. "We were a strong voice for that on account of the range of wildlife that are affected," says SAM's new executive director, Matt Dunlap. "It's important to keep these protections in place."

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