AUGUSTA — Parents and advocacy groups Thursday urged state lawmakers to reject Gov. Paul LePage's plan to roll back laws protecting the environment and public health.
Dozens of people filled the State House Welcome Center to protest several of the governor's proposals that he hopes will be included in LD 1, the so-called regulatory fairness bill.
LePage unveiled his plan earlier this week. It includes reversing rules already in place, including the planned phase-out of Bisphenol-A, or BPA, in consumer products such as baby bottles and cups, a ban on using a toxic flame retardant in furniture and aligning some state environmental regulations with less stringent federal standards.
LePage has said his proposals are based on a cost-benefit analysis garnered from his review of the state's regulatory environment. But environmental and child safety advocates on Thursday said the governor has chosen corporate profits over public health.
"After a few short weeks in office, Gov. LePage wants to reverse the course of history," said Mike Belliveau, executive director of the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine. "Not only does the governor want to throw out the baby with the bath water, he wants to poison the baby first."
Belliveau referred to the state's current BPA ban in children's products such as baby bottles and drink cups. Maine is one of nine states to enforce a BPA ban, which is also in place in Canada and Europe. The state's law is stricter than federal law, the standard LePage proposes adopting through LD 1.
Belliveau said that more than 200 peer review studies have linked BPA exposure in babies to increased risk of brain damage and certain cancers later in life.
Dan Demeritt, LePage's communications director, said the federal government is best-suited to implement such a ban, not the state.
"Gov. LePage has proposed a change to a rule," Demeritt said. "He is not passing judgment on BPA or any other chemical. He believes a national regimen led by the Federal Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency is the best way to reach determinations about product safety and consumer protections."
Demeritt said BPA-free products are available on the market; consumers don't have to buy products that contain the chemical.
Belliveau disputed Demeritt's claim that the federal government would implement BPA standards on its own. He said there are no federal standards for BPA because the federal Toxic Substances Control Act hasn't been updated in 35 years.
Demeritt said federal drug and environmental agencies are looking at BPA.
LePage's opponents also said the governor is catering to the chemical industry, not to Mainers or Maine businesses.
They noted the strong support the BPA ban received when it was adopted by the Legislature as part of the 2008 Kid-Safe Products Act, which identified 200 chemicals that should be reviewed and potentially banned.
The legislation passed 129-9 in the House and 35-0 in the Senate.
Seventy-four of those lawmakers, including 32 Republicans, are still in the Legislature.
No Maine business testified against the bill. However, it met stiff resistance from the national chemical industry, including The Dow Chemical Co.
"Who doesn't want to protect kids from toxic chemicals?" Megan Rice of China asked. "And since not a single business testified against the Kid-Safe Products Act, or the designation of BPA as a priority chemical, who is the governor trying to protect with these repeals?"
The news conference set up a showdown between the governor and environmental groups that plan to protest several of his other proposals, including repealing a state law that reduces sulfur content of commercial heating oil to improve visibility in Acadia National Park. State law would clear the air by 2018, but the governor favors the 2068 federal deadline.
LePage's other changes include replacing the Board of Environmental Protection with a judiciary system; replacing many of Maine’s air and water pollution standards with less-stringent federal standards; and opening up 30 percent of the state's Unorganized Territory for development.