Governor's proposal draws concerns

AUBURN — There was no screaming Thursday at a forum on regulatory fairness. No chairs where flung and voices barely got above the levels necessary to be heard in a school auditorium.

Regulatory hearing
Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Citizen Paulette Dingley of Auburn speaks at a forum on business regulations at Central Maine Community College in Auburn on Thursday.

Regulatory hearing
Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Rep. Robert Duchesne, right, Sen. Justin Alfond, back, and Rep. Dianne Tilton, members of the Legislature's Joint Select Committee on Regulatory Fairness and Reform, listen to Greg Dugal, executive director of the Maine Innkeepers Association, at a forum on state business regulations at Central Maine Community College on Thursday.

There was, however, passion.

One by one, business owners, outdoor enthusiasts, environmental activists and ordinary people stood at a podium to address the Maine Legislature's Joint Select Committee on Regulatory Fairness and Reform on its so-called "Red Tape Tour."

At issue was Gov. Paul LePage's proposal to rewrite or roll back dozens of regulations and environmental laws. To some, the changes mean the undoing of a lifetime of efforts to protect the resources of Maine.

"I am struck by the fact that within one month of taking office, Gov. LePage was able to develop an extensive list of environmental regulations that are presumably impeding business development in Maine," Mary Ann Larson of New Gloucester told the panel.

"We're asked to believe that this list emerged from the 'red tape' tours," Larson said. "And we're asked to believe that if we just roll back the progress of the last 30 years that business will flock to Maine. Where is the science to support the belief that rolling back environmental laws will bring business to the state?

"Isn't it just as possible," Larson said, "that protecting the Maine brand will attract highly educated, creative people who will start software companies, or special food businesses or will build the next better mouse trap?"

The Maine brand was a consistent theme for the duration of the three-hour meeting at Central Maine Community College's Jalbert Hall. By trying to make it easier for businesses to thrive here, several said, the governor might instead frighten off the very people Maine would like to attract.

Part of LePage's proposal would repeal the Informed Growth Act, which requires the developer of any project larger than 75,000 square feet to pay tens of thousands of dollars for a comprehensive community impact study. Some fear the elimination of the act would result in a plague of big-box stores.

"The Informed Growth Act, passed in 2007, embodies fairness by providing the framework for communities to make prudent and informed decisions around permitting for large-scale retail projects," said Daphne Loring of Greene, who read from a statement on behalf of the Maine Fair Trade Campaign.

"The IGA is a pro-business policy — it was supported by hundreds of Maine businesses who recognize the importance of a strong Maine economy and the value of independent, Maine-based businesses, really the backbone of the Maine economy," Loring said. "At no time has it been more important for us to make responsible decisions for our economic future. The IGA provides a framework for information, transparency and responsible decision-making."

Genevieve Lysen of the Maine People's Alliance said her group vehemently opposes the governor's proposed changes to the laws, saying LePage "doesn't have a clear understanding of what brings people to Maine from elsewhere.

"It's a brand that stands for rugged quality and beauty," Lysen said. People looking for a place to locate their families and their businesses "won't want to live in an environment that's overrun with toxins and urban sprawl."

Committee members have said they do not plan to simply rubber-stamp the governor's proposed reforms — every one of them will be examined and vetted.

The best ideas, committee Chairman Jonathan Courtney said, "come from Main Street, not Augusta."

It was Main Street doing most of the talking Thursday. Just about every seat was filled with innkeepers, gas station owners, Realtors and others who will be directly affected by changes to existing laws.

One of them, Craig Saddlemire, runs a video production company and would likely benefit if laws pertaining to electronic waste were eased. But Saddlemire believes those laws are already too lax. He pays a service to help him properly dispose of waste from his business.

"The fact that I can throw as much as I can into the Lewiston landfill," he said, "seems absurd to me."

Charles "Chip" Morrison, president of the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce, presented the committee with a report similar to one the chamber has already forwarded to the governor. The report represents an analysis the chamber conducted after hearing from members who complained that the regulatory process in Maine is an impediment to economic growth.

"First of all," it states in the chamber report, "not all regulation is bad. Businesses and developers in Maine profit from the state's pristine environment, its abundant natural resources and its productive working landscapes. We do not want important natural assets lost to development or the economic base they provide destroyed. However, some of Maine's regulations actually work against the very thing they seek to protect."

The public forum Thursday was one of seven being held around the state. Some gatherings have turned into shouting matches. Thursday's meeting at CMCC was orderly and calm. The way life should be, one member said.

Many of those in attendance hope it will remain that way.

"People who could live anywhere," Larson said, "choose Maine because of the quality of life."

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 's picture

Not working so far...

I think we need to look outside the box Govenor Baldacci has led us into. We need to entertain all ideas to come up with the ones which will work for ME. It is pretty obvious we cannot leave things as the are today. High taxes, unemployment, and a loosely regulated welfare system tells me we need a different approach than the road we are currently on. If you don't agree, get involved in state politics...that's what Paul LePage did!

 's picture

Peeing down both legs

The environmentalists, the innkeepers, the tourism people--you are all contradicting yourselves. You are the very ones who support the industrial wind movement which will dramatically alter inland Maine. You will not be able to throw a rock without hitting a 40 story tall wind turbine but your angry about loosening these rules?

You can't have it both ways, folks. I'm angry about LePage's proposed changes, too. But I would also like to ask (scream from the mountaintops, actually): WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN FOR THE LAST TWO YEARS?! Baldacci did just as much damage with the expedited wind law. I'll stand right next to you and fight but only if you hear those of us in quiet, beautiful, traditional, popular recreational areas all over western, northern, and eastern Maine who have been trying to tell you the same thing about industrial wind. Until that time, you are falling on deaf ears for those of us who REALLY care about Maine's unique and rugged qualities.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Few will deny that the

Few will deny that the environment needs to be protected and saved. Not many will admit, however, that it needs to be protected and saved from those who are obsessed with protecting and saving it. Environmentalism is but a religion that worships at the altar of Cap andTrade.

 's picture

Fairy Tales

Environmentalism is not a religion. No supreme being. No explanation of life; after-life; no system of morality.
Cap and Trade is barely a proposal. No legislation is based on it. No law exists enforcing it. This comment is the same insane extremism one can find any time on Beck's shows.
LePage wants to turn Maine into New Jersey. He doesn't want but he also doesn't care if working class children die in order to sell more flexible baby bottles.

 's picture

Hoorah! Finally some

Hoorah! Finally some organized effort to say stop! Wait! Look deeper before you change the the biggest part of what helps to maintain Maine's number one business. Without our continual efforts to go above and beyond, that is maintain stricter environmental controls than the federal government requires, and keep our state as clean and beautiful as possible, our tourism industry would flop. We need this cleanliness, we need the pristeen beauty of our state. If tourism flops/fails to recover with the national economy, what will happen to the thousands of small business. Our lobster pounds, family owned restaurants, motels, antique stores, even stores like Renys and yes Mardens thrive because of the thousands of people flocking to our state for a visit every year!

GARY SAVARD's picture

We can hold up a development

We can hold up a development project for a year while deciding just how valuable a vernal pool on the site is or isn't, but we can expedite the blasting of a mountain top to install windmills with no thought given to the potential long term impact on human, animal, and plant life. I think the bottom line here is about money and who's connected and who isn't. Not the environment.

 's picture

Anybody Working Out There?

While the lefties whined, the working people of this state remained at their work, supporting them.

GARY SAVARD's picture

It is ironic that any

It is ironic that any proposed changes to existing environmental or other regulations that impede development or business expansion draw howls from environmental groups who preach about the Maine brand and sense of place and the state's rugged beauty being enough to attract business, (which sure hasn't been the case so far), yet these same groups mostly stayed quiet while Baldacci and his pals set in motion a plan to rape most of Maine's elevated wilderness areas with wind farms that, after construction will have added almost no jobs on a permanent basis, will provide an in-efficient form of energy, and that will have a shelf life so short that it's likely anyone under 50 years old will get to pay to help remove them. Oh, and Mark, it is Sooo obvious that you harbor a great dislike for Governor Lepage. It gets in the way of good reporting. Too bad.


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