AUGUSTA — As Gov. Paul LePage continued to weather national fallout for recently saying women could develop "little beards" if exposed to bisphenol-A, or BPA, questions continue to mount about the motives behind the governor's proposal to reverse a ban on the substance.
Questions also hover over the administration's Wednesday dismissal of Dr. Dora Anne Mills, the medical director of MaineCare and formerly the head of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Last year, as head of the CDC, Mills testified that BPA should become a priority chemical banned under the state's Kid-Safe Products Act.
Dan Demeritt, a spokesman for the governor, said Thursday that Mills' dismissal "was not linked in any way" to Mills' public support of the BPA ban.
But some Democrats aren't convinced. Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, hoped Mills wasn't fired because of her stance on BPA, while Rep. Bob Duchesne, D-Hudson, was convinced that she was.
"I think they're getting rid of anybody actually proposing science that the chemical lobby doesn’t agree with," Duchesne said. "They’re just getting rid of those people in this administration. They’re gone."
Demeritt also denied that the administration attempted to remove from the CDC website a fact page outlining the risks of BPA. The page went down Thursday morning and was spotted by the progressive blogger Gerald Weinand. The page was reactivated following a reporter inquiry.
Demeritt said an adjoining Web page was "under construction" and caused the CDC page to fail. He said, "It didn’t come down as any kind of purge of BPA information."
However, Demeritt said he couldn't promise that BPA information wouldn't change because LePage "isn't convinced that the science is there" to back it up. He said the site could be updated to include information from the World Health Organization, which maintains that evidence against BPA is "too weak" to support banning the substance.
The administration's argument that a BPA ban should be backed by "consensus science" hasn't diminished criticism that LePage's more controversial reform proposals were advanced by chemical corporations with no business interests in Maine.
That suspicion was reinforced following an investigative story by journalist Colin Woodard and a report by the Maine Public Broadcasting Network. Both stories highlighted an eight-digit tracking number on LePage's reform proposal that matched the document signature used by Preti, Flaherty, Believeau and Pachios, a lobbying firm with considerable influence in the State House.
Ann Robinson, who leads the firm's lobbying group, was a lead member of the governor's transition team. Demeritt recently confirmed that she took the lead in drafting the reform package.
Lobbyist disclosure documents with the Maine ethics commission show Robinson lobbied for several corporations that stand to benefit from LePage's regulation rollbacks, including the Toy Industry Association of America, the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association and Merck. Robinson worked for PhRMA and Merck when the corporations tried to defeat the Kid-Safe Products Act in 2008.
The evaluative law is designed to get rid of chemicals in children's products, such as toys and clothes. Last year, BPA was added to the list of banned chemicals. According to lobbyist documents, Robinson was hired by the Toy Industry Association of America to fight the BPA ban.
Demeritt said the governor's proposal to lift the ban was not the result of a "quid pro quo" for Robinson's services during the transition.
Rep. Duchesne isn't convinced.
"It sure looks like a favor," he said. "The people who had the input into the governor’s policies so far are the exact same people who are representing the manufacturers."
He added, "We’ve outsourced our regulations to lobbyists that are representing the chemical industry. So how does BPA end up on the list? Because the lobbyists gave (LePage) the list."
Demeritt said repealing the BPA ban came from industry groups such as the Maine Grocers Association and the Maine Beverage Association. So far, neither group has filed lobbying activity documents for LD 1.
It's also unclear how lifting a ban on BPA would meet LePage's stated impetus for regulatory reform: job creation.
Demeritt said lifting an unnecessary ban would create a stable regulatory environment and lure economic activity.
"The message we need to be able to send to companies is that you can come here and build your $10 million plant and hire 300 people," he said. "Whatever it is you use in your manufacturing process, you can continue to use unless there’s sound science (that proves it’s unsafe)."
The administration's quest for "consensus science" could prove elusive.
The administration is leaning on the World Health Organization's BPA opinion. But other reputable organizations, including the federal Centers for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Endocrine Society, have publishe warnings about BPA.
Nine states have moved to ban BPA. So have Canada and Europe.
Demeritt was asked if the potential of a public health risk was enough to consider a change in the administration's BPA policy.
"At some level, consumers have to take some responsibility for what they’re bringing into their own homes," he said. "We can’t promise anybody that we’re going to move them into rubber rooms. ... People need to make decisions for themselves."