Environmental advocates push back against ‘assault’ by GOP Legislature

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AUGUSTA — Environmental advocates are taking aim at the Legislature’s “widespread assault” on laws protecting Maine’s water, air and public health.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine on Tuesday unveiled a list of 50 bills that Pete Didisheim, the group’s executive director, described as a “sweeping anti-environment agenda.”

All but one of the bills are sponsored by Republicans, and Didisheim said many go above and beyond Gov. Paul LePage’s “extreme measures.” Environmentalists already have blasted the governor’s list of rollback proposals, which included lifting a ban on bisphenol-A, a synthetic estrogen used to harden polycarbonate plastics.

Fourteen of the 50 bills are advanced by lawmakers from Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties. Of those, six are sponsored by Sen. Thomas Saviello, R-Franklin, and four are from Sen. Lois Snowe-Mello, R-Androscoggin.

Several of Snowe-Mello’s bills were discussed during Tuesday’s news conference, including a proposal to repeal state law regarding enforcement of environmental violations and confine enforcement within a five-year statute of limitations; an act that would reduce shoreland zoning land-use rules from 250 feet from the high water mark to 75 feet; and a bill to clarify the scheduled phase-out of the toxic flame retardant DECA.

The latter proposal has not cleared the Revisor’s Office, but Snowe-Mello confirmed that it has been submitted.

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The Legislature voted along bipartisan lines in 2007 to approve a ban on the sale of products that use DECA, which releases a neurological toxin that transmits to humans via dust and breast milk.

The chemical is commonly found in televisions, electronics and household items such as mattresses and furniture.

According to published reports, the 2007 bill was opposed by the Bromine Science and Environmental Forum, a group representing manufacturers of the chemical.

Two manufacturers, Albemarle and Chemtura, formed the Sound Science for Maine political action committee during the 2010 election, spreading money to candidates in both parties. Its largest contribution went to the Maine Senate Republican Majority, the Senate leadership PAC.

Snowe-Mello, a Maine Clean Elections candidate, said Wednesday that she couldn’t remember who approached her about submitting the bill but that it was “probably one of the chemical companies” that make DECA.

“I just wanted to give the company a voice,” she said. “I think it’s another area that hurts business.”

Laura Thompson Brady, a mother of two from Hallowell, said the proposal to lift the ban was “appalling and unconscionable.” She said she didn’t want to “scour the Internet” to find products that contained the chemical, adding that it was government’s job to protect people.

Snowe-Mello said her shoreland zoning bill was designed to give property owners more flexibility with their land. Opponents of the measure said it could lead to greater phosphorus and algae in Maine lakes and ponds because landowners could clear their property of trees and replace it with lawns that need fertilizer.

Snowe-Mello said she too valued the state’s lakes and ponds, but that shoreland zoning puts too many restrictions on property owners, who can’t build or use their land the way they see fit.

“Even President Theodore Roosevelt, who was a strong environmentalist, recognized that the right to own property came before environment issues,” she said.

Snowe-Mello said she planned to amend her bill on enforcement of environmental infractions so that the five-year statute of limitation doesn’t kick in until after a violation is reported. The bill currently states that the enforcement limit triggers when the violation occurs.

The current language concerned Sean Mahoney, the Maine director of the Conservation Law Foundation, who said violators would be able to escape accountability and leave the state and municipalities with the burden of proving when the infraction happened.

NRCM highlighted Saviello’s bill to amend enforcement of the Statewide Uniform Building Code. Rep. Lance Harvell, R-Farmington, has a bill that would repeal the law.

The group also made note of a proposal by Rep. Jeffrey Timberlake, R-Turner, to decrease the notification area for aircraft-delivered pesticides, also known as crop dusting. State law currently requires the landowner using pesticides to notify all of his neighbors within a 1,320-foot radius. Timberlake’s bill would essentially reduce the radius to 100 feet, about one-third of the size of a football field.

Timberlake lists his occupation as a farmer on the Legislature’s website.

Rep. Sheryl Briggs, D-Mexico, is the lone Democrat on the list. Briggs is sponsoring a bill that would amend the state’s snow removal law to allow municipalities to dump snow in water bodies, such as lakes and rivers.

Several of the proposals highlighted Tuesday are included in LePage’s list of regulatory reform measures.

“If implemented, this sweeping anti-environment agenda would put Maine people out of work, increase our exposure to toxic chemicals, damage Maine’s $10 billion tourism economy and harm Maine’s most important asset, the quality of our environment,” Didisheim said.

Snowe-Mello said any assertion that she was against the environment was “absurd.”

smistler@sunjournal.com

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