AUGUSTA (AP) – While President Bush marked Earth Day in Wells, Democratic Gov. John Baldacci signed bills that put Maine among the states leading the way on recycling of junk computers and regulating ship wastewater.

One of the bills makes Maine the first state to force manufacturers to accept some responsibility for recycling electronic waste, environmentalists said.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine estimates that 100,000 computers and televisions are stashed away each year in attics, garages and closets in Maine, and as many as 1 million of them may become electronic waste by 2010.

Because each unit contains up to 8 pounds of lead, as well as mercury, cadmium and other toxic materials, the discarded e-waste poses a health threat when dumped.

“These byproducts of the high-tech electronic revolution are poisons if not properly managed at the end of their useful life,” Jon Hinck of the Natural Resources Council Maine said in March when the bill was reviewed in committee.

Environmentalists also say it was critical for Maine to create a recycling program because landfills in the state will not be allowed to accept e-waste as of January 2006. Without such a law, Mainers would have to keep stockpiling their old TVs and monitors or illegally dump them.

Under the new law, which will take effect 90 days after Thursday’s signing, manufacturers must establish consolidation centers by January 2006 where towns can drop off computers and TVs they collect from residents.

Towns may choose whether to participate in the program, and may charge small fees to cover the costs of temporary storage and shipping.

Manufacturers must also take responsibility for shipping and safe recycling of equipment bearing their brand names. Some computer companies supported the bill while TV manufacturers did not.

California has also taken steps to recycle e-waste, but that state’s system is based on $6 to $10 fees consumers pay up front. A law signed by then-Gov. Gray Davis in 2003 also requires the eventual elimination of hazardous substances from electronic equipment.

Maine’s measure, sponsored by House Speaker Patrick Colwell, D-Gardiner, is modeled in part after another Maine law that requires automakers to pay $1 bounties to junkyards and scrap dealers for each mercury switch brought to a consolidation center.

The law also requires automakers to set up the collection centers and ship the mercury switches to recycling centers.

Auto manufacturers challenged the law in federal court, but a judge rejected their case earlier this year.

Also among more than two dozen bills signed without fanfare by Baldacci on Thursday was one that gives the two states at the extreme ends of the continent – Maine and Alaska -what sponsors call the nation’s most stringent regulations over wastewater pumped from cruise ships.

The law calls for standards applying to cruise ships with wastewater treatment systems now in common use as well as advanced systems used by relatively few ships, which pump out much cleaner water.

Another newly signed environmental bill promotes wind power in Maine. Among other things, it authorizes regulatory and other legal action to protect access to markets by wind power facilities located in Maine.

Environmentalists were unhappy with a new law that allows portions of the Androscoggin and St. Croix rivers not to meet the same clean water standards applying to other comparable waterways.

Lawmakers took further action to restrict smoking, which is already outlawed in virtually all public indoor places including bars.

The new law will prohibit smoking within 12 hours before the expected return of children to their foster homes, and bar smoking within 12 hours before transporting a foster child in a car.

AP-ES-04-22-04 1629EDT



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