Regulatory reform or environmental rollback?

By Rep. Andy O'Brien | Feb 03, 2011

The emails and phone calls started last Monday and as of this writing they haven't ceased.

As a state representative, I often hear from constituents on a range of issues, but since Gov. Paul LePage released his regulatory reform proposals, which are focused almost entirely on erasing 30 years of pollution control and natural resource protections, the voice of concerned citizens has been loud and impassioned.

The governor's spokesman told the Bangor Daily News, “Our expensive, toughest-in-the nation regulations are crippling investment and job creation in Maine.”

However, the range and scope of the proposals have left many questions as to whether the rollbacks would truly bring prosperity and create jobs or actually harm Mainers. As LePage spokesperson Adrienne Bennett told WERU radio, Maine should use Mississippi's hazardous waste rules because they are only seven pages in length.

Your homework is to do a Google search of Mississippi environmental standards and let me know if you would like to follow their lead.

After traveling throughout the United States and abroad, I gained an appreciation for how unique, and frankly, clean our state is. Travel and tourism is Maine's number one industry. According to the Maine Tourism Association, in 2009 the industry accounted for more than $7 billion in sales, $414 million in tax revenues and 108,000 jobs for Mainers.

While other regions outspend us in promotion, millions of visitors come to Maine each and every year for our pristine environment and lack of sprawl. Gov. LePage's proposals to open up Maine's unorganized territories to rampant development, when there has been little call from anyone, including businesses, to do so, and to rollback air and water pollution standards, would most certainly harm Maine's attractive image, hurt our economy and affect general public health.

Gov. LePage has also proposed repealing the 2008 Kids-Safe Products Act, a widely praised consumer protection that has had broad bipartisan support. It puzzles me that after banning the toxic chemical Bisphenol-A (BPA) from items like baby bottles, sippy-cups and other consumer items, it would even be proposed to put it back in. So far, I have yet to hear of a local mom-and-pop chemical company protest this law at one of the governor's red tape audit workshops.

The governor has also proposed repealing a law passed unanimously to protect children from sulfur dioxide pollution. Being an asthmatic myself, I strongly believe that this law is crucial to improving our air quality in a state that has some of the highest rates of asthma in the country.

A phrase I've often heard thrown around by the governor's administration is "regulatory impact analysis" and "cost-benefit analysis." Do we really need to choose between health and profit? The governor has made it clear that he would prefer to put our environmental and health protections in line with less stringent federal guidelines, but as my colleague from across the aisle, Rep. Dana Dow — a Republican from Waldoboro — told MPBN News recently, "We have the right to come up with our own list of standards and proceed, because we are a separate sovereignty, and we can do that, and we should do that."

A few days after the governor's regulatory reform proposals were released, I attended a public hearing at the Legislature’s Committee on Regulatory Fairness and Reform at the University of Maine's Hutchinson Center in Belfast.  Throughout the hearing, a number of business owners did express frustration with duplicative licensing procedures and inconsistent regulatory policies, which were carefully noted by committee members.

It is ironic that these real concerns around true regulatory reform are barely addressed in the governor’s proposals.  The mood in the room was tense and many citizens aired concerns about the governor's environmental policies. After several testimonies referencing the proposals, Committee Chairman Sen. Jon Courtney, visibly frustrated, said: "We want to hear about either problems you're having or issues you're facing. This tour is to listen to suggestions on how we deal with regulatory reform in the state."

This sentiment was shared by other members of the committee, who felt that they were only there to hear regulatory reform suggestions. However, many Mainers believe that environmental protections are essential to our quality of life and are not a barrier to prosperity. Their opinions should be respected and their voices heard.

Holding a public hearing to receive only the testimonies that reassure your own personal world view is not the way to handle opposing views in a democracy. Gov. LePage's environmental roll-back is phase one of what will eventually become an omnibus regulatory reform bill that will be considered and vetted by the Committee on Regulatory Fairness and Reform. Members of the public have a right and a duty to present their concerns at the committee's hearings throughout the state.

Rep. Andy O'Brien, D-Lincolnville, represents  District 44: Lincolnville, Islesboro, Hope, Appleton, Searsmont, Liberty and Morrill.

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