Consumer Forum

Wanting what’s good for the marketplace

Posted Jan. 30, 2011, at 8:37 p.m.

When our organization changed its name a few years back, we made a conscious decision to call it, “Northeast CONTACT For Better Business Inc.” Our thinking went like this: Since consumers and business people can build a fairer, more effective marketplace together, they should be considered partners in that effort.

It was founded as Bangor COMBAT, later Northeast COMBAT. Consumers of Maine Bringing Action Together yielded the acronym, COMBAT. The recent change reflected a desire to work cooperatively rather than combatively.

Gov. Paul LePage’s recent list of regulations he wants reviewed and possibly repealed may put some people back in combat mode. Instead of a call for regulatory reform to improve Maine’s business climate, some see a rollback effort with health and safety implications.

The governor’s call to scrap some significant natural resource protections caused howls of protest from the environmental community. His list on the consumer protection side, while shorter, may draw almost as much fire.

LePage would have a joint legislative committee look at all rules requiring recycling and “take-backs,” and assure that manufacturers don’t have to pay anything once their products’ useful lives are over. He also wants no Maine law stricter than federal rules.

Experience shows recycling of hazardous materials in computer and television monitors is working. Maine’s first in the nation take-back law took effect in 2006. In 18 months, some 6 million pounds of hazardous junk had been collected. Today, systems are in place to keep mercury thermostats, mercury switches from disman-tled motor vehicles and nickel cadmium batteries out of Maine’s waste stream as well.

Prohibiting some chemicals and materials in consumer products is another area of regulation that concerns the governor. He wants the joint committee to think about scrapping all that, at least to make sure that nothing in Maine law offers any more protection than existing federal rules or statutes. The governor is calling for risk-benefit or cost-benefit standards when the state regulates consumer goods at all.

All of that would be fine, if those federal standards really protected us. A task force named by former Gov. John Baldacci studied the need for regulating dangerous chemicals in common products. The group found federal protections inadequate. The bill that followed, LD 2048, passed 129-9 in the Maine House and 35-0 in the Senate.

Since its passage, the law has led to use of safer products by state government employees. They and members of the public who use state facilities seem to like the change. That task force also found that a growing market for safer products would spark innovation and spur economic growth.

Our conclusion is that the consumer rules LePage would toss out are helping create the greener, safer marketplace of the future. We urge him to stay the course, rather than shifting the real cost of goods from producers to consumers. We ask that he help in the effort to make products safer and allow their reuse or recycling, rather than simply hoping the feds will do a better job (a big hope, if we look at areas like food safety).

In the end, the question is what is good for the marketplace we all want, rather than simply what’s good for business as usual. Make your opinion count by letting your legislators know your views. Their names can be found through the state website at www.maine.gov/legis/house/townlist.htm.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for more information, write: Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, go to http://necontact.wordpress.com, or e-mail at contacexdir@live.com.

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