Don’t shirk environment to save money

Posted Feb. 03, 2011, at 11:36 p.m.

Last year, the DeCoster Egg Farm contributed to a national salmonella outbreak. It happened in Iowa and seven other states, but it didn’t happen in Maine. Maine regulations force DeCoster to follow stricter rules than some other states do, and that prevented an outbreak here. Given the chance before the outbreak, DeCoster might have joined one of Gov. Paul LePage’s red tape hearings to complain about Maine’s tough rules.

It’s common sense — and good economic sense — to protect our food supply, our water and our air. Our economy depends on it.

The effect of Maine’s environment on our economy is critical to our brand and our bottom line. The state’s forest-based manufacturing, tourism and recreation contributes $6.5 billion annually to Maine’s economy; wildlife-related recreation contributes $1.5 billion; and Maine’s fishing industry contributes $1 billion.

Yet, in a move that surprised just about everyone, Gov. LePage rolled out a plan to repeal many of Maine’s long-standing environmental protections that our core industries depend on.

Of the 63 recommendations, more than half roll back protections to the health, safety and welfare of Maine residents. The worst would repeal new rules that protect children from bisphenol-A, a potentially toxic chemical. Nine states and Canada already have taken action to reduce childhood exposure to BPA. I can’t think of a business in Maine that would suggest to the governor that we put this chemical back into baby bottles and sippy cups.

Another proposal would gut the entire Kid Safe Product Act that was passed almost unanimously by the Maine Legislature two years ago.

One more proposal suggests scrapping plans to reduce sulfur content in fuel. Maine leads the nation in childhood asthma. I do not believe that our children’s health is an appropriate price to pay to make the state more business-friendly.

In his campaign for governor, LePage stated time and time again that he would make Washington leave us alone; the government of Maine was going to decide what was good for its people. The reality doesn’t match. The new governor’s laundry list of rollbacks would let Washington decide our environmental statutes and standards, sulfur dioxide levels, recycling standards, how we deal with hazardous substances, waste and storm water runoff that poses a danger to our water quality and trout streams.

The governor also proposes to eliminate the Board of Environmental Protection and rezone 3 million acres of the north woods for development. That’s about the size of Connecticut. Maine people believe that our economy needs logging trucks in that forest, not condos.

Maine’s brand is based on its environment and natural resources — and the health and prosperity of Maine people are dependent on our state setting our own standards for the quality of our air, water and food. These values are important to Maine people, and once the state turns its back on them, we can never really return.

Democrats in Augusta hope that all Mainers will join us in urging Gov. LePage to send this special-interest-driven repeal agenda back to the out-of-state companies it came from.

Democrats will work with the majority party in the Legislature to find common ground on reforming, innovating and streamlining our state’s regulations to make it easier for businesses to grow here — but we will not back down from our commitment to Maine people to protect clean air, clean water and our natural heritage.

Bob Duchesne of Hudson represents District 13 in the Maine House of Representatives. He is the lead House Democrat on the Regulatory Fairness and Reform and the Environment and Natural Resource committees.

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