In matters of business and the environment, people frequently ask, can you have the best of both worlds: a positive business climate and a healthy environment? The answer in Maine is a resounding yes.
Maine Department of Environmental Protection largely embraced this common-sense approach when they followed the direction of state legislation that won bipartisan support to make improvements to the Kids Safe Product Act.
Our state has long been used as a social experiment, the testing ground for out-of-state environmental agendas before trotting them out nationally. The result was a business climate ranked at or near the bottom and unable to break the bonds of overregulation that has stifled prosperity.
Case in point: Former Gov. John Baldacci signed the Kids Safe Product Act into law in 2008. This legislation was a “model bill” that environmental advocates have pushed in a dozen states each year since 2006, which created a swath of environmental bureaucracy including the “Chemicals of High Concern” list. The list includes chemicals used in everyday products such as cellphones, refrigerators and carpets. Left unchecked, the law would have given the DEP sweeping authority to ban products practically at will, with little regard to the science around the safety of these products.
Thankfully, the Legislature made improvements to the law in 2011 to make Maine’s act similar to law in Washington State, which has tried to balance numerous stakeholder interests on this issue. The Legislature did exactly what our government should be doing: finding common ground for the business community and the environmental community to work together. And it was a positive first step for promoting effective common-sense regulations in Maine and finding consistency with other states, such as Washington.
Regulating the safe use of chemicals has merit — especially when scientific evidence is used to guide regulatory decisions and complement federal regulations. But banning products because out-of-state special interest groups think they may be harmful is not in the best interest of Mainers. DEP has shown great fortitude in producing regulations that follow the science behind what needs to be done to protect consumers while at the same time allowing businesses to get back to the task of producing goods and services and employing Mainers across the state.
For too long, environmental activists have sold the supposition that you must punish the business community to protect the environment. The Legislature and DEP are charting a much wiser course of action that proves you can protect both the economy and the environment, as long as you follow the science and remove unnecessary barriers to the economy. So far they have not bowed to the pressures of petitions that demand Maine remain an outlier by banning products that science has not proven harmful in products manufactured and sold in states around the nation.
We all know that Maine is a wonderful to state to live. We are now proving that Maine is also a wonderful a place to invest and do business, and attract sorely needed jobs that will put our residents back to work.
Ben Gilman of Gorham is the Senior Government Relations Specialist for the Maine State Chamber.