Maine is downwind. The state is often called “the tailpipe of the nation” because prevailing winds carry every other state’s pollutants our way. So if Maine has been more proactive in trying to keep harmful chemicals out of the bodies of its residents, it’s because Mainers are at much greater risk of exposure than residents of other states. Maine has some of the highest asthma rates in the country. Smog and ozone are carried directly over Acadia National Park, resulting in summertime health warnings, including this week. A landmark 2006 study tested blood samples from Mainers. On average, each participant had measurable levels of 36 toxic chemicals in their bodies.
We have little control over what other states do to us, but we can exercise some restraint on what we do to ourselves, and we have. This is the real impetus that has driven chemical policy reform in the state in recent years, not some imagined social experiment from away. Ben Gilman’s assertion in his OpEd, “Balancing business and the environment” (July 11 BDN) on behalf of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce that Maine has been a testing ground for out-of-state environmental agendas is far off the mark. Maine suffers disproportionately from the federal government’s failure to reform chemical policy, and that has made us a battleground state whether we like it or not. To her immense credit, Sen. Olympia Snowe has taken up the cause at the national level.
The Chamber of Commerce helped the Legislature update the Kids Safe Products Act last year, which makes another assertion by the Chamber puzzling. It should know better than to claim that the original law gave the Department of Environmental Protection sweeping authority to ban products. It didn’t. Only the Legislature had such authority under the law. I had thought the Chamber would retire that talking point when it proved to be false. Normally the Chamber is quite conscientious in sticking to the facts, so perhaps this was merely an error — an old talking point that was accidentally cut-and-pasted from old testimony.
Still, despite the inaccuracies and hyperbole in Mr. Gilman’s OpEd, the Chamber’s overall message is on target. The Legislature has indeed been very careful to seek protections for the health of its Maine people while minimizing impacts on commerce. During my eight years on the Environment and Natural Resources Committee and my tenure as House lead on the Regulatory Fairness and Reform Committee, it was a pleasure to work with the Chamber toward sensible, science-based chemical policy.
I wish a similar level of cooperation would occur in Congress, so that meaningful reform could pass at the federal level. Maine would no longer be forced by the prevailing air currents into its unwanted leadership role, and the Chamber would no longer be forced into the unenviable role of defending certain chemical companies whose standards for truthfulness are far, far lower than the Chamber’s.
Rep. Bob Duchesne is a member of House District 13.