See Editor's Note at the bottom of this story.
In his weekly radio address, Gov. LePage said the regulatory reform proposals are the beginning of an agenda needed to turn Maine's economy around and create jobs for Maine people. "Most of the proposals I've developed come directly from the business owners and managers who have attended the red tape workshops that have been held throughout the state," he said.
By the time the workshops come to a close, LePage says more than 25 of them will have been scheduled and more than 1,000 job creators will have had the opportunity to share their ideas for regulatory reform.
But when it comes to proposed repeal of the Kid Safe Products Law, which sets up a process for identifying and finding alternatives for a list of toxic chemicals of concern, environmentalists and even some business owners are skeptical about the origin of the governor's opposition.
LePage's spokesman, Dan DeMeritt, says opposition to the Kid Safe Products Law came from the Maine Grocers Association at the first red tape audit workshop in November. "Their concern is about the rule, and it's not just a concern about one chemical, it's a concern about a process and the process that businesses will have to go through moving forward."
Recently the Maine Board of Environmental Protection recommended the phase-out of the hormone disrupting chemical bisphenol A--or BPA--from baby bottles and sippy cups.
Shelly Doak of the Maine Grocers' Association says her members are concerned about the process of identifying toxic chemicals under the Kid Safe Products Law, but have not actually taken a stance. "The grocers--Maine Grocers' Association--has been monitoring the rule-making proceedings that have been taking place over the last year or so and have not taken an active role, or have we taken a position on the rule," she says.
In fact, during the rulemaking process at the BEP over the past year-and-a-half, most of the opposition to the rule phasing out BPA has come from the Washington D.C.-based American Chemistry Council, which represents chemical and plastics manufacturers; and from the Toy Industry Association in New York which objects to the BPA rule for several reasons, including cost, and what it characterizes as a "testing burden."
Spokesman Andy Hackman says the Toy Industry Association has actively sought relief at all levels of government in Maine. "We've expressed it to the administration and the Legislature in hopes to provide some reasonable and feasible relief underneath the rule," Hackman says.
A spokesman for the American Chemistry Council did not return telephone calls to MPBN, and a former lobbyist for the council, Patty Aho, declined to comment because she is under consideration for a deputy commissioner position at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
Matt Prindiville, the clean production project director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, says the only Maine group he can recall testifying against the BPA rule was the Maine Chamber of Commerce.
"There is no connection--absolutely no connection--that can be made between this proposal to repeal the bisphenol A rule, which passed unanimously based on the science, and jobs in Maine," Prindiville says. "There's definitely an agenda from out-of-state chemical corporations that are opposed to Maine protecting their people from toxic chemicals, but that's not what this red tape audit process was supposed to be about."
Prindiville says nine other states, Canada and the European Union have taken similar steps to phase out BPA, and he says the market is already beginning to substitute alternatives for the chemical for plastic products and can linings.
Last week the Washington-based Grocery Manufacturers Association released a written statement expressing support for the governor's proposed regulatory reforms, calling the BPA rule in particular "a misguided regulation."
But at least one small business organization is now beginning its own push-back of the governor's proposals. Nate Libby represents Maine's Small Business Coalition, which he says represents 2,500 members with fewer than five employees.
"You know, Maine's number one industry is tourism," Libby says. "And a lot of our members, if we can't market our product of having a clean environment and a pristine quality of life, that compromises their ability to market their products."
Libby says the coalition, which is supported in part by the Maine Peoples' Alliance, has not polled its entire membership on the governor's proposed environmental rollbacks, but he says the steering committee objects to many of them. And he says the group will be speaking out during hearings put on by the Legislature's Committee on Regulatory Reform, which begin this week.
Editor's Note: After this story aired, MPBN received a copy of this December, 2010, letter from the Maine Grocers' Association. When asked for clarification, MGA spokeswoman Shelly Doak maintained that the Association has not taken a position on the proposed bisphenol-A rule, although the letter suggests that the rule be postponed.