Republicans swept into power across Maine state government this month. The same wave election that surged nationwide carried the day in Maine. Some folks have asked me what these election results mean for safer chemicals policy reform.
Fortunately, there’s no partisan divide when it comes preventing prostate cancer, breast cancer, infertility, learning disabilities and obesity. Reducing toxic chemical exposure, especially during early childhood and fetal development, will prevent such harm.
In fact, Maine legislators have consistently shown strong bipartisan support for protecting children’s health from dangerous chemicals in everyday products. Maine’s actions place us in the center of the chemical reform effort nationwide.
A new national report, which I authored, shows that 18 states passed 71 chemical safety laws by an overwhelming margin in the last eight years. Maine lawmakers enacted nine of those laws. Of the 836 roll-call votes tallied in Maine, 78% of Republicans and 99% of Democrats voted in favor of protecting children’s health from toxic chemicals.
In a clear example of the bipartisan consensus, the Maine Legislature passed the Kid Safe Products Act in 2008 by votes of 35 to 0 in the Senate and 129 to 9 in the House of Representatives. Maine policymakers voted children’s health first, above the interests of the out-of-state chemical industry that blindly opposed this safer chemicals reform.
The Bipartisan Drivers for Safer Chemicals
I attribute the strong bipartisan support for state chemical policy reform to:
- A growing body of scientific evidence showing that toxic chemicals threaten harm to children’s health, alarming medical experts and the public;
- A broken federal law and failed Congressional leadership on chemicals;
- Significant cost savings in health care that could result from prevention; and
- New business opportunities being created for safer alternatives, such as bio-based products made from Maine natural resources.
The voting record of Maine legislators strongly tracks public opinion. As the Republican wave was roiling late this summer, a national poll of 75 swing Congressional districts found that 78% of likely voters were seriously concerned about the threat to children’s health from toxic chemicals in day-to-day life. About 80% favored federal legislation to tighten restrictions on toxic chemicals, even after hearing the strongest arguments against action.
Huge health costs are another driver. A University of Maine study by health economist Dr. Mary Davis found that Maine could save $380 million per year by preventing the childhood cancer, asthma, lead poisoning and learning & developmental disabilities associated with environmental exposures.
Until Congress acts to overhaul the toothless Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, Maine children and families will depend on continued state policy leadership.
The New Maine Legislature
Some have asked, with Speaker Hannah Pingree leaving office, where are you going to find new champions for children’s environmental health?
Perhaps new Senate President-elect, Kevin Raye (R-Washington County). Senator Raye was the architect of the unanimous 2008 Senate vote on the Kid Safe Products Act, made possible by a compromise amendment he sponsored. Senator Raye also built consensus in the Health and Human Services Committee, which unanimously approved another bill to protect children’s health from toxic lead in toys.
The new Maine Senate, where Republicans will hold a 20 to 14 margin over Democrats, with one independent, includes a number of other Senators from both sides of the aisle with strong legislative records of support for environmental health and safer chemical policies.
Republicans will also control the new Maine House of Representatives with a 78 to 72 margin over Democrats, with one independent. That chamber will hold several Republican champions of protecting children’s environmental health, including Jane Knapp (R-Gorham) who provided bipartisan support for the Kid Safe Products Act in the Natural Resources Committee and has participated in a national forum on chemicals policy reform.
In future posts, I’ll weigh in on the approach of Governor-elect Paul LePage to children’s environmental health and the new business opportunities in safer chemicals and sustainable materials. Until then, here’s a parting quote from a sister state that says it all about getting toxic chemicals out of children’s products:
“Voting against this bill is like voting against brakes on a school bus” – Bob Sump, former Republican Representative from Washington State.