Over the past five months, EHSC supporters proved again that people power can triumph over political shenanigans, by soundly defeating the LePage administration and the chemical industry in their attempt to overturn Maine’s policies that protect children from the most dangerous chemicals in everyday products.
Early in this Legislative Session, the LePage administration publicly targeted the BPA phase out and the Kid-Safe Products Act as part of its rollback agenda. EHSC and our supporters and allies rose to the challenge, demonstrating the depth and intensity of public support for safer chemicals and children’s health to Legislators, the media, and the Governor. We also worked with many partners to marshal scientific evidence, expert testimony, and medical and business support. We harnessed the outrage of parents, grandparents, children, and families to send a loud and clear message: Maine supports safer chemicals!
Public support for safer products has continued to increase since the 2008 passage of the Kid-Safe Products Act. A February poll commissioned by the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine found that 91% of Mainers surveyed believe it is important for Maine to identify the most dangerous chemicals currently used in making consumer products, and require manufacturers to replace them with safer ones as long as they are effective and affordable.
The Maine Legislature got the message. In the end, we won unanimous passage of a set of improvements and clarifications to the Kid-Safe Products Act that rejected a broad set of chemical industry-drafted proposals that would have gutted the law. We also won nearly unanimous approval of the phase out of BPA from baby bottles, sippy cups, and all reusable food and beverage containers, and overcame the Governor’s repeated threats to block it when he allowed the phase out to go into effect without his signature.
The Maine Legislature clearly understands that the public and the business community value common sense regulation of dangerous chemicals in everyday products. Unfortunately, the LePage administration and its corporate lobbyist advisors (many of whom have been hired into positions of authority in state government) still don’t get it. Earlier this month, we learned about new administration actions that threaten to dismantle the safer chemicals program in the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The administration has eliminated a half-time staff position to collect, manage, and analyze manufacturer reports on the use of BPA and other priority chemicals in children’s products. Now we don’t know if parents and retail businesses will get access to information about these chemicals they were promised under the law. The administration also just reassigned the only safer chemicals program staff person to completely different work.
So what is the LePage administration really up to? They aren’t saying. No program stakeholders were consulted about, or even informed of, these actions, and they have not been publicly announced. That’s why last week, EHSC wrote to the DEP seeking an explanation of these changes and how the Department plans to meet its responsibilities under the Law to protect Maine’s children. We also asked for an in-person meeting with key stakeholders to discuss the issues. You can read our statement and the letter here.
It’s no surprise that the chemical industry opposes policies that require disclosure of ingredients, health and safety testing, and replacement of dangerous chemicals with safer ones. Nor is it a surprise that they will use many tactics to stall reform. We had hoped for better from the LePage administration. But the Governor’s rollback agenda, his comments dismissing the overwhelming science of BPA’s toxicity, his insulting comment about women only growing “little beards” if they are exposed to BPA, and the recent DEP actions make it clear where the LePage administration stands (at least for the moment) – and it’s not with Maine children, parents, doctors, scientists, and small businesses.
So what’s next? We’re not going to let the administration dismantle the safer chemicals program behind closed doors and ignore the will of the public and the Legislature. We will demand access to public information, enforcement of the law and rules, and continued action to protect our children. We will engage our supporters and allies to hold the DEP and the LePage administration accountable. It’s going to take all of us, but if the first Legislative Session under the LePage administration proved anything, it demonstrated that Maine people, businesses and legislators are unwilling to compromise our health, even at the request of the Governor. Round 1 is over, and Round 2 is starting. Ding, ding.