Status Report on Pending Environmental Bills
The culvert bill is hung up at the legislature. Just as fish are blocked from moving upstream by tens of thousands of poorly installed culverts, the Department of Environmental Protection’s culvert rules appear unable to migrate through the legislative process.
LD 1725, Resolve, Regarding Legislative Review of Portions of Section 10: Stream Crossings within Chapter 305 Permit by Rule Standards, a Major Substantive Rule of the Department of Environmental Protection, has been modified to require that only new culverts accommodate natural stream flow. The rule for replacement culverts will go back to DEP to be reworked for next session.
Maine Municipal Association fought the new rules, but it was the late entry of the Department of Transportation that sunk the bill. The DOT, claiming that the DEP rules went further than the federal rules, stuck a $6 million fiscal note on the bill.
Like many legislative bills this session, it’s all about money.
Legislators are reluctant to add any operating costs for businesses, municipalities, or state agencies. Any bill with a negative fiscal note – meaning it will cost money – has little to no chance this year.
Nevertheless, the Environmental Priorities Coalition is doing well with most of its high priority bills.
As I often do on the third floor of the Capitol, I asked Jenn Burns, Maine Audubon’s lobbyist, and Beth Ahearn of Moose Ridge Associates who lobbies for environmental and other causes, to bring me up-to-date on the major environmental issues. Here’s what I learned.
LD 1631, An Act to Provide Leadership Regarding the Responsible Recycling of Consumer Products, has been enacted. The bill was rewritten after the chamber of commerce voiced strong opposition. It sets up a process to pull products out of the waste stream.
LD 1538, An Act to Close Loopholes in Environmental Laws, was also enacted. It requires that forestry roads used to access development have a storm water permit. This will assure that roads constructed for forestry purposes are not automatically turned into roads into developments.
LD 1662, An Act to Improve Maine's Air Quality and Reduce Regional Haze at Acadia National Park and Other Federally Designated Class I Areas, will be enacted this week. It reduces the amount of sulfur (a component of air pollution) in home heating oil and industrial oil over the next six years. It enjoyed the support of the oil industry.
LD1568, An Act to Clarify Maine's Phase-out of Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers, is going through the chambers and should be enacted this week. This bill gets DECA out of food storage pallets. As Beth put it so well, DECA is “unpalletable.”
LD 891, An Act to Amend the Site Location of Development Law to Include Consideration of Greenhouse Gas Emissions, was turned into a Resolve posing questions for DEP to answer and report back to the Natural Resources Committee. The language is being tweaked and it ought to be finalized this week.
LD 1547, An Act to Revise Notification Requirements for Pesticides Applications Using Aircraft or Air-carrier Equipment, has three divided reports out of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. Each report has a different degree of notification required when spraying pesticides. The bill will go to the floor this week.
While these bills are high priority for the Environmental Priorities Coalition, there are many other bills that impact our environment, from the tree growth tax program to quality of place initiatives. We’ll report on those at a later date.
This week, attention will focus on the supplemental budget that will emerge from the Appropriations Committee no later than today, giving us additional insight into its impact on the natural resource agencies.
As the state’s commitment to these agencies has diminished (they have dropped from 4.3 percent to 1.8 percent of the state budget), our commitment to Maine’s environment and quality of place remains high – as long as it doesn’t cost anything.
If you want to see a lot of fish this spring and summer, find a hanging culvert where they’ll be piled up, unable to move upstream.