Down East 2013 ©
Environmentalists may be swimming upstream against a strong current in the River LePage, but they’re still in the water, finning as fast as they can.
Fresh off their extreme disappointment with the governor’s proposed environmental reforms, The Maine Environmental Priorities Coalition hosted a legislative breakfast and press conference last Thursday to present its 2011 Common Environmental Agenda.
The Coalition is a partnership of twenty-five environmental, conservation, and public health organizations including the American Lung Association of Maine, Maine Council of Churches, Maine Audubon, Natural Resources Council of Maine, and Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.
The previous week Maureen Drouin, Executive Director of the Maine League of Conservation Voters and leader of the Environmental Priorities Coalition, told Maine Public Radio’s Susan Sharon that LePage’s list of environmental reforms “is reckless and appalling. It puts our health at risk, it puts our environment at risk, our clean air, our clean drinking water at risk.”
And Drouin and her allies seem to have driven a wedge deep into the LePage agenda by focusing on issues where prominent Republican legislators differ with their new governor.
They took their first shot immediately after the governor issued his list, when Dana Dow, a conservative Republican House member and former Senator, spoke forcefully at a press conference about the importance of Maine’s ban of the chemical Bisphenol A (BPA). The governor’s list includes a call to repeal the ban.
Dow volunteered a few years ago to be tested for certain chemicals in his blood and was shocked to discover that he had the highest level of any of the other volunteers of perflourinated compounds (PFCs). The fabric protector that Dow used in his furniture business was the culprit. It wasn’t a difficult vote for Dow when he supported the Maine’s Kid Safe Products Act that was enacted in the Senate unanimously.
That’s right. Every Republican Senator voted for the Act that requires Maine to adopt a list of priority chemicals of high concern, forces manufacturers to disclose the toxic chemicals they add to products, and authorizes the state to require safer alternatives whenever they are available.
Under this Act, BPA is the first chemical that the Maine Board of Environmental Protection decided should be phased out in reusable food and beverage containers including baby bottles and sippy cups. Governor LePage may be drinking from the wrong cup on this one.
Defense of the ban on BPA was the first of five issues that were unveiled last week as the 2011 Common Environmental Agenda. These folks aren’t stupid. Take an issue that every Maine Senator supported, mix in conservative House members like Dana Dow, and what have you got? A big defeat for the governor.
Well, maybe their other four issues are losers. Let’s look at issue number two.
Oh, oh. Second issue up is a proposed Act to Reduce Maine’s Oil Dependence and Build a Clean Energy Future for Maine. And guess who is sponsoring this Act for the Environmental Priorities Coalition?
The sponsor is Republican Representative Stacy Fitts of Pittsfield, an avid sportsman and good fellow who would never be mistaken for a liberal. His bill would commit Maine to reduce oil use by 30 percent by 2030 and by 50 percent by 2050. “We’re all out of balance,” said Fitts. He was probably talking about our use of oil and not the Governor’s list of environmental reforms.
Ok, so the rest of the 2011 Common Environmental Agenda is probably a bunch of outrageous left wing attacks on business.
Well, not so fast. Issue number three on the list is a Land for Maine’s Future bond. Front and center at the Environmental Priorities Coalition was Republican Senator David Trahan of Waldoboro, who is sponsoring a $48 million bond issue including $28 million for the Land for Maine’s Future Program. Trahan wants some of that LMF money to purchase and protect key deer wintering areas in northern and eastern Maine – part of a new Deer Action Plan that the Senator and I have been working on for two months – and something the governor has already expressed support for and spoken publicly about, including at his January 20 meeting with 500 environmentalists.
The two other issues in the Environmental Agenda call for expansion of recycling and no weakening of Maine laws and rules that protect water, land, and wildlife.
The Environmental Priorities Coalition has wisely created a focused agenda of issues that appeal to both Republicans and Democrats and in some cases, even the governor. If they can stay on message with these five issues, they may have a very successful legislative session.
The danger comes in trying to serve as the anti-LePage, fighting the governor on each and every issue, defending every inch of the battlefield. My suggestion to them is simple: make your fight in the center, where you have the advantage. You’re off to a good start.