The first year of a Maine Legislative session is known as the “long session”. The session that just adjourned was the longest “long session” in Maine history. We passed a bipartisan budget that was signed by Governor LePage, made policy that will help increase economic development in rural Maine and passed some good laws to help our environment.
In the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, on which I serve, we heard bills on diverse topics. The Committee has jurisdiction over the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) which includes air and water quality, natural resource protection, shore land zoning, subdivisions, management and disposal of solid and hazardous waste, waste-to-energy facilities, mining, and the bottle bill, among others.
One of the highest profile bills that the committee dealt with was the new law that will add a 5-cent deposit to 50mL liquor bottles (also known as “nips”). The original bipartisan bill would have added a new 15-cent deposit and that was reduced through compromise. Much of the testimony we heard was in favor of adding these small bottles to the list of returnables. LD 56 will become law on January 1, 2019 and will help keep trash off the road, give local bottle redemption centers a boost and maybe even help reduce drinking and driving.
Even though there was support in the committee for a mattress recycling program, also supported by landfill owners, municipalities and folks who like to use the woods for hunting and harvesting, a bill that would have set up this program was vetoed by the Governor. That veto was upheld. There are successful programs in other states and with some more work, Maine may eventually create one, too.
Keeping waste and toxic chemicals out of the environment was a theme this session. There was good bipartisan work which resulted in a toxic flame retardant ban in new upholstered furniture sold in Maine. This law will help reduce the rates of cancer in first responders and had strong support from firefighters across the state. Maine has been a leader in banning toxic chemicals from our environment, protecting not only firefighters, but also our children and pets from unhealthy exposures.
The Environment and Natural Resources committee also discussed funding for the Youth Conservation Corps which provides jobs and training for youth and assistance to landowners with conservation projects, which protect or improve water quality. In addition, we heard bills regarding septic tank inspections, both in the shore land zone and statewide. Making sure that septic tanks are functioning as they should, particularly near water, can help prevent pollution that contributes to toxic blue green algae blooms, among other negative water quality impacts. I am hopeful that though these bills failed in final passage, we can revisit this issue in the future.
The Committee also worked extremely hard with the help from the DEP, environmental advocates and experts from the University of Maine and other academics, to craft a bill that would better protect Maine from environmental damage from mining. This new law has been characterized as one of the most protective in the country, if not the world. It bans “open pit” mining and the types of waste impoundments that have caused great environmental harm. The new law would also require any company seeking a permit, to have enough cash to fund a cleanup of any damage they might cause.
There were many bills on other topics, landfill closure, climate change risks and hazards planning, battery recycling, polystyrene bans, plastic bag bans, changes to subdivision rules, changes to shore land zoning rules and food waste and donation regulations. Not every proposal required legislation. Some will result in bills in the future; some were already being addressed by DEP in their everyday work. Overall, the committee worked in a bipartisan way to protect Maine’s environment, one of our most valuable assets.
If you have any questions regarding any of the legislation that the ENR Committee heard this session, or any other proposals that came before the Legislature, or general questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. I can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 415-4218.
Jessica Fay is in her first term and represents Casco (part), Raymond (part), and Poland (part) in the Maine House of Representatives. She serves on the Environment and Natural Resources Committee.