Maine Governor LePage Pursues Environmental Reform

Published March 11, 2011

Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) is overhauling state environmental rules and procedures that are excessively costly or unnecessarily stifle economic activity. Environmental activist groups have responded angrily, but LePage says the policies in question are harming businesses and hindering commercial growth in the state. He says he is seeking to roll back some of the harsher restrictions.

“One of our biggest downfalls is the business climate. If we’re looking to balance the pendulum, we need to consider the weight of burdensome rules and regulations that are currently in place,” declared a press statement from LePage’s office. “[P]eople will not have the opportunity to work if business is put on the back burner.”

Reversing Speculative Bans
One reform proposal is to do away with some of the provisions of the Kid-Safe Products Act, a measure passed into law three years ago in response to the controversial assertion the chemical bisphenolA, or BPA, was threatening the health of children, despite many reputable studies finding the chemicals safe.

Plenty of grassroots organizations favor the governor’s reform package, and job-seekers particularly are lending public support to the governor’s strategy. Free-market advocates, meanwhile, see the plan as a return to common sense and a chance to rid the state of economically damaging laws.

“We certainly support [the proposals]. We have been calling for the same for years,” said Scott Moody, chief economist at the Maine Heritage Policy Center.

Vernal Pool Restrictions
One of the worst environmental rules still on the books, Moody said, deals with vernal pools and the accompanying buffer requirements. Vernal pools form from melted snow and then serve as breeding grounds for amphibians.

“The state passed legislation that you can’t build around a vernal pool for an area that is a football field in size,” Moody said, adding that developments are often delayed for months or years until inspectors check for compliance and issue the proper permits. Complicating the permitting process further is the fact inspectors check for compliance only at certain times during the year.

“These pools are seasonal,” he said. “So say you want to build in September, but you have to wait until the snow melts and the inspector comes out. It’s been a nightmare for business, … and they do the review only once a year.”

Highly Subjective Process
On top of that, Moody said, the process of determining what constitutes a vernal pool versus, say, a wet spot is entirely up to the inspector.

“It’s very, very subjective regarding what is a vernal pool versus a wet spot,” Moody said. “I’ve heard horror stories … of a ditch dug a year ago [that] is now classified as a vernal pool unless you can show the paperwork from 30 years ago that the pool didn’t exist.”

The governor’s reform proposal contains a measure that would significantly scale back the setback requirement around these pools, Moody said.

Cheryl K. Chumley ([email protected]) writes from northern Virginia.