Maine lawmakers are dealing with a side effect of a set of first-in-the-nation policies on “forever chemicals,” leading to an interesting alliance between businesses and a top labor Democrat.
The Maine State Chamber of Commerce is leading a push to roll back some of the state’s restrictions on the kinds of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as “forever chemicals” or PFAS, increasingly being found in land and water and prompted a major public health crisis and response that generally enjoys support across the political spectrum.
But it is subject to a lot of lobbying around the margins. Businesses are targeting a 2021 law that forces businesses to report their use of the chemicals and would phase out sale of most products containing them by 2030. Democrats are sorting out how to respond.
The problem: While this law is already in effect, it has not lived up to its potential for several reasons. One of them is that the Mills administration has granted more than 2,000 extensions to the reporting requirements that came online in January.
Trade groups led by the chamber have called the rules unworkable due to lack of laboratory capacity and say businesses need more time, which has led to their signature measure this year aimed at culling the rules.
A range of responses: The chamber-led bill, from Sen. Joe Baldacci, D-Bangor, and Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, would delay the reporting requirement until January 2024 and flips exceptions to the 2030 phase-out of products containing PFAS by saying the state must make rules determining the products that would be banned. Under the 2021 law, Maine would ban products by default by that time but could use state rules to allow some to be sold.
Sen. Stacy Brenner, D-Scarborough, the environment committee co-chair who said earlier this year that Maine should pressure businesses to comply with reporting requirements, is backing a measure that would delay the reporting requirement until October and exempts smaller businesses from it but maintains stricter standards.
At the same time, Jackson, a labor Democrat who often fights the chamber on issues affecting workers, wages and bargaining, is on another bill led by Republicans in the agricultural center of Aroostook County that aims to exempt food producers from testing for the chemicals.
What’s next: Gov. Janet Mills and her administration are likely to be caught somewhere in the middle here, as they have recognized a need to relax reporting requirements already but may be reluctant to go back on the measure that was enacted a short time ago. Democrats are in control here and will have to sort things out.