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Maine: Welfare for Waste?


According to the Athens, Georgia-based Product Policy Institute (PPI), Maine’s new Governor Paul LePage (R) is proposing to keep state recycling programs on the dole, and cut fee-based take-back programs paid for by manufacturers and their customers.
The development is significant for people interested in end-of-life management of products and packaging, and who pays for it. The PPI think tank has long advocated for the replacement of inefficient municipal curbside recycling programs (that have hit a plateau for certain materials like used beverage containers) with fee-based product stewardship programs operated or overseen by manufacturers and brand owners. Until recently Maine has been the standard-bearer for the most progressive stewardship legislation in the country. Stewardship battles won or lost in Maine could have wide-ranging implications in other jurisdictions.
In her posting to a PPI-operated discussion group, Jenny Hopkinson quotes a source saying: “What’s amazing about the governor’s proposal to roll back product stewardship is that it effectively means bigger government and higher taxes,” adding that the move seems ironic given LePage’s drive to limit both. “His proposal would have the exact opposite of what he thinks it will do.”
Governor LePage’s proposal for perpetuating “welfare for waste” will “Review all consumer products recycling and ‘take-back’ statutes and revise as necessary to develop a policy that ensures that manufacturers do not have to pay to recycle their consumer products and that these standards do not exceed those set in federal law.”
See Phase I of Governor’s Regulatory Reform Proposals released on January 25 (http://www.maine.gov/legis/opla/phase1gov.pdf), which contains many similar proposals targeting other regulations. Writes PPI Executive Director Bill Sheehan, “And that’s only Phase 1!” Other relevant documents are available on InsideEPA.com
According to the February 4 posting, Maine’s new governor is pushing to eliminate financial incentives for consumers and otherwise change state laws that require manufacturers to ensure several types of consumer products are recycled. This is part of an effort to reduce what LePage calls burdensome regulations on business.
Major changes to Maine’s five producer responsibility programs could negatively impact proposals for new product stewardship programs and, advocates say, the changes are coming before a thorough assessment can be made of how the existing programs have performed and whether or not they are, in fact, “bad for business.” Worse, local governments will have to again pay for disposal costs if the programs are eliminated.
A spokeswoman for the governor says many of the proposals were taken directly from comments made at what LePage called more than 20 “red-tape” roundtables with business owners and residents. Some observers believe that, in truth, to plan to quash product stewardship laws comes from manufacturers outside of Maine who are fighting such laws across the country so they don’t have to pay. It comes as no surprise that industry prefers ratepayer-funded schemes that cost it little or nothing.
In her posting, Hopkinson writes that, “Maine has one of the most comprehensive take-back programs in the country – second only to California – with five laws covering electronics, mercury thermostats, automobile switches, batteries and fluorescent lamps that require manufacturers to pay for their return. For example, home thermostat manufacturers must pay $5 for each mercury thermostat returned through the take-back program, the payment acting as a financial incentive to contractors and individuals to turn the device in.
“The state last year also enacted the nation’s first product stewardship framework law, which passed by a unanimous vote of the legislature. The law, which sets up a process for reviewing existing product stewardship laws and proposing new programs, calls for the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to annually draft a report recommending new products and any needed changes to existing laws.
“A draft of the 2010 report, entitled ‘Implementing Product Stewardship in Maine,’ was released for comment in December. In it, DEP recommended adding household hazardous waste including paint, unused pharmaceuticals and medical sharps to the product stewardship program, as well as modifying existing laws to include incentives for the recovery of mercury-added lamps and relief for small businesses from handling costs for electronic waste (Superfund Report, Jan. 10).
“Bills have been submitted to the legislature for those products, but their fate is unclear given the Republican wins in the statehouse in November’s election. Democrats lost roughly 50 seats in the legislature, as well as the governor’s mansion, giving Republicans control of the state for the first time in more than three decades.
“The shift in power could prevent the final release of the DEP report, according to product stewardship advocates. Since the framework law provides the DEP commissioner with discretion not to issue a report, it is unclear whether the new DEP commissioner, Darryl Brown, will finalize the draft report and send it to the legislature. Brown, who took office Feb. 1, was the owner of a land development consultancy firm before being nominated to be DEP commissioner.”
It’s ironic that in Maine, at least, conservative politicians are aligning themselves with centrally-planned schemes in which government, not industry, will manage materials like mercury and other hazardous wastes despite the evidence that when consumers have a financial incentive to participate in take-back programs, far more of such materials are returned for recycling or safe disposal, and kept out of the nation’s landfills and the environment.
Hopkinson writes, “Any changes to the existing laws will require an act of the legislature. A newly formed joint committee of the state Senate and House of Representatives is reviewing the governor’s proposals and conducting public hearing in preparation for submitting a bill should the committee deem it necessary. The governor’s office has no say over what will go into the legislation, which is expected to be submitted as one package known as L.D. 1… The committee will also take into account additional proposals for regulatory change that the governor is expected to release shortly. If a bill is introduced, lawmakers will have until June, the end of the legislative session, to pass or reject it.”


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