August 31, 2011

Small businesses like Young’s Lobster Pound rely on Maine’s environment. photo by Ramona du Houx

“The new statute is a set of incremental, common sense ideas that Maine businesses asked for,” said Rep. Bob Duchesne, who served on the Joint Select Committee on Regulatory Fairness and Reform. “Unlike some of the initial proposals, which met with significant resistance across the state, the new reform law has received support from both environmental and businesses groups.”

The initial LD 1 proposals took Maine’s environmental and small-business community by surprise, because the LePage measures were blatantly pro-development and pro-big-corporation, while they disregarded the health and wellbeing of the people of Maine and the state’s environment.

“As soon as the governor put out his extreme environmental proposals in LD 1, environmental organizations, nonprofits, and advocates came together and with a laser focus made sure each committee member understood that they wanted Maine’s environment to continue to be an important brand of our state, while we help businesses. Real evidential based environmental protections can work with business to grow everyone’s quality of life in Maine. They said the LePage proposal put business and environment at odds — that it was a false premise. They were right; it’s not an ‘either-or’ situation,” said Senator Justin Alfond, who served on the Regulatory Fairness and Reform Committee. “I can’t thank the advocates enough for coming to all our meetings and exposing the original proposals of LD 1 as being radical and extreme.”

The original LD 1 underwent significant changes in committees and after those seven public hearings across the state. Extreme environmental rollbacks, including overdeveloping the Maine woods and permitting toxic chemicals in children’s products, were rejected by lawmakers.

“We took a lot of radical measures and made them go away by sending them to the different committees where they belonged, and we took other extreme measures and moderated them to something that could make the business environment better and allow the environmental property laws to work better,” said Alfond.

“Minority Democrats worked together, and listened to the people’s concerns. We did not get caught up in the governor’s office rhetoric of: ‘If I don’t get this, then I’m not going to be happy.’ We talked with businesses and environmental groups and found out what they really wanted. People told us that we need a strong business climate — and we need a strong environment.”

LD 1, an Act to Ensure Regulatory Fairness and Reform streamlined permitting and made the Board of Environmental Protection more efficient, without sacrificing citizen input or creating a more costly appeals system. The committee redefined reuse rules for certain hazardous materials and authorized regulatory agencies to conduct more cost-benefit analyses when warranted.

“The new law creates an environmental self-audit program that provides strong incentives for companies to promptly self-report, correct, and prevent violations, including reducing or eliminating penalties and prosecution for environmental violations,” said Duchesne. “Violations would need to be reported within 21 days and corrected within 60. A company that is quick to resolve its violation faces no fines or prosecution.”

Streamlining regulations, having a point person at the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), and making environmental permitting were items that were brought up at the state’s Job Summit, with Gov. John Baldacci in 2010. The foundation was laid, which made it easier for the committee to pass these initiatives.

Sen. Alfond, as the owner of Bayside Bowl in Portland, brought to the committee his business experience, which helped mold the new business permitting regulations.

“I shared my experience with the duplication process between local municipalities and the State. Why do I need to have the State come in and stamp the same thing that the City of Portland has already approved? All the health and safety, fire and liquor permits are duplicated. We’re ending that. We worked together to find a way to empower municipalities to have the final stamp of approval and avoid unnecessary duplication,” said Alfond.

LD 1 creates a better system for the State and municipalities to work together to give better customer service for Maine’s businesses.

“The State will go in and train municipal code officers with everything they need to know for the State and municipality. This way the business owner doesn’t have to coordinate and put aside time to have a whole new group of code officers come in and do exactly the same things. Now, municipalities will be able to approve different businesses in their counties — for all the necessary permits,” explained Alfond.

Concerns of businesses in small, rural communities that often have to wait a long time to have State approve permits were also addressed.

“If you are a small municipality but want to contract with a larger municipality, bringing in their code officer to get approvals for you business, you can — instead of waiting for the State to finally reach your rural community,” said Alfond. “We wanted to ensure that businesses are being treated equally across the state.”

In the past, a new business had to make a lot of phone calls just to find out what department they needed to work with.

“It was frustrating. Time is money. A business owner usually invests a lot of capitol upfront to open. Waiting around for people to approve your efforts is frustrating,” said Alfond. “So we created a small-business advocate — an ombudsman for small business at the DECD.

Maine’s backbone of our economy is our small businesses. Having a small-business ombudsman that you can call, who will help you navigate through the State and municipal process, will help businesses throughout the state.”

The original proposed LD 1 was completely transformed into legislation that will help Maine businesses and protect Maine’s quality of life.

“We worked successfully to help Maine businesses, while protecting the Maine brand and our natural resources,” concluded Sen. Seth Goodall, who served on the committee.