By Heather Spalding, MOFGA Deputy Director
Before summarizing the thrilling victories and the agonizing defeats of the short session of Maine’s 130th Legislature, I want to congratulate the Skowhegan High School boys and girls wrestling teams. Both teams won Class A State Championship matches and, for that, were invited to the gallery of Maine’s House of Representatives, where they received a standing ovation from legislators on April 5. It’s wonderful that Maine’s citizen legislature takes the time to recognize the excellence of Maine’s youth. Being duly honored must have been a rousing experience for the Skowhegan athletes, managers and coaches.
Sentiments like these remind us of the most important stakeholders in the legislative process — the young people who will benefit from good policymaking and wrestle with the aftermath of bad policies and practices long after the older folks are gone. Rep. Jen Poirier’s congratulations to the Skowhegan teams was heartfelt, short and sweet, yet it moved me a little more than most legislative sentiments because the House greetings were offered posthaste after a disheartening vote on LD 489 (the Pine Tree Amendment) — which proposed amending Maine’s Constitution to “conserve, protect and maintain the State’s natural resources, including, but not limited to, its air, water, land and ecosystems for the benefit of all the people, including generations yet to come.” Though the legislation received a majority vote in the House, it failed to garner two-thirds needed for a constitutional amendment. The inspiring and visionary Pine Tree Amendment campaign is down but not out, and will go back to the mat for Maine’s young people in the next legislative session.
Despite the outcome of LD 489 and a few other bills, we made some strong gains with our work in the Legislature. Here are the results.
Tackling the Problem of Forever Chemicals — PFAS Bills
Legislators regularly reported that PFAS was the topic about which they heard the most concern from constituents. These highly toxic chemicals are everywhere and they take a long time to break down. The actions of industry decades ago are showing up in our bodies and in the environment across Maine, and some Maine farm kids growing up on PFAS-contaminated land are carrying PFAS body burdens greater than those of workers in PFAS-manufacturing facilities. It appears that PFAS pollution is helping elected officials understand the importance of a precautionary approach to chemical regulation. The Legislature made great progress with policies to address PFAS contamination in our environment, with special emphasis on farmland, passing four bills and continuing to lead the country on PFAS legislation. To shore up support for these bills MOFGA worked closely with Maine Farmland Trust, the Institute for Agricultural Trade Policy, and Defend our Health, which first uncovered the PFAS farmland contamination crisis three years ago and has provided amazing leadership along the way. We are grateful to the many citizens who contacted their legislators and made PFAS one of the priority legislative topics this year. Maine’s Environmental Priorities Coalition (EPC) was a big help in this regard. And of course, we are humbled by and so thankful for the many farmers impacted by PFAS who bravely advocated for the legislation, sharing their personal stories over and over with legislators and the media. They made all the difference and will inspire farming communities across the country to take action as well.
- LD 1875 – Address PFAS Pollution from State-owned Solid Waste Disposal Facilities directs the Department of Administrative and Financial Services to develop a plan for ensuring PFAS reduction of landfill leachate. The state-owned Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town is of particular concern from an environmental justice standpoint as leachate is processed by a facility that releases effluent into the Penobscot River, which the Penobscot Nation relies on for sustenance.
- LD 1911 – Prohibit the Contamination of Clean Soils with So-called Forever Chemicals puts an end to the practice of spreading sewage sludge on farmland, which has resulted in widespread contamination of water, soil, crops, livestock and wildlife and impacted the physical well-being of rural families.
- LD 2013 – Relating to PFAS Contamination in the State establishes an emergency relief fund to provide direct support for farmers affected by PFAS contamination. The bill called for $100 million in funding but ended up receiving $60 million from the Appropriations and Financial Affairs (AFA) Committee — still a significant amount. Relief funding will go toward income replacement, mortgage payments, health monitoring, infrastructure, business models, farm management practices, farm relocation services and buying contaminated farmland, and research to support farmers. The bill also creates an advisory committee to make funding allocation recommendations to the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF), and to report to the Legislature.
- LD 2019 – Require the Registration of Adjuvants in the State and To Regulate the Distribution of PFAS Pesticides further reduces PFAS contamination of farmland by strengthening Maine’s revenue-generating plan to phase out the roughly 1,600 Maine-registered pesticide products containing PFAS, extending to Maine’s Board of Pesticides Control (BPC) the authority to sunset PFAS pesticides and regulate fluorinated pesticide containers that leach PFAS into pesticide products. The plan aligns with the state’s efforts to remove PFAS from all consumer products by 2030.
Social Justice and Equity
- LD 174 – Implement the Recommendations of the Ending Hunger by 2030 Advisory Group. This bill lays out a plan for Maine’s administrative departments to address the state’s escalating hunger crisis. The report affirms that hunger is a symptom of poverty and lays out that the key drivers of food insecurity are economic insecurity, education, health access, homeownership and involvement with the criminal justice system. Gov. Mills signed the bill into public law on May 2.
- LD 585 – Restore to the Penobscot Nation and Passamaquoddy Tribe Authority To Exercise Jurisdiction under the Federal Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010. This bill aims to improve the relationships between the tribes and the state, provide some tax relief, extend jurisdiction in the criminal justice system, and create a sports wagering system on Wabanaki land. Mills signed the bill into public law on May 2. While this is an important step forward in the quest for tribal sovereignty, it is not a substitute for LD 1626 (see below).
- LD 906 – Provide Passamaquoddy Tribal Members Access to Clean Drinking Water. After lengthy debate and some uncertainty, the Legislature and Mills supported this critical environmental justice legislation, which recognizes the tribe’s right to access clean water on its land without interference from the state. The federal government now has primary regulatory authority over the water. Mills signed the bill into public law on April 21.
- LD 1626 – Implement Recommendations of the Task Force on Changes to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Implementing Act. This tribal sovereignty legislation seeks to restore the Wabanaki Nations’ inherent rights to self-governance, including jurisdiction over their lands and waters, advancing environmental protections and climate solutions in the Wabanaki homelands that are now called Maine. MOFGA and Maine’s EPC prioritized this bill and, though the legislation had broad coalition support across Maine, receiving more than 1,800 pieces of favorable testimony, and securing a bipartisan majority in the House and Senate, it died on the Appropriations Table under likelihood of veto from Mills.
- LD 1942 – Make Changes to the State’s Hemp Program. MOFGA supported the original intent of this bill which sought to expand opportunities for hemp farmers and prevent putting socially unjust laws on Maine’s books. Unfortunately, the bill took a major turn for the worse. Staff members of the DACF lobbied hard for a single federally recognized hemp program aligning with unjust federal law, requiring background checks with 10-year look-back criminal history reports from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, prohibiting anyone with a felony conviction for a controlled substance within those 10 years from growing the fully descheduled crop, and eliminating Maine citizens’ right to grow hemp for personal use without a license — which contradicts Maine’s constitutional amendment to the Right to Food. Though licensed marijuana growing is legal and thriving in Maine, and the Rohrabacher–Farr Amendment prohibits the U.S. Justice Department from interfering with Maine’s medical cannabis laws, DACF warned hemp growers that federal hemp inspectors would report any parallel marijuana crop under cultivation to local and federal law enforcement. Confusion and fear reigned and the Legislature rested on an amendment aligning Maine’s hemp law with the systemically racist law of the federal government. The poorly amended bill is headed to Mills desk for her signature. We urge the Mills administration to remember that the persistence of racism and other injustices within the food system require expanding who is able to access local agriculture and who sees themselves as farmers or gardeners in Maine. As we work to correct the social injustices of our past and create an equitable future, we must prioritize human rights over commercial interests and this is especially so in our food and agriculture sector.
- LD 2003 – Implement the Recommendations of the Commission To Increase Housing Opportunities in Maine by Studying Zoning and Land Use Restrictions. This bill reforms systemically racist zoning laws and encourages development of affordable housing in Maine, allowing for building accessory dwelling units and easing restrictions on single-family use. MOFGA participated in the Commission in order to provide perspective on the needs to protect farmland and create affordable housing for farm workers. Mills signed the bill into public law on April 27.
- LD 2018 – Advance Environmental Justice & Equity in State Actions. This bill is on the Common Agenda of Maine’s EPC. It establishes that state agencies will develop, implement and enforce environmental policies in close partnership with the communities impacted “first and worst” by environmental and climate threats. This bill became law without Mills’ signature.
- LD 219 – Enhance the Agricultural Marketing Loan Fund (AMLF). This bill secures $550,000 annually for Maine’s Agricultural Development Fund, which provides grants for producers and supports innovation in Maine’s farming community. The bill also updates and increases competitiveness of the AMLF to make it more accessible to a wider range of producers. Mills signed the bill into public law on May 3.
- LD 1850 – Dairy Producer Margins. This bill provides additional support for Maine’s Dairy Stabilization Program (aka the Tier Program) which addresses the volatility of liquid milk prices, providing economic relief to dairy farmers when their marketplace payments fall short of their break-even costs. Increased funding for this major substantive rule of the Maine Milk Commission will go into effect on July 1.
Energy and Climate
- LD 856 – Balance Renewable Energy Development with Natural and Working Lands Conservation. This bill sought to create incentives for appropriate siting of solar energy projects that minimize impacts to important agricultural lands. While the House and Senate voted in favor of the legislation, the AFA Committee did not fund it so it died on the appropriations table.
- LD 1350 – An Act To Expand Maine’s Clean Energy Economy. This legislation sought to expand on existing investments into renewable energy infrastructure. It would have supported future solar projects and clean energy construction jobs while helping Maine meet its statutory requirement that 80% of electricity sold in the state is renewable by 2030. It would have prioritized projects on developed land and land contaminated with PFAS. After consideration of several amendments, the Legislature could not agree on language so the legislation failed.
- LD 1902 – Fund Opportunities for Climate Education in Schools. This priority bill of Maine’s EPC supports equitable access to climate change education by funding professional development for Maine teachers through community partnerships. Mills signed the bill into public law on May 3.
Human Health and Environment
- LD 736 – Enhance the Ecological Reserve System. This EPC priority bill updates the state’s ecological reserve law by increasing the size caps on ecological reserves managed by Maine’s Bureau of Parks and Land. It will help Maine achieve its climate goals through nature-based carbon sequestration and storage. This legislation has an important equity component in that it adds the gathering of materials by members of federally recognized Wabanaki tribes to the list of allowable activities on ecological reserves. Mills signed the bill into public law on March 29.
- LD 1639 – Protect the Health and Welfare of Maine Communities and Reduce Harmful Solid Waste. This bill prevents private companies from importing construction and demolition waste from outside of Maine and dumping it in state-owned landfills. The Penobscot Nation and members of Maine’s EPC called attention to the injustice of importing more than a million tons of waste to the Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town. The Legislature overwhelmingly supported the legislation and Mills signed the bill into public law on April 18.
- LD 1964 – Update Certain Water Quality Standards and To Reclassify Certain Waters of the State. This is another of the bills on the Maine EPC’s Common Agenda. It called for upgrading more than 800 miles of rivers and streams, which would provide greater environmental protections for the upgraded waters. Mills signed the bill into public law on March 31.
- LD 1979 – Development of Comprehensive River Resource Management Plans. This too was legislation on the Common Agenda of Maine’s EPC. It directs Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection to study the current process for development of comprehensive river resource management plans and report back to the Legislature with recommendations on how that process can be improved. The bill became law without Mills’ signature.
- LD 2021 – Collect Pesticide Sales and Use Records for the Purpose of Providing Information to the Public. This bill sought to help Maine get back on track with pesticide data reporting, in order to live up to the state policy of minimizing reliance on pesticides. The bill called for establishing a convenient and efficient system for dealers and applicators to do the record keeping that the Board of Pesticides Control (BPC) requires. Though the BPC (and therefore Maine citizens) is woefully ill-informed about the quantities and kinds of pesticides that are used for what, where, and how often, a majority of members of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee opposed requiring increased reporting from pesticide dealers and users. With little committee support, the bill died in the House. The BPC has expressed interest in improving collection of pesticide sales data though it does not intend to close the large data gap in pesticide use. More than 1,200 private applicators (farmers, foresters, nurseries, greenhouses and others) and somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 licensed marijuana growers do not report data on pesticide use. MOFGA will continue to advocate for a well-designed data system that will be convenient for dealers and users, and will inform Maine’s legislative committees working to promote a vibrant agricultural future, a healthy population, a sustainable environment and an innovative and thriving green economy.
Thank you to all of the legislators who worked tirelessly to advance so many important pieces of legislation, and to our wonderful supporters who helped us with another very successful legislative session. Soon we’ll be planning our policy priorities for Maine’s 131st Legislature and the 2023 Farm Bill. All of this work will be for the benefit of the future generations of Maine citizens. Please stay tuned and be in touch by emailing [email protected] if you have questions.
This article was first published in the summer issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener.