While Gov. Paul LePage generated a lot of controversy speaking about the NAACP while in Sanford, his real reason for being there was to attend another in a series of meetings for gathering input from business people frustrated by state regulations. More than 100 people attended the event, part of a series of “Red Tape Removal Audit” events that LePage’s office has been planning with local chambers of commerce. And the governor got an earful.
Among those who spoke out: a real estate agent who wants more local control over what development projects get approved. “Unfortunately you can’t take an agency up in Augusta, and say these are the rules for everyone in Maine,” he said.
Then there was the carpenter upset that setback requirements from lakes are restricting how much his clients can expand their cottages. “I don’t have an answer for this, other than get rid of the damn rule.”
Also in the audience was Ellen McAdam of McDougal Orchards in Sanford. She said she hadn’t planned on speaking, but felt she needed to stand up for farmers overburdened by pesticide regulations from both the state and federal government.
“We have drift regulations that cover what we spray and how we spray, and we also have the new regulation in the state on pesticide notification,” McAdam said. “So I want you to be aware that it needs to be a level playing field for everyone and that we don’t need more regulation.”
The governor was sympathetic to McAdam’s concerns. “I will tell you that the pesticide notification rule is being talked about an awful lot at these meetings and it’s something that we’re going to be interested in,” LePage said.
The bulk of the complaints revolved around environmental regulations. But Brownie Carson of the Natural Resources Council of Maine cautioned the administration against rolling back regulations. “I think it’s very important to look at the whole picture, not just at does a certain regulation cause someone to have a little bit of expense or to take a little bit of extra time at the front end,” he says.
Carson says that the rules were approved for a reason. “They protect important resources like fisheries, or important aspects of our health like our lungs, which clean air is essential for.”
Environmental regulations will be part of the conversation Thursday, when Carson and other environmental advocates meet with the governor.
At the Sanford event, LePage noted that 78 percent of the 253 regulations under review involve the Department of Environmental Protection.
“It’s very, very important that whatever environmental laws we bring in, that they’re based on science and not on feel-good,” LePage said. “And that’s the problem: Most of the regulations that need to be changed, while they’re coming out of the Department of Environmental Protection have nothing to do with science.”
And LePage acknowledged that DEP was seeing a disproportionate amount of scrutiny. “So if you have others that need to be changed in other agencies please let us know. We’d like to try to bring that consistency around.”
As business people took turns at the podium, the governor took notes, and occasionally nodded. But he also let the audience in on what he was doing to change the culture in Augusta. For instance, he says last week he asked for the job descriptions of every state employee. “And I shocked the people in human resources because they don’t have them.”
LePage’s appearance in Sanford won raves from Dale Doughty, who has a cleaning business. “He seems to be in ‘agree-ance’ with a lot of the gripes that we have with the state and he’s obviously making a concerted effort to talk to all of us, going around the state and taking time out of his day. He’s obviously a busy guy.”
The Sanford event was the first “Red Tape Audit” the governor has attended since launching the first one in Augusta in December. He plans to attend an upcoming Red Tape event in the Lewiston-Auburn area next week.