AUGUSTA —The paint industry wants to recycle unused household paint in Maine, a program that environmentalists, municipalities and small retailers have supported, saying it will save taxpayers money while safeguarding the environment.

But at a legislative hearing Thursday, the LePage administration surprised many by opposing L.D. 1308, an industry-drafted bill sponsored by Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, that would create an industry-run program to collect, reuse and recycle both hazardous oil paints and more common latex house paint.

“It’s ridiculous that the administration would oppose a bill that would save Maine cities and towns $2.5 million a year to recycle and dispose of paint,” said Matt Prindiville, associate director of the Product Policy Institute. “This bill is essentially about getting government out of the waste business. I would think the administration would be jumping up and down to support this kind of bill.”

Melanie Loyzim, director of the Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Waste Remediation and Management, gave the administration’s testimony before the Environment and Natural Resources Committee. She testified that the bill would “create an entirely new regulatory program” that would increase consumer costs without “guaranteeing” that all paint collected would be recycled.

She also asserted that the program’s new per-gallon fees added to the purchase price would undermine an existing lead abatement program, which is funded by a separate 25-cent per gallon fee. The new fees, she said, could prompt consumers “to question if this other (lead abatement) fee remains necessary.”

“These are nothing-burger arguments,” said Prindiville. “It shows that the department doesn’t really have a good reason for its opposition.”

The LePage administration has previously sought to eliminate all so-called product stewardship programs – the term used when manufacturers pay to collect and recycle their products – and to repeal the framework law that supports the creation of new programs.

Loyzim declined an interview request, and the department would not make a spokesperson available for comment.

“I was feeling pretty awesome about this before you got up here,” Senate committee co-chair Jim Boyle, D-Gorham, joked after Loyzim delivered her remarks. “You’re a wet blanket!”

The committee heard detailed testimony from American Coatings Association Vice President Alison Keane and Marjaneh Zarrehparvar, head of PaintCare, the Washington D.C.-based nonprofit that the association set up to manage its recycling programs across the country.

They said the proposed program was the result of a decade-long effort involving environmentalists, retailers, recyclers, and federal and state regulators. It is modeled on existing PaintCare programs in Oregon and California and recently approved ones in Connecticut and Rhode Island.

The program would effectively shift the cost of disposal from municipal taxpayers to consumers. Manufacturers pay a fee to PaintCare for each gallon of paint they sell in a given state, and the fee is ultimately passed on to the consumer. The fees for Maine have yet to be determined, but Zarrehparvar told legislators it would likely be similar to those in Oregon: 75 cents per gallon or $1.60 per five-gallon container.

In Oregon, she said, the number of paint recycling collection locations had jumped to over 100, from just 15 before the program’s introduction there in 2009. Most of the new collection sites were paint stores, which she said like the program because “it provides additional foot traffic for increased sales.”

“The program has been very successful — as a result, many state and local governments dealing with leftover paint are interested in bringing the program to their state,” Keane said. She noted that it would cover all unwanted, unused paint already in people’s homes and garages, even though fees had not been paid on those purchases.

The committee will vote on whether to recommend the bill for passage at a meeting in the coming days or weeks, after which it will likely proceed to the full House and Senate for a vote.

Colin Woodard can be contacted at 791-6317 or at:

cwoodard@prerssherald.com