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Mills Vetoes Bill That Would Have Banned Aerial Herbicide Spraying In Woods

Susan Sharon
Maine Public

Governor Janet Mills has vetoed a bill that would have prohibited the aerial spraying of glyphosate and other synthetic herbicides in forestry applications. Backed by health and environmental groups, the bill was strongly opposed by the forest products industry.

Glyphosate is the main chemical in synthetic herbicides that can be toxic to animals and humans. It's been declared a "probable carcinogen" by the World Health Organization and has been banned in ten countries as well as by states like Vermont and by municipalities, including the town of Allagash, where Senate President Troy Jackson lives. Jackson was the chief sponsor the bill who says with this veto, Gov. Mills should stop calling herself an environmentalist.

"The science across the country, across the world, says that this stuff kills people, kills wildlife," Jackson says. "And all that it is, is a giveaway to the large landowners so they can maximize their profits off the lives of the people in Maine and the wildlife in Maine."

In response, a spokesperson for Mills said, "The governor cares deeply about Maine’s air, lands, and waters, and she has a strong record of fighting for and protecting our environment. A legitimate disagreement over a single policy is not grounds to suggest otherwise.”

A logger by trade, Jackson has seen the effects of clearcutting and herbicide use in the woods of northern Maine. For years, he and other residents have been raising concerns about possible water contamination and related health effects from the chemical. But they got strong pushback from large landowners and the forest products industry who say the use of aerial herbicides in Maine is limited and that it's the most efficient way to control vegetation that competes with more valuable timber species like spruce and fir.

In her veto message, Mill echoed those claims. "Banning aerial application," Mills wrote, "would force landowners to conduct ground application, which is manually intensive, has a potential greater site disturbance...and may require multiple applications with higher and more dangerous concentration levels to achieve the same level of effectiveness."

But Mills also said that because of the ongoing health concerns about glyphosate, she will issue an executive order directing the Maine Forest Service and the Board of Pesticide Control to impose further limitations on the aerial application of herbicides, "consistent with best practices and state policy.”

Mills' veto comes as the standing committee on climate change and environmental stewardship in the neighboring Canadian province of New Brunswick holds hearings on the use of glyphosate, which is used in forestry and agriculture. Here in the United States, glyphosate has been the subject of thousands of lawsuits.

Jackson says that although the chances are slim that lawmakers will override the governor's veto when they return next week, he's hoping that Democrats, Republicans, and independents see fit to ban the practice. If not, he says the next step may have to be a citizens' referendum.

Corrected: June 29, 2021 at 7:10 AM EDT
An earlier version of this story misidentified the committee holding hearings on the use of glyphosate.
Updated: June 28, 2021 at 8:13 AM EDT
This post has been updated with additional comments from Gov. Mills.