Lawmakers, activists look to clean up Maine’s arsenic-laced water supply

Good morning from Augusta, where a broad political coalition is calling for the state to invest in bringing high-speed Internet to Mainers in far-flung regions where connections are slow as a flatland leaf peeper.

A bill by House Democratic Whip Sara Gideon of Freeport would expand the state’s role in assessing and promoting broadband development throughout the state, including grant funding, technical assistance and research. The bill is supported by leaders from both parties in the Senate, and the Democratic leadership in the House.

A hearing on the bill, LD 1063, is scheduled for this afternoon in the utilities committee.

Elsewhere, two bills aimed at changing the way the state handles wind turbine development in the Unorganized Territory — one lauded by local rights activists, the other skewered by them — are on deck for debate in the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee.

Debate is also scheduled in the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, on whether to reverse the state’s jail consolidation scheme. For a full list of committee activity, click here. — Mario Moretto

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Arsenic in your drinking water?

The U.S. Geological Survey indicates that as many as 150,000 Maine homes may be drawing well water with dangerously high levels of arsenic, a known carcinogen with several associated health risks.

One in 10 wells in Maine has elevated levels of arsenic, said state toxicologist Andrew Smith in an interview last June. About half of all households in the state use private well water, one of the highest rates per capita in the country, he said. But most haven’t been tested for arsenic.

If you’re a well water drinker in Manchester, which tops the state list for elevated arsenic, you have better than a 60 percent chance of consuming more than the recommended limit of the chemical.

Today in Augusta, environmentalists, lawmakers, and those with elevated arsenic in their water supplies will call for the passage of LD 1162, a “Safe Drinking Water” Act, sponsored by Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, co-chairman of the Legislature’s health committee.

Gattine’s bill would establish a fund for outreach and education about arsenic testing, and to assist low-income Mainers in buying treatment systems for their wells. It would also require testing on all new wells. A public hearing on the bill is scheduled at 1 p.m. Tuesday.

According to a Center for Public Integrity Report, the federal EPA has been prepared to say since 2008, based on its review of independent science, that arsenic is 17 times more potent as a carcinogen than the agency now reports. But pressure from pesticide companies, mining outfits and rice producers has kept the EPA from acting. — Mario Moretto. H/T Jackie Farwell.

Keep an eye on Florida

A new report by the University of Minnesota finds that just nine states have accurately chosen the eventual Republican presidential nominee in competitive primary (and caucus) contests since 1976.

The states are Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon and Wisconsin — all of which are primary states. (Maine, for what it’s worth, holds caucuses and has chosen someone other than the eventual winner of the GOP nomination twice — Bush in 1980 and Romney in 2008).

The GOP nomination contest is wide open as the party gears up for the 2016 election. Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas have already announced their candidacies. Then there’s the plethora of governors expected to jump into the race — Jeb Bush in Florida, Chris Christie in New Jersey, Scott Walker in Wisconsin, the list goes on. We may even see the oddball billionaire — Trump! — just for fun.

Of the “predictors” listed above, Florida’s primary is the earliest scheduled for March 1, 2016. So keep an eye out. — Mario Moretto.

Fun with presidential doodles

Four professional cartoonists were called in by the Washington Post to critique the doodles on record by nine U.S. presidents — without knowing which ones. Which commander in chief’s sketches looked like “toppled art deco?” And which was described as the work of a “wild man?” Check it out, here. — Mario Moretto.

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House. Mario left the BDN in 2015.