There are bills that have been introduced in this “emergency” second year of the legislative session that are truly alarming for those of us who care about Maine’s environment. We knew when the session started in January that some of them were coming. We knew that we faced the “takings” bill that would require taxpayers to pay landowners to obey the law when environmental protections negatively impact property values. The bill to weaken the ability of the Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) to protect Maine’s North Woods was in play. Others appeared early in the session, such as a bill to restrict the public from appealing agency decisions (LD 1647) and the bill to ban dam removals (LD 1718). You have been with us, turning out for hearings, calling your legislators, and writing letters that appeared in your newspapers. You have made a positive difference in how legislators are dealing with these bills as we get closer to the finish line. Elements of some of these harmful bills are still in play and will be through next week at least.
But in the final days of this session, there is a new “sneak attack.” A truckload of bad bills were introduced just recently with the clear intention of ramming them through with little public notice or debate. This is not against the rules; it’s just very bad process. This late in the session, bills can be introduced with only 24 hours notice to the public. Who has time to take off work and come to testify with that kind of short notice? What kind of window does that allow for you to learn about the bill and call your legislator? Such an onslaught of bills on so many fronts borders on being undemocratic. These proposals have been rejected before or are, understandably, unpopular with most Maine people.
These late bill introductions are also meant to tie the hands of groups like the Natural Resources Council of Maine, who carefully anticipate, track, analyze, and strategize around all bills that could have an impact on Maine’s environment. It is our role to keep our members informed and poised for action. NRCM supporters care deeply about clean water, clean air, protecting special places—the qualities that make Maine special. As we have seen this session and going back decades, when given enough notice, you contact your legislators and participate in the public dialogue of letters-to-the-editor where issues are considered openly and on a reasonable timeline.
So we were shocked and outraged when a bill to gut Maine’s mining laws (LD 1853) suddenly appeared just last week. This sweeping, complex bill was drafted by Nevada lawyers and the Pierce Atwood law firm in Maine. Maine’s existing mining standards took 18 months to write, yet LD 1853 was released for “public review” less than 24 hours before the public hearing. Now Pierce Atwood is pressing hard for the bill to be adopted immediately. J.D. Irving, Limited, from Canada, wants to create a huge open-pit mine in Maine’s North Woods and this bill would open the door for mining everywhere in the state. Such projects could seriously pollute our water and land, putting the health of wildlife and people at risk. We are working with the legislators on both sides of the aisle to beat back this misguided bill.
Another example is the late introduction of Governor LePage’s four bad energy bills intended to destroy the independence of Efficiency Maine and undermine Maine’s renewable energy progress. These are issues that Maine people and businesses care deeply about, but Governor LePage apparently has decided to subsidize Canadian government-owned Hydro Quebec, and allow it to flood the Maine market and undercut the Maine businesses and jobs in Maine’s growing renewable energy industry. Bringing these controversial bills to the table so late in the session flies in the face of the “transparency” the Administration has been touting.
NRCM’s job is harder than ever, but I am proud of our dedicated staff that works at the State House every day and late into the evening talking to legislators and gathering information so we can share it with you. We don’t like the way this process is playing out but we are determined to make sure your voices are heard from near and far, and to fight for what we know is right. And I’m proud of you. Some of you have made it to hearings and called your legislators despite the last-minute calls to action.
Your voices are so critical. Thank you. We will continue to keep you informed and ready for the next step.
Lisa Pohlmann, NRCM Executive Director