This was a challenging legislative session. Partisan tensions were high because it is an election year, and because Governor LePage vetoed so many bills that reached his desk. In a very positive development in January, lawmakers unanimously restored funding for the Land for Maine’s Future (LMF) program that the governor had refused to release. At the end of the session, in a big disappointment and setback for clean energy, a comprehensive solar energy bill was defeated. Although the bill initially passed with strong bipartisan votes, it fell just a few votes short of the number needed to override the governor’s veto. NRCM staff worked on dozens of other bills this session. Below is a summary of the results. (V) signifies that the bill was defeated by a governor’s veto.
What Happened This Year
Land for Maine’s Future As one of its first actions this year, the Legislature unanimously voted to extend for an additional five years the availability of $6.5 million in voter-approved LMF funds that the governor had refused to release. The governor allowed the bill to become law without his signature. The governor also vowed to release an additional $5 million in voter-approved LMF funding that he held hostage. As a result, the Treasurer was allowed to issue bonds for $11.5 million this June to provide LMF funding to more than 30 projects that collectively will help protect 50,000 acres of land. Although lawmakers briefly considered a bill to provide $20 million in new LMF funding, that proposal did not survive the legislative process. It was trimmed to $5 million and then scuttled.
Solar Energy Policy The House (91-56) and Senate (unanimously) voted for an amended solar energy bill that would have provided an eight-fold increase (196 megawatts) of solar in Maine over the next four years, creating 650 new solar jobs. Unfortunately, the bill was defeated due to a veto by the governor. The bill earned broad support from solar installers, community leaders, utility representatives, and many others. The bill would have helped Maine catch up with states throughout the Northeast that are far ahead of us in terms of solar jobs and installed solar energy.
Anti-National Monument Bill The House and Senate both narrowly approved an amended governor’s bill aimed at blocking Maine communities from ever getting a national monument designation, anywhere. The governor is trying to interfere with the President’s authority to designate federally-owned land as national monuments. The bill raises serious constitutional concerns and was strongly opposed by business leaders from the Katahdin Region. NRCM is disappointed with the outcome, but we do not believe the bill’s passage will have any meaningful effect because a state cannot override the legal authority of a President to designate national monuments, pursuant to the Antiquities Act.
Biomass Subsidies The Legislature approved a $13 million taxpayer bailout to help keep several stand-alone biomass plants operating for two years. These plants are inefficient, not economically viable in the face of low energy prices, and among Maine’s most significant sources of air pollution. The original bill would have diverted $48 million annually from electric ratepayers to an industry that since 1995 has received $2 billion in subsidies. The final bill was an improvement, yet NRCM opposed it because we do not believe Maine taxpayers should pay $13 million to the hedge fund worth $33 billion that owns these biomass plants with no requirement that the company invest in making these plants efficient.
Battery Recycling Lobbyists for out-of-state toy manufacturers defeated a bill that would have created a new recycling program for single-use consumer batteries. Although the Environment and Natural Resources Committee unanimously approved the amended bill, it died in the face of lobbyist demands for an amendment to exempt battery-containing toys. The battery industry, which helped develop the bill, opposed the exemption, as did NRCM and the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Saviello (R-Franklin County). The bill was tabled and never brought to a vote, but Sen. Saviello vowed to introduce it again next year.
Bonds Lawmakers defeated more than 30 bond proposals on a wide range of topics, including some that NRCM strongly supported like a proposed $30 million weatherization bond, $20 million Land for Maine’s Future bond, and $10 million bond for stream crossings to assist with fish passage. Bond proposals for state park investments, rail infrastructure, and bicycle and pedestrian projects were rejected, as was a $5 million bond proposal to provide funds to improve sea level prediction models. The only bonds approved were a $100 million transportation bond and $50 million research and development bond.
Lake Water Quality Lawmakers took no significant action this year to protect Maine’s lakes. Although the Environment and Natural Resources Committee last year urged a stakeholder group to evaluate ways to improve compliance with Maine’s water quality laws, the group’s work did not spur legislative action. The ENR Committee dispensed with a bill that would have strengthened Shoreland Zoning, and instead sent non-binding letters to the DEP, Department of Economic and Community Development, and Maine Municipal Association with suggestions of minor actions they could take to help protect Maine lakes.
Marine Debris Lawmakers took a small step toward addressing the build-up of marine debris that litters Maine islands and coasts with large volumes of trash. They passed an amended version of a bill introduced by Rep. Devin (D-Newcastle) that directs the Departments of Marine Resources; Environmental Protection; Inland Fisheries and Wildlife; and Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to consider the potential for the generation, management, mitigation and effects of marine debris related to actions of those agencies.
Oil Spill Reporting For the fourth time since 2003, lawmakers defeated a bill that would have weakened a Maine law that protects the environment from oil spills. Under current law, people who spill oil receive immunity from fines if they promptly notify DEP. This provision allows DEP staff to respond to spills and make sure they are dealt with. Opponents from oil companies worked hard to weaken the law, but ultimately lost when it became clear that key DEP personnel believe the current system should be preserved.
Pesticides Lawmakers defeated a bill that would make it difficult for towns to adopt ordinances that protect people, wildlife, and the environment from pesticides. The bill was tabled, blocking it from being referred to committee for a public hearing. More than two-dozen Maine communities have taken action to reduce pesticide applications. NRCM believes any town should have that option. The Legislature also defeated a bill that would have diverted $400,000 from the Board of Pesticides Control to support a new Maine Cooperative Extension Laboratory. Although NRCM supports the lab, raiding funds for homeowner education about pesticides and other BPC programs is not appropriate.
Public Reserve Forest Lands Lawmakers unanimously approved an amended bill that implements the recommendations of the Commission to Study the Public Reserve Lands Management Fund. The bill was then defeated by a veto by the governor and inability of the Legislature to override the veto. The bill clarified that revenues generated from logging in Maine’s Public Reserve Lands cannot be raided by the governor to be used for other purposes. This is important, given Governor LePage’s refusal last year to release $11.5 million in citizen-approved LMF funds unless the Legislature allowed him to divert money from logging on public reserve lands. We anticipate that this bill will be proposed again next year.
Renewable Energy Policy Legislators defeated a bill that would have undermined Maine’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) program that supports renewable energy development in Maine. The bill would have created uncertainty in Maine’s renewable energy market, which would have deterred investments in clean renewable energy projects.
Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) Lawmakers amended a governor’s bill that, as proposed, would have diverted a large portion of RGGI funds away from energy efficiency investments. The revised bill leaves funding levels essentially the same, while providing some electricity rate relief to large energy-intensive manufacturers. Those manufacturers will not be eligible to participate in Efficiency Maine programs funded with RGGI, unless they use their rebate funds and some of their own/other funds to pay for efficiency upgrades. The bill also slightly changes the availability of RGGI funds toward residential heating efficiency and slightly less toward commercial efficiency, which we support. The governor vetoed the bill, and his veto was overridden.
Sea-level Rise Planning Legislators defeated a common-sense bill that would have required that sea-level rise predictions be taken into account in the design phase of any coastal development project if more than 10 percent of the total funding for the project comes from state government.
Solid Waste Policy Lawmakers passed, and the governor signed, a new law that includes a number of constructive changes to Maine’s solid waste policies. The bill creates a new waste disposal goal aimed at reducing per capita generation of solid waste over time, promotes strategies to reduce food waste, and authorizes the DEP to adopt fee changes on solid waste disposal. It also creates a new solid waste diversion grant program for recycling projects. Although no funding is provided for the program, DEP is authorized to issue grants should funds become available through future waste disposal fee changes.
Solar for Agriculture Lawmakers defeated a stand-alone bill that would have created a new rebate program to help farmers install solar panels and heating systems for their barns and businesses. However, in separate action, Senator Woodsome (R-York) successfully offered a floor amendment to the comprehensive solar bill that would help agricultural businesses deploy 8 MW of solar by 2021. The overall solar bill was defeated by a veto by the governor, thus depriving Maine farmers from a big new opportunity to reduce long-term energy costs through solar energy.
Taxation of Land Trust Land The Legislature quickly defeated a governor’s bill that would have terminated the tax exemption for properties held by land trusts for conservation and public access purposes. Compared with other states, Maine has a low percentage of public land—less than 6 percent. Maine people take great pride in the land that’s been conserved, which helps protect the character of our communities. Lawmakers recognized the bill as an attack by the governor on land trusts, and it was unanimously defeated.
Waste-to-Energy Subsidies Lawmakers narrowly defeated a bill that would have allowed waste-to-energy incinerators to qualify as a renewable energy resource under Maine’s Renewable Energy Portfolio law. NRCM opposed the bill because trash is not a renewable energy resource. We understand the role of waste-to-energy incinerators as part of Maine’s solid waste disposal system and waste hierarchy, but we firmly oppose efforts to provide clean energy credits for electricity generated from trash.
Wetlands Protection A spectacular 350-acre wetland in Gray, Maine was spared from significant environmental harm that would have been caused by a development project. The legislation would have allowed the owners of the narrow gauge railroad and museum in Portland to relocate the railroad within the Gray Meadow wetland, and exempt the project from meeting two of Maine’s key environmental laws. The wetlands are used as a migratory stopover and breeding habitat by dozens of species of birds, and it is a remarkable and highly valuable ecological refuge within an urbanizing area.