by Don Carrigan
WCSH-6 TV news story
AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — There was more political squabbling in Augusta Wednesday over one word, accidentally left out of a bill passed by the Legislature two years ago. The omission of the word “and” from a critical sentence in the 2013 Omnibus Energy Bill led to a decision last month by the Maine Public Utilities Commission to dramatically cut the expected funding for the energy conservation program Efficiency Maine.
The PUC needs to set a new, three year budget for the agency, which would take effect in mid-2016. The lack of the word “and” in that key sentence resulted in what is described as a potential $38 million reduction in the allowable funding level. The PUC decision is not yet final.
Democrats want to just put the single word back into the law, but Republicans said they need more than that to get it passed by fellow GOP members and the governor.
Republican House Leader Ken Fredette said he wants the missing word restored as well, but has submitted a bill that would also turn the Governor’s Energy office into a bigger, cabinet level state Energy Department, with current Director Patrick Woodcock as Commissioner. Fredette said his plan would provide more oversight of Efficiency Maine, which is something the Governor apparently wants. Gov. LePage has been critical of the agency in the past.
Democrats, however, don’t like the plan, and are instead putting in their own bill to simply put the word “and” back in the law. Assistant Democratic Leader Sara Gideon said they have bipartisan backing for the plan, and two Republican lawmakers joined Gideon and another Democrat to show their support. Gideon said the idea of cabinet level Energy Department might have positive aspects, but argues that it should not be linked to fixing the word problem affecting Efficiency Maine funding.
Fredette said only his bill can get support from enough Republicans and the Governor to allow it to pass. Both measures will now go to public hearing in front of the Energy and Utilities Committee.