Rather than support a quick fix of a typo, he and Republican House Leader Ken Fredette are trying to use a manufactured crisis to increase the governor’s power.
By Mike Tipping
Portland Press Herald column
Gov. Paul LePage and Republican House Leader Ken Fredette have proved once again that they can’t be trusted.
You might remember how two years ago, LePage upended months of careful negotiations on a comprehensive energy bill.
The legislation was a real compromise, containing provisions that he had championed as well as others from Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature: everything from increased natural gas pipeline capacity to bolstered funding for energy efficiency and conservation.
All sides agreed that while they disliked different provisions, they supported the overall package. Rep. Fredette was a main sponsor.
As the legislation was about to be passed, however, LePage made a new demand: that the bill contain a provision that would essentially torpedo energy giant Statoil’s plans for offshore wind development in Maine.
Legislators, even Republicans, were incensed at this last-minute meddling. They went ahead and passed the bill, only to have it vetoed by the governor and upheld by his allies in the Senate. Eventually, they gave in, acceded to LePage’s demands by passing his proposal as a separate piece of legislation (which would eventually succeed in scuttling the Statoil deal), and the bill was allowed to go forward.
LePage got his way and made the terms of their agreement crystal clear:
“I gave my word that, if that one additional provision was included, I would let this bill go into law,” LePage wrote in his official veto letter, on the stationery of the office of the governor.
Now, two years later, we know exactly how much LePage’s word is worth.
His appointees to the Public Utilities Commission recently seized upon an all-but-insignificant typo in that same energy bill (a missing “and”) to cut $38 million in funding for energy-efficiency programs. Everyone, even LePage’s office, agrees that this was not the intent of the legislation.
Rather than support a quick fix of this typo, however, LePage and Fredette have attempted to use this manufactured crisis to increase the governor’s power.
LePage has pledged to veto any restoration of funding that doesn’t also give him new concessions, including increased control over Efficiency Maine, the agency that administers the energy-efficiency programs. Fredette has introduced a bill to give in to the governor’s new demands.
LePage and Fredette are standing virtually alone on this issue. Both business and environmental groups have testified in favor of just fixing the typo, the committee voted overwhelmingly in favor of a clean fix and even members of their own party have been vocal in their opposition to LePage’s game-playing.
“This bill is, to me, simply about fixing a clerical error, honoring one’s word, and doing the right thing without delay,” said Republican Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta in testimony before the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee.
This week, an alliance of environmental organizations and building contractors also filed an appeal of the original PUC decision.
“The PUC made a baseless decision that will cost Mainers hundreds of millions of dollars, if not corrected,” said Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director with the Natural Resources Council of Maine in a release. “The PUC’s original order goes out of its way to justify ignoring the Legislature’s clear intent.”
If a fix isn’t made in the Legislature and LePage’s commissioners don’t reverse themselves, the issue could soon end up before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
Until then, funding for Efficiency Maine will continue to be under threat, which is deeply unfortunate.
The programs it oversees work incredibly well, saving Maine energy consumers around $5 for every $1 spent. Anyone in Maine who has ever bought a light bulb has benefited from its work.
It is nonpartisan and even energy source-neutral, looking for efficiency savings wherever it can, whether from fossil fuels or from renewables.
A clear dollars-and-cents accounting proves that LePage’s desire to defund these energy-efficiency programs isn’t coming from a rational place. It’s more likely an outgrowth of a national, conservative ideology on energy, one focused more on the whims of Big Oil and the Koch brothers than on the needs of the people of Maine.
It’s the same kind of thinking that has led LePage to reflexively oppose almost all renewable-energy projects, and to consistently ignore the threat of climate change to the state, when he’s not mocking its existence.
It’s also apparently enough to prompt LePage to break his word, something that the people of Maine should be used to at this point, given his history, but something they should never accept from their governor.