The 127th Legislature is history, but two themes will continue to dominate state and industry discussions: Energy and the path forward for Maine’s forest economy. While biomass certainly grabbed the headlines in the Legislature and Congress, a lot has happened on several important fronts. Executive Director Patrick Strauch will be wrapping it all up when the dust settles a bit, but here are some of the highlights.
The Press Herald and Bangor Daily News ultimately called LD 1676, An Act To Establish a Process for the Procurement of Biomass Resources a “biomass bailout.” Even MFPC members initially were divided on this bill, but with a lot of work by many parties the final language addressed many of the concerns in the original language. The debates in the House and Senate demonstrated bipartisan concern about the health of the logging community and sawmills, and acknowledged the challenge of biomass economics. The bill passed, 25-9 in the Senate and 104-40 in the House. (See roll calls.) Fortunately, legislators decided the goal — saving loggers jobs and giving the industry a two-year bridge to find other biomass options – was worth the public money. Gov. Paul R. LePage signed it into law April 16.
Another positive step for biomass came April 20, when the U.S. Senate passed the Energy Policy Modernization Act (S. 2012), which includes a provision affirming the carbon benefits of forest biomass as an important part of the U.S. energy solution. The tri-partisan provision, offered by Susan Collins (R-ME), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Angus King (I-ME), received unanimous support by the Senate earlier this year. The Senate and House will now seek to reconcile their respective bills.
- LD 1481 An Act To Protect Maine’s Natural Resources Jobs by Exempting from Sales Tax Petroleum Products Used in Commercial Farming, Fishing and Forestry grants a sales tax exemption or refund for fuel used in commercial agricultural production, aquacultural production and wood harvesting. It passed both houses (see roll calls), was included in an omnibus spending bill, LD 1606, and signed into law.
- LD 1691 An Act To Improve the Maine Tree Growth Tax Law Program died quickly with a unanimous ought not to pass vote in the Taxation Committee. For parcels enrolled on or after April 1, 2017, it would have included harvesting as an expressly stated activity for land in the program; increase the minimum size of parcels for inclusion from 10 to 25 acres, and disqualify from the program any parcel of land that is located within 10 miles of the Atlantic Ocean. Executive Director Patrick Strauch will be working with the membership this summer to address concerns voiced by the governor.
- LD 1600 An Act Regarding Consent to Land Transfers to the Federal Government seemed like a real long shot at first, but a toned down version opposing creation of national monuments in Maine became public law by very slim margins, 18-17 in the Senate and 77-73 in the House. (See roll calls). It was called a “largely symbolic vote” by the Press Herald, but was welcomed by park/monument opponents who also celebrated Patten residents 121-53 vote against supporting a proposed national park in a nonbinding referendum April 19.
- Gov. LePage’s veto of LD 1398 An Act To Reduce Electric Rates for Maine Businesses was overridden Friday, 110-38 in the House and 33-2 in the Senate. The bill provides that $3,000,000 of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative Trust Fund revenue is to be returned to certain affected customers in the form of an annual disbursement during fiscal years 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19. Read more.