MFPC prevailed across the spectrum in short session

The Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee debates the wind power bills. From left, EUT co-chairs Sen. John Cleveland and Rep. Barry Hobbins, Rep. Larry Dunphy and Rep. Roberta Beavers.
The Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee debates the wind power bills. From left, EUT co-chairs Sen. John Cleveland and Rep. Barry Hobbins, Rep. Larry Dunphy and Rep. Roberta Beavers.

at the legislatureBy Patrick Strauch, MFPC executive director

As I reflect on the “short session” of the 126th Legislature I can report on a successful effort. With the exception of moving the mining rules forward, every issue we took a position on, we were successful. Through a combination of perseverance, coalition building and a focus on presenting the facts we prevailed on our issues across a spectrum of political ideals. However, Michele MacLean and I are both relieved to have survived another session.

To recap some of the final actions of the second session:

  • The contentious LD 297 to arm rangers was vetoed by the Governor because “Forest rangers cannot be armed without the appropriate training, and they cannot be trained without the ability to pay for it.” (Read entire veto message.) We agreed with the governor along with a mix of senators who voted to sustain the veto (see roll call vote). Tom Doak of SWOAM and I know the issue is not resolved, but I believe the stage is set for a more comprehensive discussion about the mission of the Maine Forest Service. I’ve received some emails from the ranger community claiming I don’t understand their job, and I would claim the same is true about rangers’ understanding and respecting the perspective of their customers and the community they regulate. It has been my experience in the Legislature that until both sides of an issue obtain a sense of fairness and compromise there is no permanent resolution. It was a unique situation to have the president of the Senate, Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Cumberland, vote to sustain a veto by Gov. LePage, but we are grateful to both of them.
  • We prevailed on the wind power zoning bills (LDs 616 and 1323), which threatened to undermine the land zoning process in the unorganized territory. I think more discussion could take place about public involvement in the permitting process, but the rights of citizens in the UT can’t trump the rights of landowners. That’s why we reformed LURC to LUPC and created the opportunity for balanced land use planning.
  • Outcome Based Forestry (LD 1847 ) started out with a lot of rancor, but as reported in the last newsletter, a unanimous committee report in support of OBF was rewarded with passage under the hammer in both the House and Senate. This concept will be important for the newly elected ACF Committee to understand, particularly as we continue to discuss how best to prepare for the spruce budworm infestation. (See related story on ACF senate chair, Eloise Vitelli.)
  • Many vetoes protected changes to workers compensation and unemployment insurance laws. BETR reimbursement reductions were minimized and Tree Growth Tax Law changes were rejected. The Mining Act will go into effect despite attempts to delay the date, but the revised rules (LD 1771) were not accepted, leaving their adoption for another day.

Clearly legislators were anxious to end the session, and almost immediately the fundraising emails materialized. I’ll be out and about meeting the candidates and making sure they understand our issues and our vision for the future of Maine’s forest economy.

Our series of discussions with the gubernatorial candidates will continue with the June 5th board meeting with Gov. LePage (10:30 a.m.) and Rep.  Mike Michaud (1 p.m.). It will be important for the membership to engage in this election, so watch for our legislative breakfast sessions in the fall, and I’ll be looking for your ideas about policy initiatives next session.