Guns and rangers, mining, mills and confidentiality
By Executive Director Patrick Strauch
The debate on LD 297, which would arm Maine’s forest rangers, continues to echo in the halls of the legislature. The initial vote in the House Feb. 25 was a strong showing — 130-7 — in favor of arming of rangers, but the issue is far from resolved. Further debate is expected in the Senate and in the Appropriations Committee. Our position continues to be of concern over mission creep and a diversion of important resources that should be focused on resource protection. SWOAM is actively concerned about this issue as well and we will be working closely with them to express our concerns. To have 75 rangers armed with guns is a significant government expansion to remedy risks that can be managed with a more thoughtful discussion about the future structure of the Maine Forest Service.
Wind power: The Council has been involved in wind power bills to the extent that land use laws are being changed. LD 616 creates a new governance process in the unorganized territory that is unprecedented and harmful to landowner rights. You can read MFPC’s concerns, which we expressed in response to an recent op-ed piece in the Bangor Daily News. We will express our concerns in the House and Senate as the bill is debated and will keep members informed.
Mining regulations: Landowners are watching over the mining regulations with interest. The media reported a “fiery debate” on LD 1772 , concerning major substantive rules written by the staff at DEP and approved by the Board of Environmental Protection. At the hearing Feb. 24, I testified that these rules are workable and provide the framework to protect the environment and allow responsible mining activity. Judging by the testimony, which was more focused on banning mining than reviewing the rules, there will be challenges getting the rules approved through both bodies. The Metallic Mineral Mining Act was passed in the 125th legislature, with an active rulemaking process. To return to the old rules which in effect prohibited mining is shutting the door on potential opportunities for Maine’s rural economy. Once the rules are approved there is still an major task in seeing if a project can be developed that meets all the regulated site parameters and that is environmentally and economically feasible.
Sometimes even simple bills find obstacles in the legislative process. The MFS submitted a bill (LD 1665) responding to mills’ concern about additional information required in the annual Maine Wood Prcoessors report. This report is an important policy tool and the MFS wants to make it even more accurate. Mills are willing to help, but more detailed information about deliveries gets close to exposing a customer list that could be used by competitors. We will work with the Judiciary Committee to help explain the need for confidentiality and the importance of the aggregate data in the report.