By Executive Director Patrick Strauch
On July 9, Michelle MacLean texted me that the governor’s LD 1103 veto was sustained and I knew we were finally done with the long session of the 126th legislature. As I’ve mentioned in earlier newsletters, we knew we were in a defensive mode trying to protect the gains made in the 125th legislature, and I can report that we were successful in that effort, but I would never have predicted the path that we would need to take to achieve this success!
- LURC reform remained unchallenged in large part because the UT regions are taking ownership of there planning responsibilities.
- The merger of the ACF department was completed because of the strength of the Natural Resources Network, which worked collaboratively to design and defend a department structure that made sense to practioners. We also successfully pushed back on the Environmental Network that wanted forestry to remain buried in their definition of “conservation.”
- With assistance from the governor we have repositioned the debate about arming rangers into a more methodical and analytical task force process (this in a legislature that was poised to arm teachers!)
- We collaborated with other industry associations to to pass important energy legislation, in effect creating bipartisan agreement on the need to lower Maine’s energy costs.
- We helped members push back on metallic mineral mining act revisions that would have disrupted the current rulemaking process and set back our collective efforts to determine if mining can be conducted in a safe manner in Maine.
- We participated in the debate about wind energy to ensure a fair discussion about zoning, threatened species and visual standards that will transcend to other land uses. We also provided biomass energy with a separate identity and educated lawmakers on the growing importance of wood as a source of energy.
- We successfully submitted legislation that will help us secure a general permit from EPA for the application of pesticides in forest canopies.
- We eliminated several bills dealing with tree growth in the taxation committee, although we anticipate more questions being asked when the MFS presnts there research findings next session.
- We pushed back on revisions to workers compensation and unemployment insurance standards that were accepted by the 125th legislature.
Clearly Michele, Roberta, Pat Sirois and Sue were busy helping me manage the issues, and their assistance when I was absent from the scene while nursing a broken leg provided a dedicated effort on your behalf. Weekly discussions with the Policy Committee, monthly guidance by the Executive Committee and Board all served to ensure success this session.
A lot has been said about Gov. LePage’s outspokenness, but I have to cheer at some of the statements made by the governor in his veto messages. For example, since the days of the gubernatorial campaign ,Gov. LePage has understood the complicated issue of bonded Canadian labor in Maine’s woods and he certainly understood the threat proposed in LD 1103 by linking the lawful use of bonds to landowner penalties in the Tree Growth and forestry excise tax programs. The governor wrote in his veto message:
“This bill is part of a coordinated attack on Maine’s forest products industry. Among other things, it says certain forest land may not benefit from state-supported forest fire protection. I cannot fathom why we would want to leave land vulnerable to forest fires to score political points. Letting land burn will harm loggers, landowners, tourists, sportsman, and countless others. Are political games really worth that?”
The veto was sustained (17 Yeas – 16 Nays- 0 Excused – 2 Absent in the Senate) and I’m appreciative of the governor’s and Republicans’ support on this threatening bill. It can be frustrating to see Democrats who should know better than to play politics with the tree growth program and play loose with the constitution. They know that the Council is for the most part an issues-driven organization, but they also knew that the governor would veto the bill. To rely on a veto during the final day of the legislative session on a dangerous bill is nerve-wracking, and Michele did a good job of holding my hand as we approached the vote.
What does this mean for us in the next legislative session? I know we can continue to successfully defend our industry and navigate the crazy politics of Augusta, but can we move Maine ahead is the real question? Ever the optimists, we will continue to educate legislators as we plan a legislative tour in September and prepare our visionary document of Maine’s future forest economy. We will educate and rally the Legislature around the pending spruce budworm infestation and will turn what was historically the impetus for clearcutting referendums into an opportunity for decisionmakers to better understand our industry and its importance to the future of Maine.