EPA putting Maine jobs on the chopping block

Posted Sept. 24, 2010, at 7:50 p.m.

Elected leaders at all levels know that Americans want three things right now: jobs, jobs and jobs. If the policies you support create jobs, your constituents will probably make sure you keep yours for a long time. If the policies you back kill jobs, you’ll be joining the long unemployment line this November. This simple politicalreality is what has made the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent announcement to overregulate America’s biggest renewable energy source so perplexing.

Just a few short months before a contentious election that has many Democrats fighting for survival, the EPA made final a job-killing mandate that will stall development of biomass energy plants from coast to coast. Under the EPA’s scheme, carbon-neutral power generated by sawdust, wood chips and other forestry byproducts will be subjected to the same costly permits and red tape as the country’s oldest coal-burning factories.

On July 2, 18 Democrats in the U.S. Senate joined numerous Republican colleagues in sending the EPA a critical letter, which noted that the EPA’s plan “has already forced numerous biomass energy projects into limbo.” Additionally, 63 bipartisan members of the U.S. House of Representatives urged the EPA to reverse course, saying biomass electricity production “would help stimulate the economies of rural communities surrounded by federal lands by creating jobs.” Sen. Susan Collins, Sen. Olympia Snowe and Rep. Michael Michaud were among the letter’s signers.

But don’t think for a second this is simply a D.C. political parlor game without implications for Maine. If the EPA’s scheme takes hold in January as scheduled, the impact will reverberate in communities statewide. Consider this: Maine’s forestry industry, which depends on biomass power production, employs 51,600 people and pumps $1.5 billion into local economies. Plus, more than 21,000 homes in the state get their power from 30 renewable biomass energy producers.

Gutting the biomass power industry would likely drive up electric bills for small businesses across Maine. This is simply bad policy.

As Maine wrestles with 8 percent unemployment, my campaign has maintained a focus on jobs and kick-starting the local economy. It’s not rocket science; it’s just good old-fashioned common sense.

People need good-paying jobs, and they need them now. Increasing, not decreasing, the amount of biomass power produced would be a good first step.

President Barack Obama is politically smart enough to recognize this, too. This summer, he made a promise to America that by focusing on renewable energy we could create 800,000 jobs by 2012. “And that’s not just creating work in the short term,” he said. “That’s going to help lay the foundation for lasting economic growth.”

It’s too bad for the president that his EPA didn’t get the memo and is busy sending lots of Americans to the unemployment lines.

Doug Thomas, R-Ripley, represents District 24 in the Maine House of Representatives. He is a candidate for Senate District 27.

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