You can’t fix something until you know what’s wrong with it. That’s why, earlier this year, the Maine Legislature began a series of public hearings to learn more about the impact of government regulation on Maine residents and businesses.
As this first session of the 125th Legislature began, we decided to get out of Augusta and into towns across the state to begin a conversation with the people of Maine. As a recently retired past owner of a company that helps businesses navigate the government permitting process, I know firsthand how difficult and sometimes unreasonable it can be for a business to grow in Maine. We need to have a discussion about how best to strike the balance between economic growth and the preservation of our natural resources.
Unfortunately, some in Augusta don’t want to have this conversation at all.
As we begin to shine a light on the often contentious relationship between government and business, some special-interest groups in Augusta have decided to try to bar the door. Environmentalists and lobbyists are trying desperately to keep Mainers from hearing the stories of small businesses that struggle with outdated red tape. After listening to the incredible stories at the first batch of these public hearings, it’s clear this discussion is long overdue.
From Presque Isle to Sanford, we’ve heard the same story over and over again — Maine businesses trapped in a morass of permitting and expensive red tape. At our hearing in Presque Isle, we heard from a campground owner who needed to get 17 different permits to run his business. In fact, he told us he abandoned plans to set up a popcorn machine for the kids at the campground because of the additional permits that would have required.
The stories of Maine business owners struggling with the bureaucratic process are alarming. It’s upsetting to know that, during this difficult economic period, our economy is being hampered by government processes that appear to be inefficient, redundant and, in some cases, unnecessary.
So why has it gotten to this point?
The answer may be reflected in something else we’ve seen as we’ve gone through this hearing process. Environmental groups in Augusta have made a concerted effort to demagogue these hearings. They’ve attempting to paint this very open, public process as some kind of an effort to harm the environment. They’ve been dismis-sive of the concerns of Maine’s business community, and have decided to try to stifle any conversation about the balance we must strike to make sure Maine’s economy can thrive.
This is politics at its worst.
We all understand how these environmental lobbyists work. They create public perception of a problem, then they get paid to fight back. It’s how these groups make their money.
What we have attempted to do through these hearings is to get away from this. We have taken the discussion out of the bubble of Augusta, to get away from the lobbyists and issue professionals, and have a conversation directly with the people of Maine.
I have worked my entire career as an environmental engineer, and I share with the people of this state a great concern for the preservation of our environment. We heard from an advocate for green forestry practices at our Belfast hearing who identified Maine’s environment as a market advantage, but cautioned against the notion that a clean environment and economic development are mutually exclusive.
In short, we can have a thriving economy and a pristine environment if we work toward common-sense regulation and regulatory processes. This is exactly the goal of this committee and of these public hearings.
As we near the end of this public hearing process on regulatory reform, there’s no doubt we have our work cut out for us. We have been fortunate to get the input of so many concerned residents across Maine, input that may have gone unheard if we didn’t begin this conversation. We’re moving forward now with the job of crafting commonsense legislation that will take all of this into account, and we hope the professional lobbyists can end their campaign to stifle this discussion and join us in our fight to bring Maine back to prosperity.
Jim Parker, R-Veazie, represents District 18 in the Maine House of Representatives. He is an environmental engineer and founder and former CEO of CES, inc., an environmental consulting business.