AUGUSTA, Maine — Another partisan debate erupted on the Maine Senate floor Thursday over a joint resolution submitted by Republican Leader Jonathan Courtney urging the president and Congress to support a controversial oil pipeline in the midwest.
The 17-15 vote to support the resolution was entirely along party lines and signified the third consecutive day that legislative Republicans and Democrats have bickered publicly.
Thursday’s discussion centered on a nonbinding resolution to support the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would bring Canadian oil into the U.S.
Republicans have said the pipeline would help lower the price of gas; Democrats, including President Barack Obama, disagree about the financial impact and have environmental concerns.
Courtney explained his reasons for bringing the resolution forward by reciting three numbers: $1.80, $3.80 and $5.
The first, he said, represents the price per gallon of gas when Obama took office; the second was what he paid when he filled up his vehicle this week; and the third is what experts believe could be the price of gas this summer.
“It’s time somebody stood up,” Courtney said Thursday.
Courtney’s numbers don’t tell the whole story. The price of gas under President George Bush eclipsed $4 in many states before dropping when Obama took office.
Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, called out the Republicans for using the resolution not to support domestic oil production but to criticize Obama.
Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, appeared to take a shot at Courtney, who is running for the U.S. House seat in Maine’s 1st Congressional District against Chellie Pingree.
“I’m running for the people of Maine. I’m not running for anything else,” Gerzofsky said.
The hourlong debate Thursday featured back-and-forth testimony from more than half of Maine’s 35 senators.
Sen. Ronald Collins, R-York, said the resolution was a no-brainer.
“Every time we buy oil from overseas we’re supporting terrorists who want to kill us,” he said. “We should tell the rest of the country that Maine is behind this.”
Sen. Phil Barlett, D-Gorham, said Maine has no business injecting itself into the national debate over the Keystone Pipeline. He also said the resolution sounded a lot like another resolution drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative policy group that, among other things, drafts model legislation for states.
“Who funds [ALEC]? Big Oil,” Bartlett said. “They want this [pipeline]. It’s good for their bottom line.
Sen. John Patrick, D-Oxford, said the resolution was clearly politically motivated.
Patrick’s comments were somewhat coincidental. On Wednesday, Republicans accused Democrats of playing politics with an order by Patrick that sought to have the Legislature examine whether Maine’s constitutional officers should run for federal office.
Thursday’s vote on the pipeline resolution drew a quick response from Environment Maine.
“Let’s be clear that TransCanada’s own analysis shows that the Keystone XL pipeline would likely increase gas prices for Americans,” the group’s director, Emily Figdor, said in a statement. “The only winner would be Big Oil, and so it’s no surprise that this resolution comes straight out of the playbook of the American Legislative Exchange Council, the D.C.-based corporate lobbying group funded by Big Oil.”
Follow BDN reporter Eric Russell on Twitter @BDNPolitics