AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine House of Representatives sustained a gubernatorial veto of a study of the transportation of tar sands oil Tuesday, over the objections of lawmakers who cited last week’s train explosion in Quebec Province as proof of the dangers posed by the industry.
LD 1362, sponsored by independent Portland Rep. Benjamin Chipman, started months ago as a proposal for a two-year moratorium on the transportation of tar sands crude oil in Maine. After changes at the committee level, the bill went to the full Legislature as a directive to state officials to expand an already-underway study. It passed unanimously but Republican Gov. Paul LePage, in his veto letter, called the bill redundant.
“The amended bill directs the [Department of Environmental Protection] to undertake work duplicative of work already ongoing, in effect, treating the department like a research group for the Legislature,” wrote LePage. “This is another example of unnecessary lawmaking.”
Chipman said the state should do everything it can to avoid a tragedy like the one that unfolded Saturday in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, where a derailed train carrying crude oil exploded and killed more than a dozen people.
“The train that exploded in Lac-Megantic was on a rail line that travels through Maine,” Chipman said Tuesday during floor debate on the veto. “This could have happened here. This bill would give us valuable information to let us know if we’re prepared.”
Other Portland-area lawmakers agreed with Chipman because of the role the Portland Pipe Line Corp. could potentially play in the transportation of tar sands crude oil from Canada to South Portland and across the Atlantic Ocean. Several municipalities along the already-existing pipeline have opposed the measure.
Rep. Terry Morrison, D-South Portland, cited the Quebec disaster as well as a large spill in Arkansas earlier this year as examples of catastrophes that would ruin coastal Maine.
“These oil spills happen,” he said. “Tar sands are dangerous and we have to be careful. We have to be prepared.”
Rep. Bernard Ayotte, R-Caswell, was one of the 52 lawmakers who voted against the study.
“I’m not opposed to this study, but I would be concerned about the study leading to a moratorium, which then leads to being forced to use other forms of energy that would be extremely expensive,” he said.
The final vote was 91-52, which fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto.