AUGUSTA, Maine — The Senate on Thursday rejected Gov. Paul LePage’s plan to reduce home heating costs with revenue created by increasing the amount of timber harvested on state-owned land.
The 19 Senate Democrats, joined by Republican Sen. Pat Flood of Winthrop and independent Sen. Dick Woodbury of Yarmouth, muscled through a 21-14 vote to reject LD 1838, a governor’s bill to create a new energy-efficiency subsidy, funded by revenue from a proposed 65,000-cord cut increase on state land.
The state sells timber from about 400,000 acres of state forests, about two-thirds of all the state-owned land managed by the Bureau of Parks and Land. The Department of Agriculture has internally agreed to raise the ceiling on timber harvested from public property from 115,000 cords last year to 141,000 per year this year. About 145,000 cords were harvested in fiscal year 2013. LD 1838 would slowly increase the annual cap to 180,000 cords.
Revenue generated from the increased sales would be funnelled into a new Efficiency Maine fund, which would be used to help Mainers buy alternative heatings systems, such as pellet stoves, heat pumps and energy-efficient oil units.
The bill was strongly opposed by environmental groups, who said the increased harvest would jeopardize the sustainability of the state forestry program. Others, including Democrats on the Legislature’s Agriculture Committee, said that while the goal of the bill was laudable, they couldn’t see fit to divert money from the Bureau of Parks and Land, which traditionally uses timber revenue to fund its forestry, recreation and conservation projects.
Republicans in the Senate made the argument that much of the timber in question is “going to waste.” They said allowing the increased harvest was the right thing to do in the wake of the frigid temperatures experienced this winter.
“Never in my life have I seen people pay more to stay warm than they did this winter,” said Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley. “To harvest timber that’s going to waste, to help people heat their homes, seems to me just to be common sense.”
Sen. Jim Boyle, D-Gorham, said that as a licensed forester and member of the Agriculture committee, which also voted to reject the bill, he is not convinced the harvest could be increased without affecting the state’s sustainable timber portfolio.
“That timber is not going to waste,” he said.
Patrick Woodcock, the governor’s energy chief, said he was disappointed by the vote in the Senate.
“Maine’s public resources should be used to maximize the benefits for Maine people, and that should be uniting the Legislature and the governor,” he said.
The bill faces further votes in the House and Senate.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.