AUGUSTA, Maine — The first legislative review of Gov. Paul LePage’s attempt to prevent the creation of a national monument within Maine began badly for him when one of the state’s top environmental attorneys advised that no state law could accomplish the governor’s goal.
The Joint Standing Committee on State and Local Government recommended against passage of a governor’s bill, LD 1600, in a 7-6 vote, officials said Thursday. The vote split along party lines on Wednesday.
Jerry Reid, chief of the Natural Resources Division of the Maine Attorney General’s Office, stopped short of calling LD 1600 unconstitutional. He said that most civil courts would likely question its attempt to limit to whom landowners can convey their land or anything that “could be viewed as restraining the conveyance of property.”
“The important takeaway message is that the state cannot prevent the takeover of the land and cannot do anything to frustrate what the federal government is going to do there,” Reid said during a work session on the bill on Wednesday.
LePage senior policy advisor Avery Day suggested amendments but Reid said the changes would not allay all of his concerns. In an attempt to find a better way to achieve the bill’s objective, committee members informally agreed to ask the state’s federal delegation to urge President Barack Obama to turn approximately 87,500 acres of entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby’s land into a national forest, upon which logging and other forestry activities would be allowed, instead of a monument.
Quimby’s son, Lucas St. Clair, indicated in November that he was lobbying the White House in search of a presidential executive order creating a monument as a stepping stone toward turning his family’s lands into a national park of as much as 150,000 acres.
Offered by LePage and sponsored by state Rep. Stephen Stanley, D-Medway, the bill would require landowners transferring property to the federal government to insert a “reverter” clause in the deed that would put the property back in the original owner’s hands if it was designated a national monument.
The governor’s bill follows statements from U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Angus King, I-Maine, and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, expressing serious reservations about a national monument.
Speaking Wednesday for about 30 minutes, Reid said the reverter clause would likely be superseded by the supremacy clause in the U.S. Constitution.
LD 1600 “presents a couple of other issues that are not as clear in terms of how a court would react to them,” said Reid, whose division provides guidance to 21 Maine government departments, boards and commissions. Its clients include the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Conservation, the Maine Forest Service and the Department of Agriculture.
Reid said he was very confident, however, that LD 1600 would likely fail to achieve its intended goal, calling that “a conclusion I can feel confident stating.”
The 7-6 vote means that two reports will go to the state House of Representatives. The majority report will recommend that the bill ought not to pass, while the minority will recommend its passage as amended. The bill will next go to the House floor for further consideration, including a financial analysis by the Legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal and Program Review.
LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said that the bill “is not dead” and that she was heartened by the close vote. She called upon legislators to consider foremost that the residents of the Katahdin region have “overwhelmingly rejected” a proposed national park in the area and the federal jurisdiction that it and a monument would bring.
“We need legislators from all across Maine to look at this issue a little bit differently,” Bennett said, “and consider what the constituents in the area want. This is an important part of the debate.”