February 23, 2020
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Energy bill pits businesses against environmentalists

AUGUSTA, Maine — A legislative proposal that would integrate energy efficiency and climate change into state planning policies was cheered by environmental groups on Tuesday but jeered by business organizations fearful of additional red tape.

The bill, LD 1333, by House Speaker Hannah Pingree, would direct the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to develop rules to take into account energy use and greenhouse gas emissions when permitting new development or projects involving pollution discharges into the environment.

The bill also would require an analysis of climate change effects from any state policy decisions as well as aim to use regulatory tools to expand the availability of bicycle or pedestrian lanes.

Pingree, D-North Haven, argued that incorporating energy and climate considerations into the preliminary planning process for any project ultimately will save money and have long-lasting benefits.

“Despite the [initial] costs, we cannot afford to continue on without a plan for Maine’s climate and energy future,” Pingree told members of the Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee during a public hearing.

The concepts laid out in the bill — if not the precise language — won support from a range of range of organizations, from Environment Northeast and the Conservation Law Foundation to the Bicycle Coalition of Maine. Numerous residents also spoke in support of the bill.

“This bill will give the state what it needs to address climate change at the planning stage,” said Diane Guethlen, a resident of Tomhegan Township, part of the Unorganized Territory on Moosehead Lake.

Several business organizations saw the bill in a different light, however.

Steven Hudson, an attorney representing the Industrial Energy Consumers Group, which includes many of Maine’s largest energy consumers, described the bill as proposing a “bold vision to address the important impacts of climate change” but said the measure would create an even larger regulatory burden for businesses.

Hudson said the bill “simply goes too far too fast.”

Steve Schley with Pingree Associates, one of the state’s largest timberland owners, described the bill as a “power grab” and a regulatory “hammer” that supposedly aims at fighting climate change but offers few real incentives. Rather than additional regulations, Maine should be encouraging timberland owners to grow more wood that will fight climate change by absorbing more of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, he said.

“Build incentives rather than hammers and I think you will get a lot more done,” Schley said.

The Maine Association of Realtors and the Maine Forest Products Council also spoke against the bill.

Officials from the DEP and the Maine Department of Transportation endorsed the intent of the bill but expressed concerns about aspects of it. DOT testimony said some of the analyses required by the bill appear to be redundant. The bill also would necessitate additional positions at the DEP, the DOT and the State Planning Of-fice at a time when the size of state government is shrinking because of a serious budget shortfall.

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