February 24, 2018
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LePage has yet to take stand on Gulf of Maine drilling, energy adviser says

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
The Cristina Susana makes its way past Ram Island Ledge Lighthouse entering Portland Harbor in 2012. Gov. Paul LePage is currently pondering a proposal that could expand oil drilling to Maine waters.
By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff
Updated:

Three weeks after President Donald Trump announced that his administration would expand drilling in U.S. coastal waters, Gov. Paul LePage is still reviewing the proposal to determine whether it would be good for Maine.

Steven McGrath, who leads LePage’s energy office, said Thursday that the Republican governor does not have a timeline for his decision.

“It’s 380 pages,” said McGrath. “It’s not going to be a quick review. … Anyone who’s for or against this at this point without having gone through that proposal, I just don’t know how they got there.”

To date, LePage hasn’t said much about the proposal, which has triggered active opposition from all four members of Maine’s congressional delegation. LePage spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz said earlier this month that the governor favors exploring new drilling areas but believes in a “balanced approach that places a priority on protecting our environment and traditional industries but that does not close the door on jobs and lower energy costs for Maine people.”

She said he expects significant regions will be excluded from the final plan but didn’t say whether he wants the Gulf of Maine excluded.

McGrath said national reports that LePage supports drilling near Maine are premature. Governors in other coastal states are nearly unanimous in their opposition, including governors and the congressional delegation from all of the coastal New England states.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, who co-sponsored a bill to ban drilling off the coast of New England, said through a spokeswoman Thursday that the bill, along with a similar one, are unlikely to advance “due to a lack of support from Republican leadership.”

McGrath’s announcement comes amid a very busy time for the governor on energy issues. Colder-than-usual weather required LePage to issue executive orders to ensure heating oil and propane companies can relax delivery rules to meet the demand and on Wednesday, LePage issued an executive order that blocks most new wind power applications until an advisory commission can study the issue.

Meanwhile, Maine had a significant interest in a decision announced Thursday in Massachusetts about what direction that state will move toward a massive renewable energy contract. There were a total of 46 proposals in the running, including at least 14 that would route an energy transmission line through Maine or tap the state’s wind farms. Massachusetts chose the so-called Northern Pass proposal through New Hampshire over the Maine proposals.

Shortly after Trump’s announcement, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that he granted Florida an exemption to the drilling proposal but reports in recent days indicate that Trump wasn’t behind that decision and is angry with Zinke.

“Congresswoman Pingree is exploring all options to push Secretary Zinke to reject this outrageous proposal to drill in the Gulf of Maine as he did for the state of Florida,” wrote Pingree spokeswoman Victoria Bonney in response to questions from the Bangor Daily News.

Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King said Thursday that drilling off the coast of Maine would be a “monumental mistake” and that the cost of an incident would “far outweigh any benefit that would accrue.”

A spokesman for Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin said there had been no major developments on the issue.

Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ office did not immediately respond to questions. All four member of the delegation have supported legislation to stop drilling near Maine.

In Maine, a public hearing on the issue was scheduled for Monday in Augusta but postponed because of the federal government shutdown. The meeting has not yet been rescheduled.

For a roundup of Maine political news, click here for the Daily Brief. Click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

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