Good morning from Augusta, where Democratic lawmakers later today will introduce what they’re calling Maine’s Green New Deal.
It looks a lot different from the national plan that has drawn a lot of attention. Unlike the federal Green New Deal proposed Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a freshman progressive from New York, which aims to make the country carbon neutral by 2030, Maine’s bill, from Rep. Chloe Maxmin, D-Nobleboro, is less extensive. It sets some goals, such as requiring 80 percent of electricity sales be from renewable resources by 2040, but it’s more focused on providing a framework from which the state can build and leaving major decisions to committees set up in the bill.
Under the bill, the Maine Public Utilities Commission would have to submit a virtual net metering plan by early next year to install solar panels on Maine’s K-12 schools, and an ad hoc committee would present a renewable resources strategy to Gov. Janet Mills’ office around the same time that includes economic development plans to help Maine transition to a “low-carbon economy.”
As is often the case with many proposals from Democrats, Maxmin’s bill calls for creation of a task force to study how to achieve its goals. The panel would include 11 members, including one person younger than 21 “representing youth of the state.” Climate science, housing, labor and low-income people also would have representative on the proposed task force.
Mills has made climate action an early priority of her administration, but she has tended toward incremental steps and it’s unclear where she stands on the bill. The Democratic governor has enjoyed somewhat of a honeymoon period with environmental groups who see her hopefully after the tenure of former Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican who largely put the state’s response to climate change on hold during his tenure. She has set goals of transitioning Maine to 100 percent renewables in the electricity industry by 2050.
However, she has typically been a careful politician. After Mills announced last month that Maine would be the 21st state to abide by an international agreement on emissions, she signaled skepticism about a carbon tax bill that was sponsored by 60 Democrats and has since been turned into a bill to study that issue.
On Thursday, her administration announced a new $5.1 million program to help Mainers buy electric vehicles with money won in a 2017 settlement with Volkswagen. Her administration will also lay out her plan for a Maine Climate Council to a legislative panel on Thursday.
Today in A-town
The House and Senate are in session today, and they’ll be hearing from another guest speaker delivering an annual address. At the House rostrum will be Maj. Gen. Douglas Farnham, the commander of Maine’s National Guard and the commissioner of the Maine Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management. Farnham is one of three commissioners held over from the LePage administration and he will brief lawmakers on the status of the Guard and veterans and emergency preparedness services.
There’s a heavy legislative schedule today, but it mostly revolves around minor bills. Six legislative committees will meet for public hearings today, with the bills up for discussion including a proposal from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, to allow certain all-terrain vehicles to be used on a public way. See the full schedule here.
— The fight over aquaculture is heating up on Maine’s coast. A group representing commercial fishing and lobstering professionals on Wednesday petitioned the Maine Department of Marine Resources to temporarily halt the issuance of permits for oyster farms and other forms of aquaculture. The petition calls for an immediate moratorium on all pending aquaculture lease applications for coastal areas larger than 10 acres. In total, there are nearly 50 aquaculture licenses currently pending state approval. But an oyster farm developer in Brunswick who served as that town’s marine resources officer for more than a decade said that aquaculture is the best way to offset the impact of climate change on traditional Maine fisheries.
— In more aquaculture news, developers who want to build one of the world’s largest land-based salmon farms in Belfast are pushing back at what they say is the opposition’s “significant misinformation.” Norway-owned Nordic Aquafarms is slowly moving forward with its permit applications and will hold another public information meeting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 26. “We realize that any new developments should result in questions and sometimes concerns in a community. We have truthfully answered questions and put information out there over the past year as it has become available,” Erik Heim, the company’s CEO said. But that’s not likely to sway opponents, one of whom said, “They’re going to have another info session and they’ll tell us what they want us to hear. It doesn’t really account for any of the problems that we’ve been talking about.”
— The push to test more Maine kids for exposure to lead poisoning continues. A report released Wednesday suggests that not all Maine kids are benefiting from a tougher childhood lead poisoning prevention law passed in 2015, which lowered the state’s standard for lead poisoning from 15 micrograms per deciliter of blood to match the federal standard, which is 5 micrograms per deciliter. With the report, advocates for more aggressive screening preview arguments likely to resurface during a public hearing next Tuesday on a bill that would require universal lead poison tests for toddlers.
— A hearing to determine whether a Maine teen accused of killing his grandmother will be tried as an adult begins today. Bowdoinham resident Dominic Sylvester, now 18, is charged with depraved indifference murder in the Feb. 26, 2018, death of his grandmother, 55-year-old Beulah “Marie” Sylvester, who was also the youth’s guardian and adoptive mother. He was 16 years old at the time of his grandmother’s death, but District Court Judge Beth Dobson will decide whether he should be tried as an adult, which would expose him to much harsher penalties. The hearing is expected to extend into next week.
The Maine Department of Transportation this year jumped on the March Madness train with a 16-lane road to the Final Four of the state’s favorite bridges. It’s a group participation endeavor that will ultimately crown one bridge as Maine’s favorite. Click here to read all about it.
The choices are excruciating. A first-round matchup pits local favorite, the Richmond-Dresden Kennebec Bridge — although I preferred its rickety old swing bridge predecessor — against the majestic Penobscot Narrows Bridge. Do I go for art and grandeur or should I be a loyal homer?
Across the bracket, the choice of the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge over Babb’s Bridge is easy. We Longs have to stick together, even if we are not related.
Another NCAA tournament-inspired bit of bracketology — Filmspotting Madness — raises the stakes by telling participants that all films eliminated from the tournament are also wiped out of existence. If we applied the same rule to the bridge tourney, losses by Sarah Long and the Piscataqua River Bridge would mean no one from the south could enter Maine by car. Hmmm, that could be a deciding factor.
In the end, my money — $0.00 — is riding on the entry listed as the Bailey Island Bridge, although I’ve always known it as the Cribstone Bridge. Here’s a look at it from the water. Here’s a look from the air. And here’s your soundtrack. — Robert Long
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Alex Acquisto and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to receive Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings. Click here to subscribe to the BDN.
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