April 07, 2020
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Firm that conducted key energy studies for Maine will be in the hot seat today

Natalie Williams | BDN
Natalie Williams | BDN
A redacted copy of a report created by London Economics International for the Maine Public Utilities Commission to assess the economic impact of Central Maine Power's proposed hydropower transmission line for western Maine.

Good morning from Augusta. We’re rolling out a new design of the Daily Brief today on another platform. There were technical difficulties in sending out the email today. Here’s your soundtrack.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: Ultimately, I think the conservative nature of the state and federal bureaucracies makes it unlikely that unless a mountain lion had kittens on the governor’s car they’d admit to a breeding population in Maine, but I think the evidence is pretty compelling that a small remnant population exists in northern New England and the Maritimes,” reader Geoffrey Wingard said of the often-contested subject of whether there are mountain lions in Maine (or New England, for that matter.) Here’s your soundtrack.

What we’re watching today

Officials from a firm that has conducted key Maine energy studies will be questioned by lawmakers who want to stop a state payment to them. It will be a day in the hot seat for London Economics International, which will present to the Legislature’s energy committee at 1 p.m. on its recently released study finding electric rates would rise initially if Maine enshrined a consumer-owned utility, though they should drop in the long term.

London Economics has been under scrutiny for that study after the Bangor Daily News reported this month the firm won the $500,000 contract despite past work for Emera Maine that should have disqualified it under state rules. It later emerged the firm was working for a subsidiary of Hydro-Quebec when it was hired to do a 2018 study on the economic impact of the proposed Central Maine Power corridor, which would bring Hydro-Quebec power to the regional grid.

Four members of the energy panel wrote to the Maine Public Utilities Commission last week urging it to halt payment to London Economics to preserve the right to take “corrective action,” according to a letter obtained by the news arm of the progressive Maine People’s Alliance. The commission responded that the firm has only been paid $159,000 so far.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Most youth are jailed in Maine simply because ‘they could not go home,’ new report says,” Callie Ferguson, Bangor Daily News: “In 45 percent of detention cases, the most serious charges pending against youth were for crimes involving property, drugs or alcohol, not for crimes against people. In addition, 53 percent of young people are booked to Long Creek ‘to provide care’ for their well-being, rather than out of concern for public safety.”

— “A voter guide to Maine’s Democratic presidential primary,” Jessica Piper and Michael Shepherd, BDN: “Maine Democrats will vote Tuesday in the presidential primary amid divides in the party on whether to push aggressive policy goals including Medicare for All and which of their eight candidates is best-suited to beat President Donald Trump. …The Bangor Daily News surveyed readers in January on the issues that matter to you most, with Democrats picking climate change and health care as their highest-priority issues.”

Presidential surrogates are continuing to make their case ahead of the March 3 primary. Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg picked up an endorsement from former Rep. Tom Allen of Maine’s 1st District on Tuesday. The Democrat from Portland applauded the billionaire’s ability to “unite a broad coalition” to take on Trump. Electability has been at the center of Bloomberg’s pitch in Maine and beyond, with his campaign arguing that front-running Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders would hurt Democrats down the ballot. Sanders has his own surrogates in Maine, with Ben & Jerry’s founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield handing out “Justice ReMix’d” ice cream while they campaigned for him in Maine yesterday.

— “State’s plan for special cannabis crimes unit sparks outrage,” Penelope Overton, Portland Press Herald: “The criminal enforcement unit would focus on marijuana crimes, like black-market sales to children, while a civil compliance unit would use regulatory tools, like license suspension or fines, to encourage licensed marijuana businesses to comply with state marijuana rules, like testing all products.”

Packaging bill strikes at heart of recycling debate

A bill that would cause producers of packaging products to pay into a recycling fund is sure to draw spirited testimony at the State House today. Under the bill, packaging producers will pay a fee based on the weight of material they sell — that money would then be used to pay for municipalities’ recycling programs. Producers can offset what they’d pay by creating recycling programs for the material they sell or by reducing production altogether.

The proposal is getting support from environmentalists and opposition from producers and box stores. It comes at a time when municipalities have begun to shelve recycling programs as costs increase — a result of fewer buyers and stricter standards for accepting recyclables from buyers like China. Even if your town does recycle, not all materials are created equal — especially some plastics.


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