Paul Frederic’s recent guest column in the BDN raises fundamental questions about Maine’s regulatory system and its role in our democracy. Before Congress deregulated electric power in 1992, Americans could reasonably expect that public utility commissions would act in the best interests of ratepayers. Most electricity providers bent over backwards to maintain good relationships with their customers, because they usually needed local support to build new facilities. I know, because I helped build these facilities.
As we see from Central Maine Power, that relationship was largely broken after 1992. Customers no longer had much influence over local electricity providers. PUCs often took on a new and almost oversight-free role: administering electric systems that became largely “a transaction between regulators and project developers,” as one of my industry friends put it.
This transaction didn’t necessarily guarantee the public interest — on the environment, on cost, on reliability or anything else. The main objective was to keep corporate owners happy. Political scientists now have a term for it: regulatory capture.
Frederic is naive to think that 30 years of regulatory capture can be unwound by electing new public officials. Our political system isn’t really geared to produce such outcomes. More likely, these officials will appoint their own friends and cronies to regulatory boards. Maybe it’s time to rethink the role of regulatory agencies and let in a little fresh air.
How dare they
Recently, I attended a historic hearing that included elders of several Maine tribes and Maine state legislators. Testimony after testimony from elders, legislators and conservation organizations advocated for the state’s indigenous tribes to be observed as sovereign land owners.
After one of the elders finished speaking, a state legislator asked her what qualifications or certifications her tribe had to assure his committee that they could safeguard Maine’s environment. I listened but was disappointed by her response. I wish she had replied with the righteous indignation that question deserved.
How dare the state of Maine ask sovereign landowners what sewn-on merit badge or scrolled certificate they have to prove their trustworthiness downriver, when some people in Houlton had to turn to drinking bottled water as a result of high levels of PFAS/PFOS in the well water upriver.
How dare they ask the people, whose ancestors subsisted off the land for 12,000 years only to give it up to hundreds of years of toxic pollution by Maine’s textile and paper industries and lax state regulations, for a conservation record. The Androscoggin River wasn’t listed in the mid 1900s as one of the most polluted rivers in the country because of her tribe. Maine’s water supplies and dairy farms weren’t polluted with ” forever chemicals” by her indigenous ancestors.
I wished she had told this legislator that her tribe had all the qualifications to safeguard our environment by learning from Maine what not to do. What certificate do they get for that?
Building Maine’s future
Maine needs to attract and retain young working families. The future of our economy depends upon it. As an early childhood educator, I am thrilled to see an understanding by our state leaders that this requires access to quality, affordable early care and education.
Not only does quality child care support the development of young children and lead to a vibrant future workforce, but its presence also provides important workforce infrastructure right now that allows parents to be productive at their jobs or higher education pursuits. I have witnessed firsthand the consequences for families who cannot obtain such care for their children; it has resulted in parents having to step out of the labor force, constraining employers’ ability to fill open positions. This hinders families’ abilities to flourish and takes away great developmental experiences from Maine’s youngest children, who we will depend on to strengthen our communities and continue to build our economy when they are adults.
Many of our state’s 1.3 million people are retired or close to retirement. With our workforce outlook, we need to ensure children today have access to high quality learning environments to reach their fullest potential, as well as bolster the workforce by attracting young families to Maine.
It is time we get really serious about increasing access to quality early care and education from birth through public school entry and stop looking the other way, waiting for someone else to create a solution. This is why I support LD 1760, An Act to Support Children’s Healthy Development and School Readiness, which expands a multi-generational approach to quality child care, home visiting, and supports for families with young children. I know our future depends upon it.
Demand some common ground
We now have a president who has intelligence agencies lacking intelligence, a Department of Environmental Protection lacking science, an Energy Department advocating for coal, and a secretary of state who seems to dislike his loyal employees but advocates for input from autocrats.
If that is cleaning out the swamp, we might want to ask for more alligators and mosquitoes. What makes this more alarming is a following and a party that believes in supporting this activity, and seems to fear voicing anything other than what the administration wants to hear.
Where is the true conservative voice that asks for reducing the federal deficit, a simpler and fair tax code, free and fair trade, alliances with our allies across the world, and a strong military but frugal approach to its budgeting? Climate change is not a conspiracy theory; it is a reality. It seems prudent policies are gone, along with ethics and civility.
We have a polarized and dysfunctional political atmosphere that is not addressing our country’s complex and demanding problems. Our heath care system is too expensive and disorganized, especially when world viruses threaten. Our infrastructure is crumbling and in need of a major fix. Are we educating our young, taking care of our elders, disabled and veterans? Our media is consumed with ratings and ruckus, while the real news gets scant attention.
It is time for a reality check, and time for us to ask our leaders to be honest brokers of our country’s important issues. We may not agree on all policies, but we need compromise and positive solutions. Discard the dissension, the bellyaching and demand some common ground. It’s the right thing to do.
Alan Chubba Kane