Mike Johnson mends traps for offshore lobstering on Widgery Wharf in Portland on Tuesday Nov. 16, 2021. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Good morning from Augusta. Today’s Daily Brief will be the last one for a little while, as we’ll be taking a break through the holidays. Keep up with us via Pocket Politics, email us tips and questions, and — as always — subscribe to the BDN to follow Maine political news. 

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “It’s getting USDA-certified organic rats,” said Alan Burnes, the owner of Rock Maple Farm in Dover-Foxcroft, about a juvenile great horned owl that has taken to living among the livestock and killing the rat population. 

What we’re watching today

A federal appeals court’s ruling on lobstering off the coast of Maine could have major political implications. Lobstermen seemed initially victorious when a federal judge in Bangor last month ruled the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had not proven the critically endangered right whales passed through a swath of water roughly 30 miles offshore from near Casco Bay to the west side of Mount Desert Island. The judge’s ruling kept the area open for the October-January fishing season just ahead of when it would have closed.

That victory was upended after the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston on Tuesday determined the Bangor court overstepped its authority in ruling against the national agency, as first reported by Maine Public. The court found Congress had clearly designed its laws to favor the protection of right whales. 

That take gives conservationists an edge in future arguments over federal rules meant to protect the North Atlantic right whale, as a major part of the argument from the opponents centered on whether it was fair to restrict fishing off Maine when it is difficult to trace whale entanglement deaths to a specific site. The appeals court judges found that argument ignored NOAA’s central goal of protecting the whales, and noted the right whales species won’t be able to recover if many more are lost.

The ruling keeps U.S. District Judge Lance Walker’s initial order in effect, but charges Walker with settling any disputes over how quickly boats with traps in the water should remove them from the protection zone.

Lobstermen could continue to pursue legal remedies. The Maine Lobstermen’s Association announced Tuesday — before the appeals court ruling came out — a campaign to raise $10 million for future court clashes. The fight is not over, but the seasonal fishing in the disputed region may be for now. 

Maine’s political figures have been united in opposing the regulations. The rules, though finalized under President Joe Biden’s administration, were in the works under former President Donald Trump. They have drawn criticism from just about every state political figure: former Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican who is running again in 2022, wrote a letter to Trump critical of them in 2019; Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, and Maine’s congressional delegation have been united in opposition in public statements and letters to the Biden administration; Reps. Jared Golden and Chellie Pingree, both Democrats, introduced an amendment aiming to block them.

But that didn’t stop the Maine Republican Party from singling out Golden and Mills for criticism when the regulations were finalized earlier this year, prompting a minor spat among state lawmakers. Lobstering, as one of Maine’s heritage industries, has a special political salience here, which creates an incentive to politicize the issue even when there is no actual dispute. It is something to watch for with competitive elections next year.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Jared Golden’s hesitation on Biden’s social spending bill rankles progressives who supported him,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “While progressives are unlikely to abandon him for former U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, the lead Republican looking to challenge Golden next fall, one advocate said there is concern a “no” vote could dampen their enthusiasm in what is sure to be a close rematch. Golden held onto his seat last fall by 6.6 percentage points, and the 2nd Congressional District is widely viewed as a toss-up district next year.”

Another national conservative group is targeting Golden over a part of the bill he has sharply criticized. Heritage Action, a 501(c)(4) dark money group, will spend $440,000 on TV and digital ads in the 2nd Congressional District highlighting a provision in the bill raising the cap for the state and local tax (SALT) deduction, a change that would mostly benefit high-income people in states with high tax burdens.

But Golden has vocally opposed lifting the SALT cap, writing in a Medium post earlier this month that it is a “senseless waste of hundreds of billions of dollars” that would go “entirely against the spirit and purpose of this legislation.” The 2nd District congressman remains among the few House Democrats who has yet to commit to supporting the bill in full, saying he is awaiting a full score from the Congressional Budget Office. The ads further foreshadow an expensive race in the 2nd District next year, as national Republicans, seeing the district as a possible pickup, continue to pour money in.

— “Versant Power customers will see 89 percent spike in power supply rate,” David Marino Jr., BDN: “Residential customers in the Bangor Hydro District — which includes most of Penobscot County as well as Hancock, Piscataquis and Washington counties — will see their power supply rate skyrocket from 6.2 cents per kilowatt hour to 11.68. That is an increase of $30 a month and $360 a year for the average customer using 550 kilowatt hours per month, Public Utilities Commission Chair Philip Bartlett said in a meeting Tuesday.”

— “​​What Maine can do to fix how the Army National Guard handles sexual assaults,” Josh Keefe and Callie Ferguson, BDN: “The lack of oversight from state lawmakers is not unique to Maine, said Dwight Stirling, a reserve judge advocate general in the California National Guard and founder and chief executive of the nonprofit Center for Law and Military Policy, a think tank dedicated to strengthening legal protections for service members.”

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Caitlin Andrews and Jessica Piper. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, you can sign up to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning here.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but contact the political team at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, candrews@bangordailynews.com or jpiper@bangordailynews.com.