March 5, 2018

Maine House Stalls LePage’s Effort to Block Wind Energy Development

Gov. Paul LePage’s push to curtail expedited permitting for wind energy projects suffered a serious blow Thursday by Democrats trying to kill the governor’s bill before it can be formally introduced.

LD 1810 would shrink the area where wind developments are eligible for Maine’s abbreviated permitting process and ramp up requirements for projects that would still qualify. Following a series of procedural motions and votes Thursday in the House of Representatives, the bill is in danger of dying because of a disagreement with the Senate over which legislative committee should handle the bill.

The House favors the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. The Senate voted earlier this week to send LePage’s bill to the Environment and Natural Resources Committee. The conflict centers on a procedural maneuver deep in the weeds of a bill’s path to enactment but could spell doom for a high-profile LePage initiative.

House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, who led the effort to have the House agree with the Senate and move the bill forward, said during debate Thursday that the House’s action would likely kill the bill.

A spokeswoman for Senate Republicans said they haven’t discussed the issue during a caucus so she couldn’t predict how future votes will go. Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, who moved in the Senate to send the bill to the Environmental and Natural Resources Committee, which he chairs, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

In January, the governor generated controversy when he issued an executive order placing a moratorium on permits for new commercial wind turbines in Maine and called for the creation of a commission to study turbines’ impact on the environment, property values and tourism. The bill debated Thursday in the House is a follow-on to that order. It would reduce the expedited permitting area, which currently includes much of Aroostook, Washington, Penobscot and Somerset Counties, to only a portion of Aroostook County.

The bill would also extend the distance where a visual impact assessment is required from the current 8 miles to 40 miles. The assessment, which represents another level of approval in the process, gauges turbines’ impact on scenic areas.

Since January, two environmental groups have sued LePage, arguing that his executive order was an “unconstitutional executive overreach.” Those suits by the Maine Renewable Energy Association and the Conservation Law Foundation are still pending.

LePage spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz said the governor’s bill “simply seeks to provide people a voice in the process.

“The Democrats once again show that they favor special interests over the citizens of Maine who have to live and work in the shadow and whose livelihoods may be adversely affected by their installation,” Rabinowitz wrote in response to questions from the Bangor Daily News.

The bill could appear on the Senate’s calendar as early as its next scheduled session on Tuesday.

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