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Quality of life in Maine
  • MPUC's anti-solar rules that would raise rates on solar power users - lawmakers need to take action

     Lawmakers could stop extreme anti-solar rules, save ratepayers money and help grow jobs

    By Ramona du Houx

    The amount of solar power added worldwide soared by over 50 percent in 2016, according to data compiled by Europe’s solar power trade body.

    New solar photovoltaic capacity installed reached more than 76 gigawatts just within 2016.

    Most of the increases took place in the US and China. Globally there is now 305GW of solar power capacity, up from around 50GW in 2010 and virtually nothing at the turn of the millennium.

    The dramatic shift in installment has a lot to do with technological advances in the industry coupled with the urgency the climate change threat poses to the world. Add that to the fact — it makes business sense to install solar power as it save consumers and businesses money — and you have a clear path forward for the solar power industry.

    But there is one hitch in Maine—the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s (MPUC’s) new net metering rules include some of the most extreme anti-solar elements in the nation. They will go into effect at the end of the year if the Legislature fails to put a stop to the onerous rules that would make rate payers with solar installments pay more.

     “Under the PUC’s extreme anti-solar rules, for the first time utilities would charge Maine homes and businesses for solar power they produce and consume themselves on site,” said Dylan Voorhees, Climate and Clean Energy Director, Natural Resources Council of Maine. “In the wake of the PUC’s decision, it is essential that Maine lawmakers pass an effective bill that overturns these rules and puts Maine on track to increase our production and use of solar power. But, if allowed to take effect, these new rules will threaten existing and potential new jobs and guarantee that we remain in last place in New England for solar jobs and energy production.”

    Rep. Seth Berry in 2008 at work in the Maine House of Representatives. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    In an expensive new requirement, new solar customers will be forced to install, and ratepayers will pay for, an extra meter for their solar panels — forcing them to pay utilities a fee for solar power they generate, power that never will enter the electricity grid.

    “This rulemaking only underscores the need for the legislature to move quickly to protect jobs, ensure market stability and keep Mainers in control of their energy future,” said Rep. Seth Berry, who is the House chair of the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. “The finalized rule by the MPUC takes us in the wrong direction by making major and disruptive changes — despite overwhelming public input regarding risks to our energy and jobs markets.”

    Studies show that solar power delivers valuable benefits to society, the environment and all energy users. Solar is pollution-free, has no fuel cost and eliminates the need for dirty power plants and expensive transmission lines.

    “Clean renewable energy sources are the best pathway our state has to lower energy prices, create more good-paying jobs and lesson our carbon footprint,” said Rep. Berry.

    The MPUC failed to conduct any costs and benefits analysis of this new net metering, so they cannot say with any authority whether these rules will help or harm ratepayers. However, previous studies by the MPUC clearly indicate that increased use of distributed solar in Maine leads to lower electric rates.

    "This rulemaking only underscores the need for the Legislature to move quickly to protect jobs, ensure market stability and keep Mainers in control of their energy future. We urge the legislature to act swiftly to restore good solar policy for Maine’s future," said Environment Maine campaigns director Laura Dorle.

    The best and swiftest solution is for the Legislature to enact an effective law to move Maine forward this session, before these extreme rules take effect at the end of 2017.

    “The Legislature should be setting solar policy in Maine, not the MPUC. With others, NRCM is also likely to file a ‘motion for reconsideration’ with the PUC, giving them one last chance to set aside these extreme changes,” said Voorhees.

    The Office of the Public Advocate, which represents ratepayers, testified last year that it had “significant concerns with the rules,” noting they “include provisions that are unclear, unworkable, and potentially unlawful.”

    Public opposition to this policy included more than 4,000 comments received by the MPUC. Polling shows that a strong majority of Mainers from all counties and political affiliations oppose this rollback.

     

  • Former CEO and Executive Director of The Silk Road Project will lead MECA

    The Maine College of Art’s (MECA) Board of Trustees has announced the appointment of Laura Freid, Ed.D., as the 18th president of the 135 year-old institution.

    Freid comes to MECA as a passionate and proven advocate for the arts and education, most recently serving in partnership with internationally acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma, as CEO and Executive Director of The Silk Road Project, a global cultural arts organization based at Harvard University.

    Silkroad works to connect the world through the arts, presenting musical performances and learning programs, and fostering radical cultural collaboration around the world to lead to advancing global understanding.

    Her prior leadership experience includes serving as Executive Vice President for Public Affairs and University Relations at Brown University and Chief Communications Officer at Harvard University where she was publisher ofHarvard Magazine.

    Led by alumnus Brian Wilk ’95, incoming chair of MECA’s Board of Trustees, and Vice President at Hasbro Toys, MECA’s presidential search process officially started in August  2016, when a search committee composed of a diverse group of representatives from within the MECA community convened to discuss and understand the most essential attributes needed in the College’s next leader.

    In announcing the choice, Wilk remarked on the thorough and extensive nature of the selection process. “It was clear to the entire search committee that we needed someone who has the skills, experience, and appetite to continue building our mission of educating artists for life while expanding our reputation as an international destination for world-class arts education. After carefully considering our impressively deep pool of seasoned candidates from all over the world, our search committee unanimously agreed that Dr. Laura Freid was the right person to guide MECA through our next critical period of growth.”  


    Debbie Reed, chair of the MECA Board of Trustees, described Freid as “an exceptional leader who understands MECA’s mission and the importance of creativity.” According to Reed, “From the moment we met Laura, we were interested in learning more about her demonstrated track record of engaging multiple constituencies while serving in senior leadership roles at multiple institutions. The Board of Trustees looks forward to an exciting future under Laura’s leadership as we move the College forward.”

    “I am grateful for the dynamic leadership that has guided MECA to date and to the entire College community and the city of Portland for creating such an exciting American center for the arts, culture and entrepreneurship,” Freid said. “In times as rife with international, political, and economic tensions as we are experiencing today, I believe investing in the arts has never been more imperative. Art gives us meaning and identity, helping us reflect on and shape our lives; it is fundamental to our well-being. That is why I believe providing artists with the education they need to succeed is such a critical and vital mission.”

    Freid’s educational background is rooted in the philosophy of aesthetics and in the history of reputation in higher education. She holds a B.A. in Philosophy from Washington University, an MBA from Boston University Graduate School of Management, and an Ed.D. from University of Pennsylvania.

    Freid will take office on or before July 1st, replacing Interim President Stuart Kestenbaum, Maine’s Poet Laureate and former Director of the Haystack Mountain School of Arts. Kestenbaum stepped in to lead during a transition year after Don Tuski, Ph.D. accepted the position of President at Pacific Northwest College of the Arts in Portland, Oregon, on the heels of six years of continuous enrollment and endowment growth at MECA.

  • Let’s take up Rachel Carson’s challenge

    Human evolution shows that our emotions such as fear, anger and sadness should not rule us if we want to maintain the ties that are critical to our survival. 

    By Martha Freeman of Portland, a former Maine state planning director for eight years in the Baldacci administration and the editor of “Always, Rachel: The Letters of Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman, 1952-1964.”

    Rachel Carson was a friend of mine, although she died when I was only 11 years old.

    If you’re not a baby boomer or older, you may not know her name. You may not know that she was a best-selling author in the 1950s and 1960s, or that her work as a scientist and writer led to the nationwide banning of DDT and the beginning of the environmental movement.

    Recently, the Public Broadcasting System’s “American Experience” aired a film about Rachel Carson’s life and work. If you view it, you’ll learn that the most important revolution she engaged in involved more than stopping pollution by pesticides. She was as concerned with halting heedless interference with interrelationships in the natural world, including those among humans. She was concerned about government’s relationship with the public, businesses’ responsibility toward consumers, the contamination of human discourse by falsehood. Sound familiar from the headlines, posts and tweets of today?

    Rachel Carson came into my life when she built a summer place near my grandparents’ cottage on the Maine coast. She and my grandmother became dear friends. As a youngster, I was along for parts of their journey. As an adult, through reading the letters to each other these friends saved, Rachel Carson became closer to me.

    I saw, as she did, that the web of human relations, embedded in human nature, is as crucial to our world’s well-being as any other set of environmental links. To pollute that web is as toxic as pouring poison into a river.

    And that web is being fouled today. Self-righteousness, the outlook of might making right, grandiosity in the face of humbling challenges are ascendant. These responses took root in the soil of economic turmoil and human dislocations.

    It’s natural for people to fear unsettling change. We’re as motivated by our biology as any plant or animal experiencing a threat. Our brains wire us to feel fear, anger, and sadness as we cope. But it’s stupid, and human evolution shows this, for those emotions to rule when we’re challenged.

    Modern humans best overcome threats when deploying empathy, whether toward allies or adversaries. If you can’t put yourself in the other fellow’s shoes, you’re missing out on rational and emotional intelligence. It’s intelligence that forms coalitions in the home, at work, across all forms of human relations and leads to progress.

    Brittle and brute tactics are not a mature, or ultimately successful, response to human problems. These approaches may appear to bring success in the short term. Using them may generate feelings of slights vindicated. But in their wake, the whole of which we each are a part will eventually wither. The long term will not be healthful for our children and other living things.

    Having empathy, valuing the intricate web of human relationships, is not the stance of cowards. It’s the essence of courage. Rachel Carson faced disparagement from private enterprise, media and public officials. A gentle and petite woman, she stood with backbone against detractors, employing her most effective tools: facts, understanding, caring, calmness.

    In 1962, in one of her last public presentations before her death, Rachel Carson spoke at the Scripps College commencement. Her groundbreaking book, “Silent Spring,” had just been published. She continued its theme of environmental interdependence in her remarks, but broadened the context:

    “Your generation must face realities instead of taking refuge in ignorance and evasion of truth. Yours is a grave and a sobering responsibility, but it is also a shining opportunity. You go out into a world where mankind is challenged, as it has never been challenged before, to prove its maturity and mastery — not of nature but of itself.”

    It’s time to take up Rachel Carson’s challenge again.

    We must reward mature behavior and remove our attention from immature distractions, as mothers do when their kids are acting out. We must expand our circles of affection, as young people have done. We must prove the masters of our fear, anger and any anxious interest in belittling others.

    Humans naturally advance in community. Our sense of community evolves. As it has, life has become better for the human family. Only a short-sighted, impulsive and immature perspective seeks to break rather than strengthen our bonds.

    As Rachel Carson taught, everything in nature is interrelated and interdependent — including all of us. As we care for our environment, so must we care for all humankind. It’s a fact that we can’t escape being on this earth together.

  • Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters aims to keep and enhance national monument

    By Ramona du Houx

    Six months after President Barack Obama created a new national monument in Maine, a new nonprofit organization, Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters, has formed to support Maine’s new national monument. Maine's open wild spaces draw people to the state to recreate and spend millions. Over 22 million tourists flock to the state every year to see the state's natural beauty.

    Many residents see the wisdom of protecting this monument and ensuring its upkeep. They understand the tremendous value the Katahdin region has. But some others, for their own reasons, distrust the National Park Service.

    Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters, private group, is not part of the National Park Service but intends to enter into an agreement to work collaboratively with and support the mission of the National Park Service that manages the monument.

    “Initially, the friends group will focus on building volunteer opportunities, developing education programs and advocating for the monument,” said Lucas St. Clair, president of the Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters. “Eventually, the nonprofit organization will provide financial support for specific projects in the monument and surrounding communities, raise private funds to supplement—not replace—federal appropriations, protect the integrity of the monument and its resources, and speak for users in the betterment of monument operations.”  

    Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters will work to preserve and protect the outstanding natural beauty, ecological vitality and distinctive cultural resources of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument and surrounding communities for the inspiration and enjoyment of all generations.

    “Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument can become a first-class destination for visitors to northern Maine,” said Anita Mueller, vice president of Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters. “I look forward to working with the National Park Service to develop services, facilities and programs that will make the experience of visiting the national monument a wonderful, lifetime memory.”

    “All of us at Friends of Acadia are excited by this announcement and want to welcome the Friends of Katahdin Woods & Waters into the community of friends groups that help serve national parks and national monuments throughout the country,” said David MacDonald, president of Friends of Acadia in Bar Harbor Maine. 

    Friends of Acadia has received incredible support from volunteers, businesses, and surrounding communities who want to give back to Acadia, and public-private partnerships like this will only become more important in the future.  We look forward to being a resource and partner with our friends to the north.” Friends of Acadia has granted more than $25 million to the park and surrounding communities since its founding in 1986 in support of dozens of projects, including youth programs, restoration of Acadia’s trails and carriage roads, and establishment of the fare-free Island Explorer bus system.  

    While their is a tremdous amount of support for the Katahdin National Monument, Maine's Governor LePage has sounded off in a negaitive way, wanting the designation taken away by President Trump. LePage wrote a letter to the new President asking to abolish the designation, although the region has already seen an upswing in interest and tourism since Obama's ruling. 

    “Already we have seen opportunities to partner with the National Park Service,” said Terry Hill from Mt. Chase.  “This winter, our local snowmobile club partnered with the National Park Service to put new decking on two snowmobile bridges within the national monument. I look forward to working with the Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters to find additional opportunities to improve the visitors’ experience at the national monument. We want to increase the number of people who are involved in making the monument better.”

    “We know that the national monument has many valuable historical artifacts from the days when Native people traveled up the Penobscot for hunting and fishing to the storied times of log drives and paper making,” said Don Hudson, treasurer of Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters. “Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters could help the national monument protect those artifacts and tell those stories to thousands of visitors.”

    “The national monument currently has some excellent hiking, paddling, biking and cross country skiing,” said Cathy Johnson, secretary of Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters. “But there could be much more. We look forward to helping the National Park Service identify and develop additional opportunities for active, outdoor recreation.”

    The Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters is launching with a thirteen-member board of directors with an immediate goal of attracting additional members. The public can join the group by going to https://friendsofkatahdinwoodsandwaters.org 

    “There has been an outpouring of support for the national monument since it was created,” said Molly Ross, from Arlington, VA. “Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters will provide a place for supporters from Maine to Mississippi to Montana and beyond to go to find out what is going on in the national monument and how they can help support it.”

  • Bangor and Portland's fight against climate change creates jobs and improves health

    Editorial by Bangor City Councilman Sean Faircloth and Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling

    Climate change is an urgent threat. That fact doesn’t change regardless of who is in the White House.

    In 2015, the U.S. finalized one of the most historic, bipartisan policies to tackle climate change, the Clean Power Plan. In fact, both of our U.S. senators, Susan Collins and Angus King, support the plan.

    Yet, the plan is under threat in the federal court, and the U.S. Supreme Court has put its implementation on hold while the lawsuit plays out. Moreover, one of the people suing the Environmental Protection Agency over the Clean Power Plan is President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to head the agency, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.

    But climate change cannot be ignored. (the world isn't -close to 200 countries signed the Paris agreement to curb climate change)

    It is an environmental concern and an economic issue.

    Extreme weather and sea level rise fueled by climate change threaten businesses and homes in our communities, and it has a dramatic impact on outdoor tourism, which provides more than $5 billion in economic benefit to Maine every year.

    The majority of Mainers understand this fact, and many people in our communities have experienced the devastating impacts of climate change first-hand from our fishermen who can no longer bring in a catch, children with asthma and farmers affected by drought.

    In fact, the majority of Mainers support bold climate action and solutions like the Clean Power Plan and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a northeastern cap-and-trade program that raises money from selling allowances to emit carbon and uses the money to help businesses and homeowners save energy and money through energy efficiency technologies and weatherization.

    That revenue is a major funding source for Efficiency Maine, which used that money to help save Maine businesses and residents $167 million in energy costs between 2013 and 2015.

    Maine and the eight other member states have shown that carbon pollution can be cut while strengthening the economy. It is an example for how the rest of the country can do the same.

    It would be a big political mistake to rollback these programs nationally and in Maine. But the interests of industry are powerful, and we cannot rely on federal and state governments alone to protect the health and vitality of our beloved communities. It is local governments that are on the front lines of recovery after extreme weather, straining local resources and costing taxpayers billions, and it is local governments that will take the leadership reigns to spur climate action.

    As mayor of Portland and as the former mayor in Bangor, we have made important steps forward on climate change and energy in 2016 and commit to do even more in 2017 and beyond.

    This past summer in Bangor, we implemented EnergySmart Bangor, a program that offers additional savings to homeowners to participate in Efficiency Maine’s Home Energy Savings Program. This makes the programs more affordable for Bangor homeowners, especially low- and moderate-income residents, a segment of the public that often doesn’t have the opportunity to invest in weatherization and renewable energy.

    (Photo: Gov. John Baldacci in 2010 on site at a home his Effciency Maine agency established to help weatherize homes - makeing them energy efficent, saving residents money, creating jobs and improving health outcomes. Photo by Ramona du Houx)

    In fact, the program spurred a 43 percent increase in participation in the program in Bangor between July and September over the same period in 2015. We hope that other cities will take up this model.

    In Portland, we have a climate action plan committing to ambitious goals to reduce our energy usage and clean up our transportation.

    We also have signed on to the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda, a commitment spearheaded by the mayors of Houston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. In the past year, we have taken steps toward our climate action goals, including starting a community solar farm on the Ocean Avenue landfill property, which will generate enough energy to power City Hall.

    The council also passed a benchmarking measure that will require large businesses and residential buildings to track their energy usage to promote greater energy efficiency.

    Despite the challenges that lie ahead, clean energy is cheaper than ever, and no one can change that public opinion strongly favors renewable energy sources over dirty fossil fuels. The election may be long over, but the fight over our clean energy future is only beginning. We must take action, and as elected leaders of Bangor and Portland, we are committed to the leadership of our communities.

    Sean Faircloth is a member of the Bangor City Council, and he completed his term as mayor in November. He served 10 years in the Maine Legislature and founded the Maine Discovery Museum in Bangor. He is author of two books, one about the increased legislative influence of the religious right and an adventure fantasy for children encouraging geography knowledge and a multicultural perspective.

    Ethan Strimling is the mayor of Portland. He is a former state senator and the former executive director of LearningWorks, a community educational nonprofit based in Portland’s West End.

  • Scientists call on Collins

    The Penobscot is polluted with mercury - we need the EPA

    Editorial by Dianne Kopec and Aram Calhoun,

    As the name implies, the goal of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to protect our environment, and it has worked toward that goal since it was created in 1970. That start date is important to the people and the environment of the lower Penobscot River, for in late 1967, the HoltraChem chlor-alkali plant began operating in Orrington on the banks of the river. In the first four years of the plant’s operation, waste mercury was routinely discharged into the river. Much of that mercury continues to contaminate the Penobscot.

    We ask that the community, and Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King — who will soon vote on the nominee to head the agency, Scott Pruitt — consider the value of the EPA and the critical importance of appointing a director who embraces the mission of protecting our environment.

    Senator Susan Collins – (202) 224-2523 Senator Angus King – (202) 224-5344

    We are scientists. We examined the impact of the mercury discharges into the river as part of the Penobscot River Mercury Study, an independent court-ordered study of mercury contamination of the Penobscot River from the HoltraChem plant. This work gave us first-hand knowledge of the value of the EPA and of the environmental consequences when regulations are absent or not enforced.

    One of the first actions of the EPA was a thorough revision of water pollution laws and the creation of the Clean Water Act, which was passed by Congress in 1972.

    For the first time in our history, the government began regulating pollutant discharges into surface waters. It was no longer legal for the Orrington chemical plant to dump its waste mercury into the Penobscot. Instead, HoltraChem began storing the waste mercury in landfills that greatly reduced the amount of mercury entering the river. Yet, roughly 90 percent of an estimated nine tons of mercury that was ultimately released into the Penobscot River was discharged before the EPA began regulating pollutant discharges into our rivers, streams and lakes.

    Today, the evidence of those mercury discharges can be seen in the sediment of the Penobscot River. Buried 16 inches below the surface of the sediment is a layer of extreme mercury contamination, deposited during the early years of plant operation.

    The sediment deposited after EPA was created is less contaminated.

    Yet, buried contaminants do not always remain hidden. River and slough channels can change course, releasing long-buried mercury into the surface sediment that is swept up and down the river with the tide. So in some parts of the lower Penobscot the most contaminated sediment is not buried, but near the surface, where it enters our food web and accumulates in our fish, birds and lobster.

    Now 50 years later, we have mercury concentrations in waterfowl almost four times greater than the Maine action level for mercury in muscle tissue, prompting the state’s first health advisory on the consumption of breast meat from ducks. Migratory song birds arrive in marshes along the lower Penobscot with low mercury burdens, but quickly accumulate mercury concentrations in their blood that exceed levels known to cause reproductive failure. Average mercury concentrations in lobster living near the mouth of the Penobscot River are two to three times greater than the Maine action level, and individual lobster have concentrations over six times greater.

    There is now a state ban on lobster harvesting in that area. Without EPA regulations, the river would be even more contaminated. Finally, mercury concentrations in the surface sediments of the river are seven to 10 times greater than background concentrations in rivers Down East, and we estimate it will take a minimum of 60 to 400 years, depending on the area, for the Penobscot to clean itself.

    Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general, has been nominated to head the EPA, despite the fact that he is a leading advocate against the agency. His history of suing the EPA over environmental regulations, the same regulations that now limit discharges to the Penobscot, should disqualify him from service as the agency’s director.

    This is only one example of the positive role the EPA plays in safeguarding public and environmental health. Environmental regulations save our country money, provide jobs, and ensure the health of all animals, plants and the humans who see clean air, water and soil as an American right. The EPA needs a leader who will defend that right.

    Dianne Kopec is an adjunct instructor in the department of wildlife, fisheries, and conservation biology at the University of Maine in Orono. Aram Calhoun is a professor of wetlands ecology at UMaine. Peter Santschi, a regents professor in the department of marine sciences at Texas A&M University in Galveston, and Ralph Turner, a mercury researcher at RT Geosciences Inc., also contributed to this piece.

  • When seeing the rare Great Gray Owl in Maine be respectful

    Great gray owl makes rare stop in Maine

    But when a celebrity bird shows up, we go loopy. I speak from recent experience. A couple of weeks ago, a great gray owl took up temporary residence in Milford, just east of Sunkhaze Meadows National Wildlife Refuge.

    Charismatically speaking, this is the George Clooney of the bird world. If Tom Brady were a birder, he would drop whatever he was doing next weekend to go see it.

    The great gray owl is a rare visitor from the north. It is considered the tallest owl in the world, with a wingspan of up to five feet. But it’s all fluff and feathers, weighing only half as much as a snowy owl. A great horned owl could trounce it with one talon tied behind its back. Snowy owls are powerful and fast, able to chase down birds in flight. Great horned owls are even more powerful, able to carry off large prey.

    Great gray owls, on the other hand, prey almost exclusively on wimpy rodents. They can hear and pounce on small animals tunneling under two feet of snow, but their light weight and small feet prevent them from hunting anything larger. Great gray owls may appear huge, but mightiness is not their thing.

    Great gray owls are also rare. Even in their boreal forest homelands of Canada, northern Europe, and Russia, they are scarce, probably numbering fewer than 200,000 worldwide. Approximately half of those are in North America, mostly in Canada. It is the official bird of Manitoba. A small percentage breeds in northern Minnesota and mountains of the western U.S. Generally, they are content to stay home.

    Great gray owls appear in Maine only once every four years or so. Seeing one here is such a prized experience, I would shove Scarlett Johansson out of the way if she was blocking my view.

    Therein lies the problem. Celebrity birds draw a huge crowd, and this one has. There is a fine line between gathering to appreciate a bird, and crowding it to the point of killing it. But nobody can say with confidence where that line is. It has been the subject of constant debate within the birding community since the first day the owl appeared.

    Unfortunately, great gray owls are their own worst enemy. Like many birds of the far north, they are practically oblivious to people. They will perch in daylight and in plain view while watching for prey, as scores of paparazzi surround them. People do not threaten the owl directly. Rather, the risk is that having too many people around may drive away owl food. The main reason a great gray owl flies to Maine is because it couldn’t find enough food at home. It is safe to presume that an owl here is already hungry and stressed, perhaps on the verge of expiring. If crowding an owl makes it expend energy to continually change perches, or if it is constantly being provoked to look at the camera when it should be hunting, the bird can be loved to death.

    Probably that won’t happen. Some photographers actually release mice to bait rare owls into close approaches, which can result in awesome, if questionably ethical, photos. If the owl gets to eat the mouse, who’s to say the owl is worse off? There are documented cases where baiting an owl accidentally encouraged it to fly into traffic. Those cases did not end well. On the other hand, a starving owl probably stands its best chance of survival if there are witnesses around to assist in its capture and rehabilitation.

    So the best rule of thumb is to avoid changing a celebrity owl’s behavior. If anyone gets so close that the bird feels compelled to move, that’s bad. Nowadays, keeping a respectful distance is not difficult. The proliferation of big cameras and superzooms allows most photographers to get great shots without needing to crowd or distract the bird. Trying to get a selfie with a smartphone? That’s way too close, Kim Kardashian.

    Remember that too much commotion drives away prey. An owl’s hearing is tuned to the high-pitched sounds of rodents, so there may be scant effect on its ability to hear a meal over lower-pitched human noise. But shouting, conversation, guffaws, honking, and running engines can keep prey underground. In short: keep distant, keep quiet, gleefully admire, leave quickly.

    Bob Duchesne serves as vice president of Maine Audubon’s Penobscot Valley Chapter.Working at the DOC, under the Baldacci administration Bob developed the Maine Birding Trail, with information at mainebirdingtrail.com. He can be reached at duchesne@midmaine.com.

  • Maine can write a new chapter by focusing on better public policy

     

    Editorial by Rep. Craig Hickman:

    Go further and do better.

    My parents, Hazelle and Minnie Hickman, were children of the Great Depression. They were frugal, wise, resilient, and principled people, generous to a fault and strict as all get out.

    They taught me the power of community and self-reliance, to revere public service as a responsibility and a duty.

    They also taught me the values of fairness and equality in the most literal and fundamental sense. Every person gets a life, and every person should have a fair and equal shot at making that life as good and right as she or he can.

    These are Maine values too.

    I’ve learned during my time in Augusta that we need to write a new chapter of Maine’s story. For too long our story has been about shuttered factories, disappearing jobs, and communities struggling to get by.

    We can begin to write that new chapter if we focus on creating real changes through better public policy. We can do a better job protecting veterans, seniors and our natural resources. We can do a better job supporting small businesses and working families and defending personal liberties for every Mainer.

    We know our path forward.

    Maine needs policy that ensures every family can feed itself.

    Policy that gets displaced Mainers back to work creating lasting infrastructure that will rebuild our razed rural communities.

    Policy that supports local food and water systems which will strengthen farming, fishing and forestry -- our heritage industries.

    And policy that ensures liberty and justice for generations of Mainers.

    As a farmer, I know that hard work bears fruit from the bottom of the plant to the top.

    As a farmer, I know that all things thrive in the full light of day. Building consensus and increasing transparency must be the hallmarks of our approach to governance.

    We must always remain civil in the face of incivility, refuse easy scapegoats and choose our words with the care befitting the office to which we have been elected.

    And, if I have my way, we will end hunger once and for all. We will eradicate poverty and we will move Maine toward prosperity.

    The road before us is long, and we will have missteps. But when the going gets tough, I will be inspired by the wise words of my mother, who passed away two years ago this week, that we must go further and do better. We must listen more intently to the voices of those who cry in the dark. And we must always remember that our work in Augusta must ensure that every person has a fair and equal chance to make their lives as good and right as she or he can.

    On this weekend of transition in our nation, in the face of uncertainty and anxiety for many, I remain hopeful and motivated to fight for what is right, and I firmly believe that good will prevail. I hope you do too.

  • Impact of the Affordable Care Act in Maine and how Dirigo Health helped

    By Ramona du Houx

    Since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010 thousands of Mainers have gained coverage, and hundreds of thousands more have had their coverage substantially improved.

    On January 16, 2017 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released an extensive compilation of state-level data illustrating the substantial improvements in health care for all Americans over the last six years.

    The data show that the uninsured rate in Maine has fallen by 17 percent since the ACA was enacted, translating into 22,000 Mainers gaining coverage, some transfered to the ACA from the established state program, Dirigo Health Care. 

    Photo: President Barack Obama came to Maine after the ACA was enacted and praised Governor John Baldacci for his work on the creation of the Dirigo Health Care Act. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    “As our nation debates changes to the health care system, it’s important to take stock of where we are today compared to where we were before the Affordable Care Act,” said Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell. “Whether Mainers get coverage through an employer, Medicaid, the individual market, or Medicare, they have better health coverage and care today as a result of the ACA. Millions of Americans with all types of coverage have a stake in the future of health reform. We need to build on our progress and continue to improve health care access, quality, and affordability, not move our system backward.”

    Photo: Governor John Baldacci with Robin Mills talking about Dirigo Choice in 2007. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Maine was an unusual case, because the state had enacted the Dirigo Health Care Act during the Baldacci administration, and many of the ACA benefits were already apart of Dirigo. Because of Dirigo it was easier to transfer over to the ACA.

    Governor John Baldacci deserves recognition for creating a model for the ACA. Other portions of Dirigo were dismantled by Gov. Paul LePage, who succeeded Baldacci. Never-the-less Baldacci's Dirigo saved thousands of lives by giving people health insurance for the first time, by expanding preventative care, covering more young adults, by eliminating the pre-existing condition and discrimination against women in health coverage.

    Dirigo Choice, the insurance branch of Dirigo Health, insured more than 40,000 Mainers and also became a model for President Obama’s ACA. In 2010 Monique Kenyon said, "We were shocked,” when she found out her husband was suffering from cancer. “Being a middle-income family we didn’t qualify for any assistance. We couldn’t afford all the treatment without insurance, but insurance companies wouldn’t accept him because he has this preexisting condition. He’s still with us because of Dirigo Choice.”

    Signed into law in the 2003 Dirigo Health Care Reform Act was a bold step toward universal health coverage during a time when policymakers in Washington D.C. and in state houses struggled to take even small steps. A few years later Governor Romney of Massachusetts used elements of Dirigo in his health care policies.

    “In many ways, Dirigo was a pace-setter and blueprint to national reform,” said Trish Riley, former director of Maine Governor John Baldacci’s Office of Health Policy and Finance. Riley said the program saved many lives by helping thousands of uninsured gain access to medical care and enabling more than 1,000 small businesses to provide insurance for their owners and employees.

    Baldacci expanded Medicare, covering many more Mainers, but LePage has refused to accept this part of the ACA, so thousands who were on, what the state calls MaineCare were kicked off because of LePage -  too many have died.

    In 2003, Maine ranked 16th healthiest among the states; in 2010 Maine was in the top ten. In 2003, Maine ranked 19th among the states in covering the uninsured; in 2010 Maine was sixth. With Dirigo Health, Maine created an efficient public health system with eight districts that cover the entire state through Healthy Maine Partnerships. During the Baldacci administration the state reached a milestone in healthcare coverage, won awards for Dirigo and became a model for the nation. (photo below taken in 2010)

    The ACA picked up the torch and contained to save the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people in Maine.

    Highlights of theACA  data include:

    Employer Coverage: 702,000 people in Maine are covered through employer-sponsored health plans. 

    Since the ACA this group has seen:

    An end to annual and lifetime limits: Before the ACA, 431,000 Mainers with employer or individual market coverage had a lifetime limit on their insurance policy. That meant their coverage could end exactly when they needed it most. The ACA prohibits annual and lifetime limits on policies, so all Mainers with employer plans now have coverage that’s there when they need it.
    Young adults covered until age 26: An estimated 8,000 young adults in Maine have benefited from the ACA provision that allows kids to stay on their parents’ health insurance up to age 26.

    Free preventive care: Under the ACA, health plans must cover preventive services — like flu shots, cancer screenings, contraception, and mammograms – at no extra cost to consumers. This provision benefits 588,281 people in Maine, most of whom have employer coverage.

    Slower premium growth: Nationally, average family premiums for employer coverage grew 5 percent per year 2010-2016, compared with 8 percent over the previous decade. Family premiums are $3,600 lower today than if growth had matched the pre-ACA decade.


    Better value through the 80/20 rule: Because of the ACA, health insurance companies must spend at least 80 cents of each premium dollar on health care or care improvements, rather than administrative costs like salaries or marketing, or else give consumers a refund. Mainers with employer coverage have received $2,507,067 in insurance refunds since 2012.


    Medicaid: 273,160 people in Maine are covered by Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, including 115,217 children and 52,077 seniors and people with disabilities covered by both Medicaid and Medicare. The ACA expanded Medicaid eligibility and strengthened the program for those already eligible.

    40,000 Mainers could gain coverage: An estimated 40,000 Mainers could have health insurance today if Maine expanded Medicaid under the ACA. Coverage improves access to care, financial security, and health; expansion would result in an estimated 5,000 more Mainers getting all needed care, 5,700 fewer Mainers struggling to pay medical bills, and 50 avoided deaths each year.
    Thousands of Mainers with a mental illness or substance use disorder could get help: Nearly 30 percent of those who could gain coverage if more states expanded Medicaid have a mental illness or substance use disorder.


    Maine could be saving millions in uncompensated care costs: Instead of spending $40 million on uncompensated care, which increases costs for everyone, Maine could be getting $430 million in federal support to provide low-income adults with much needed care.
    Children, people with disabilities, and seniors can more easily access Medicaid coverage: The ACA streamlined Medicaid eligibility processes, eliminating hurdles so that vulnerable Mainers could more easily access and maintain coverage.


    Maine is improving health care for individuals with chronic conditions, including those with severe mental illness: The ACA established a new Medicaid flexibility that allows states to create health homes, a new care delivery model to improve care coordination and lower costs for individuals with chronic conditions, such as severe mental illness, Hepatitis C, diabetes and heart disease
    Individual market: 75,240 people in Maine have coverage through the Marketplace. Individual market coverage is dramatically better compared to before the ACA:

    No discrimination based on pre-existing conditions: Up to 590,266 people in Maine have a pre-existing health condition. Before the ACA, these Mainers could have been denied coverage or charged an exorbitant price if they needed individual market coverage. Now, health insurance companies cannot refuse coverage or charge people more because of pre-existing conditions.
    Tax credits available to help pay for coverage: Before the ACA, only those with employer coverage generally got tax benefits to help pay for health insurance. Now, 63,896 moderate- and middle-income Mainers receive tax credits averaging $342 per month to help them get covered through HealthCare.gov.

    Women pay the same as men: Before the ACA, women were often charged more than men just because of their gender. That is now illegal thanks to the ACA, protecting roughly half the people of Maine.

    Greater transparency and choice: Before the ACA, it was virtually impossible for consumers to effectively compare insurance plan prices and shop for the best value. Under the ACA, Maine has received $5 million in federal funding to provide a more transparent marketplace where consumers can easily compare plans, choosing among 25 plans on average.

    Medicare: 315,160 people in Maine are covered by Medicare. The ACA strengthened the Medicare Trust Fund, extending its life by over a decade.

    Medicare enrollees have benefited from:

    Lower costs for prescription drugs: Because the ACA is closing the prescription drug donut hole, 18,970 Maine seniors are saving $19 million on drugs in 2015, an average of $986 per beneficiary.
    Free preventive services: The ACA added coverage of an annual wellness visit and eliminated cost-sharing for recommended preventive services such as cancer screenings. In 2015, 165,892 Maine seniors, or 71 percent of all Maine seniors enrolled in Medicare Part B, took advantage of at least one free preventive service.

    Fewer hospital mistakes: The ACA introduced new incentives for hospitals to avoid preventable patient harms and avoidable readmissions. Hospital readmissions for Maine Medicare beneficiaries dropped 4 percent between 2010 and 2015, which translates into 232 times Maine Medicare beneficiaries avoided an unnecessary return to the hospital in 2015. 

    More coordinated care: The ACA encouraged groups of doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers to come together to provide coordinated high-quality care to the Medicare patients they serve. 6 Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) in Maine now offer Medicare beneficiaries the opportunity to receive higher quality, more coordinated care.

    ACA Content created by Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (ASPA)

  • Maine has received $3.3 billion from USDA during Obama years

    By Ramona du Houx 

    Since the beginning of the Obama Administration in Fiscal Year 2009, Maine Rural Development has invested an historic $3.3 billion in Maine’s rural communities through its programs, assisting 18,181 individuals and families to obtain homeownership or make repairs to their homes, constructing 42 Multi-Family Apartment buildings, investing in 250 essential community facilities, including water and waste facilities, assisting 3,505 Maine businesses, and impacting 10,211 jobs. 

    Just last year the USDA invested a total of $402.3 million in Maine communities in Fiscal Year 2016. 

    “Rural Development is a remarkable agency within the USDA that can build rural Maine communities from the ground up, investing in the community infrastructure that lays the foundation for strategic economic development. Rural Development invests in the homeowners, businesses, agricultural producers, and communities that help to make Maine a great place to work and call home,” said USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel.

    The funding was in the form of loans and grants through the agency’s Housing, Community, and Business & Cooperative Programs, and went directly to recipients in rural.

    1. Through the agency’s Housing Programs, a total of $316.8 million was invested in both homeownership and affordable rental housing in Maine.
    2. Through the agency’s Single-Family Housing Programs 1,849 Maine families became homeowners and 130 families were assisted with home repair and rehabilitation, including weatherization of their homes.
    3. Through the agency’s Multi-Family Housing Programs 8,003 families were assisted with quality rental housing throughout Maine’s rural communities.

    Maine communities benefited from a total investment of $55.09 million invested through the Community Programs which was provided to assist essential community facilities, including healthcare facilities, schools, and water and wastewater systems. A total of 36 community facilities were funded, and a total of 16,698 people were provided with improved water and wastewater infrastructure. 

    The Business & Cooperative Programs strengthened Maine’s economy through investments totaling $8.7 million, assisting 411 Maine businesses and creating and retaining a total of 926 jobs in the state. Maine’s agricultural producers and rural small businesses benefited from grants for value-added production and the installation of renewable and energy efficient systems, helping preserve the environment and reduce operating costs.

    USDA Rural Development has Area Offices located in Presque Isle, Bangor, Lewiston, and Scarborough, as well as a State Office, located in Bangor. There are 52 employees working to deliver the agency’s Housing, Business, and Community Programs, which are designed to improve the economic stability of rural communities, businesses, residents, and farmers, and improve the quality of life in rural Maine.

    Further information on rural programs is available at a local USDA Rural Development office 

  • Maine's Women’s Walk in Portland and Augusta in Solidarity with March on Washington, D.C.

    In solidarity with marches on Washington, D.C., Augusta, ME, and all over the U.S. Women's Walk Portland is set for Saturday, January 21. The walk starts at 10:30a.m. at the top of Congress Street on the Eastern Prom. This peaceful walk proceeds down Congress Street to Congress Square Park, ending between 12:00 and 1:00p.m.

    The Augusta event will start at 10 AM  and run until 12 PM at 111 Sewall Street, the state capitol. From their facebook page, "We will rally together at the Maine State Capitol to have our voices heard. This is not going to be a march from point A to point B, it is going to be a march in place at the Burton M. Cross building. This is a rally in support of women's rights, civil liberties and protection of the planet. This is an INCLUSIVE march, and EVERYONE who supports women's rights is welcome."

    In addition to the connection to the D.C. event, the Portland Walk aims to demonstrate support for women's, civic, and human rights.

    Organizers are currently reaching out to residents of Greater Portland and beyond to foster diverse representation at the walk, including immigrant groups, students, men, women, and children.

    Anyone wishing to participate, especially those not able to travel to marches farther away, are encouraged to attend.

    "After a very contentious election I thought about our collective responsibility to create the kind of community we want to live in - one that supports those working for equality, freedom and justice for all Mainers. Organizing this walk in solidarity with the marches in DC and elsewhere is a start. One where we can introduce participants to one another and to opportunities where they can make a difference going forward," said Kathryn Yatesthe organizer. 

    During and after the walk, participants will have a chance to connect with agencies and organizations providing support to women and families of Maine.

    Opportunities to stay connected and to help local groups will also be provided via email for those who wish it.

    For more information or to sign up, visit the Walk’s Facebook events page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1778266389086894/

    As of1/9/17, over 800 people have expressed interest and 174 are committed to attend, with those numbers growing every day.

    A national “Sister Marches” page, https://actionnetwork.org/events/womens-walk-portland, is also documenting attendance of participants in Maine and across the US.

    A permit for the walk was issued on December 30, 2016, by the city of Portland (above photo). No snow date has been set. The walk will take place in any weather. 

    Cities across the country are issuing permits for other solidarity Marches. Chicago, President Barack Obama's home town, plans one of the biggest.

    “We’re planning and hoping for the largest women’s Rally and March outside of Washington, D.C. on Saturday, January 21, 2017,” said Ann Scholhamer, one of the March Chicago Co-Chairs. “We have been hard at work with our dedicated volunteers to confirm an incredible slate of speakers, representing issues brought to light during the campaign and diverse issues of concern to Chicago women.”

    For more information on the walk in Augusta, Maine please click on the image below, which will take you to their facebook page.

  • Rep. Devin combats ocean acidification, addresses conference with Gov. Jerry Brown

    Rep. Mick Devin, of Newcastle, ME, joined fellow members of the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification, including California Governor Jerry Brown, at a combat acidifacation launch event in CA. 

    Maine recognized as a national leader in fighting for healthier oceans 

    By Ramona du Houx

    In December of 2016,  U.S. and global leaders launched the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification in Coronado, CA.  Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, represented Maine at the event and was a key speaker. 

    “It was an honor to show the rest of the country how Maine is a leader when it comes to addressing the quality of the water in our oceans,” said Rep. Devin. “Scientists are working around the clock because they know how many people depend on the ocean to make a living.”

    The oceans are the primary protein source for 2.6 billion people, and support $2.5 trillion of economic activity each year. Maine's lobster industry could suffer greatly from ocean acidification. Catches like this one would only be read in history books. This lobster was put back into the ocean, as it's way beyond the size fishermen can legally catch.

    Maine is seen as the leading state on the East Coast addressing ocean acidification.  Maine was the first state to establish an Ocean Acidification Commission.  As a result of the commission the Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Alliance, or MOCA, was established. 

    Ocean acidification occurs when carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use and other carbon sources dissolves in the water and forms carbonic acid. Other sources of acidification include fresh water from rivers and decomposing algae feeding off nutrients in runoff. Carbonic acid dissolves the shells of shellfish.

    Maine’s major inshore shellfisheries, including clams, oysters, lobsters, shrimp and sea urchins, could see major losses if ocean acidification is left unchecked.

    At the conference, Devin addressed how state leaders are using science to establish priorities in dealing with the rising acidity of the earth’s oceans. He explained how Maine used those priorities to develop a long-term action plan.  

    He stressed the importance of addressing ocean acidification by developing plans to remediate and adapt to it. Devin said that strategy is crucial for Maine to maintain its healthy marine economy, particularly the commercial fishing and aquaculture industries, which are valued well in excess of billion dollars annually. 

    Devin finished his presentation by showing a slide of a boiled lobster dinner and repeating his trademark line about one reason the marine economy matters to so many: “People do not visit the coast of Maine to eat a chicken sandwich.” 

    The Alliance includes several state governments, governments of Canadian provinces, North American tribal governments, and countries as far away as France, Chile and Nigeria. 

    While lobsters are the iconic image of Maine, many other shell fish will be effected, like musscles, and clams. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Members have five primary goals: advancing scientific understanding of ocean acidification; taking meaningful actions to reduce causes of acidification; protect the environment and coastal communities from impacts of a changing ocean; expanding public awareness and understanding of acidification; and building sustained global support for addressing the problem.

    Devin, a marine biologist at the Darling Center in Walpole and a member of the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee, is serving his third term in the Maine House. He represents Bremen, Bristol, Damariscotta, Newcastle, part of Nobleboro, part of South Bristol, Monhegan Plantation and the unorganized territory of Louds Island.

     

  • Mainers call on Sen. Collins to oppose Trump's fossil fuel cabinet

    Enviromental leaders from Maine: Professor Charles Tilburg of the University Of New England, Glen Brand- the Sierra Club Maine Director, and Sarah Lachance and Bob Klotz from 350 Maine, take a stand to stop President-elect Trump pushing through his climate-denying nominees, at a press conference where they called on Sen. Susan Collins to vote against these nominees.  Courtesy photo.

    By Ramona du Houx

    Environmental leaders from Maine are calling on Senator Susan Collins to reject President-elect Trump’s climate-denying nominees to head the EPA, Energy, and State Departments. Trump aims to put foxes in the hen house, without weighing the damage that will happen to the world.

    “It’s time Senator Collins shows true leadership at this critical point in history when we know the science is clear and we must act now on real climate policy,” said Sarah Lachance, spokesperson for 350 Maine.  “Her first step in doing that is to say no to these cabinet nominees of climate deniers.”

    At a news conference organized by Sierra Club and 350 Maine and at a public protest in front of Sen. Collins’ Portland office, speakers denounced Trump’s “fossil fuel” cabinet nominees: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt for EPA; Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State; and Rick Perry to run the Energy Department.

    One of the reasons some Republicans insist that climate change is not happening, when close to 90 percent of Americans say it is, simply is because if they continue to do nothing to stop it, then they are declaring they don't care what happens to millions of people around the world. Another reason - the oil companies will have to limit their activities that are contributing to climate change. That means -revenue losses.

    The march to Sussan Collins offices to make sure she knows she shouldn't support oil copany excs.

    “As one of the only Republican Senators who accepts the scientific consensus on climate change and supports action to address the climate crisis, Sen. Collins will play a pivotal role in approving or rejecting Trump’s “fossil fuel” cabinet,” said Glen Brand, Sierra Club Maine Chapter Director.  

    “The underlying causes of climate change are no longer debated within the scientific community,” said Professor Charles Tilburg, Associate Dean, College of Arts & Sciences at the University Of New England. “We have moved beyond this settled issue to examine the effects of the change on our environment.”

    For years, Scott Pruitt has led the legal charge to kill the EPA’s historic Clean Power Plan and other important environmental safeguards like stronger standards, and he has regularly conspired with the fossil fuel industry to attack EPA protections.

    Pruitt is an unabashed climate science denier. Despite the overwhelming scientific consensus recognized by NASA, as recently as last May, Pruitt falsely said that “that debate is far from settled. Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.” 

    As Secretary of State, Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson would literally put the most powerful, private fossil fuel corporate interests in charge of our nation’s foreign policy.   For many years, Exxon Mobil was the driving force and a major funding source supporting climate denialism propagandists.

    UPDATE: on January 20th Collins stood by Sessions- showing she's no moderate

    Trump has nominated another denier of climate science, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, to lead the very department that Perry pledged to eliminate when he was a presidential candidate. 

    Recently, at a talk at Bowdoin College, Sen. Collins reiterated that she believes humans are causing climate change and that governmental action will be needed to solve the problem. “I have supported over and over again the ability of the EPA to advance greenhouse gas emissions policy—the Clean Power Act, for example.”  

    “Senator Collins can’t have it both ways:  she cannot support climate science deniers for critically important cabinet posts AND support policies to protect our climate and promote clean energy,” added Sierra Club’s Glen Brand.

    Following the news conference, more than 100 Maine climate activists  conducted a public protest at  in front of Sen. Collins’ Portland office before meeting with a senior member of the Senator’s staff. (photos)

  • The 128 Legislature and how to help the state out of stagnation

     By Ramona du Houx

    Members of the 128th Legislature were sworn into the Maine House of Representatives on December 7, 2016, led by Democratic Speaker of the House Sara Gideon. There are 25 new members and 52 returning representatives in the House, including 36 women.

    “Today, we start out with a Maine economy that is lagging behind New England and the rest of the country in terms of economic growth, recovery of jobs lost during the recession and wage growth,” said Gideon, D-Freeport.  “We lead New England when it comes to the number of Maine children and seniors living in poverty. Those are the facts.  And here is another fact: We have to do better. We will always work together and come to the table in search of common ground to help the 1.3 million Mainers who expect us to rise above politics.” 

    There are issues that could grow Maine’s economy, which haven’t been addressed during the LePage administration. Instead he’s focused on cutting benefits and lowering taxes for the wealthy. in his speach today to the lawmakers he talked about changing the Minimum wage referendum that passed, not about how to grow jobs.

    In a recent interview, Former Governor John Baldacci sited a study conducted by Former Governor King, which listed the top areas in need of investment that still remain areas that need funding.

    "The two leading factors in the study were the education and training of the population and the amount of Research and Development funds invested to help businesses get the latest cutting edge technologies so they can compete successfully with other businesses anyone in the world,” said Gov. Baldacci.

    Maine has suffered under LePage by the lack of Research and Development (R&D) funds that used to spur economic activity as the research, conducted at the University of Maine and other laboratories, was regularly used by start-up Maine companies, there-by growing jobs across Maine. The people have always voted overwhelmingly for R&D bonds in Maine. But LePage doesn’t believe in bond issues and has held bond funds hostage in the past.

    "We've been doing a terrible job at putting resources in Research and Development," said Gov. Baldacci, who invested dramatically in R&D during his administration. "We also need to focus on job training. We're not doing enough to match jobs to the industries established here. Our Labor Department needs to be our Human Resource Department. There are plenty of job opportunities out there that need trained workers and plenty of workers who want the opportunity to work. Our people, families, and small businesses aren't looking for a handout, but are looking for opportunities. Our responsibility is to make sure that happens throughout all of Maine."

    Baldacci started this work with Former Labor Secretary Laura Fortman, but little has been done to progress these job opportunities under the LePage administration.

    The lack of these investments, along with other LePage policies has led to stagnation in Maine.

    “Under Republican leadership, Maine has lagged behind in the national economic recovery. We work longer hours than our neighbors in any other state in New England, yet the purchasing power of our paychecks in one of the lowest in the country. Meanwhile, our governor has turned a blind eye as five of our friends, family members and neighbors die every week from the opioid epidemic. I look forward our leadership team’s work over the next few months to create good jobs and a fair economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top." 

    Members of the House include teachers, small business owners, nonprofit leaders, a former mill electrician, prominent civil rights advocates, farmers, former law enforcement officials, and veterans. 

    “I’m proud of the bipartisan work we achieved last session, particularly to improve services for veterans, but there is more work to be done,” said veteran Marine Rep. Assistant Majority Leader Jared Golden. “In the short term, our first task is to pass a balanced budget that reflects the needs of our state, but we also have to keep an eye on the future. Maine needs to create good paying jobs by investing in the infrastructure our communities need to compete. I look forward to working with my colleagues to address these and other challenges facing our state.”

  • Pingree says Dr. Ben Carson not qualified to serve as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development

    President-elect Trump has chosen surgeon Dr. Ben Carson as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This Federal agency runs numerous programs critical to Maine communities and families. Without HUD many citizens in Maine could be without a roof over their heads.

    “The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development oversees many programs that are critical to Maine communities and families. To name just a few, Community Development Block Grants help fund infrastructure improvements in our downtowns, affordable housing programs and rental assistance ensure that people in need have a roof over their heads, and Federal Housing Authority mortgage guarantees make the dream of home ownership possible for thousands of Maine families. I worry for the future of these important programs if Dr. Ben Carson is confirmed as Secretary," said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree.

    “As any employer knows, you should base hiring decisions on someone’s relevant experience and skill set. By his own admission, Dr. Carson has neither.  He expressed just last month that he has no experience in government and has never run this scale of operation. Maine and the country deserve better. HUD is simply too important to have someone so uniquely unqualified at the helm.” 

  • What Bangor, Maine is doing to ease the state's deadly drug epidemic



    Editorial by Joseph M. Baldacci, former Mayor of Bangor now serves on the Bangor City Council
     
    According to the Maine attorney general’s office, 272 Mainers died of drug overdoses in 2015, a 30 percent increase over 2014. This year, we are easily surpassing those figures. On average, one Mainer dies each and every day from a drug overdose.
    In our own community, the fire department has seen use of Narcan — a nasal spray that can save someone from death by overdose — skyrocket in the last five years, from 15 uses of it in 2011 to 57 uses in 2015 to at least 100 uses on suspected overdoses just through Nov. 30, 2016. This spring, the Bangor City Council authorized the police department to also carry Narcan, and, as of Dec. 1, the police department has saved 16 lives with it. In 2015, the Bangor Police Department identified 66 cases as involving a possible overdose. So far this year, we are at 111 cases.
    We are fortunate and thankful to the men and women working as firefighters, paramedics and police officers. They are some of the real heroes of this effort to save lives.
    This is not a political issue, it is a human issue requiring human responses. It is an issue that requires state and national leadership — neither of which we have. Local communities are now forced to handle it with everything we have to save and protect citizens.
    Story continues below advertisement.
    Since 2014, Bangor has been in partnership with the Community Health Leadership Board as well as the hospitals and other nonprofits to better marshall local resources.
    The essential thing is that all of us act constructively and rationally in this effort. Because we have done this, we have made progress. Here’s where:
    Adult drug treatment court
    In 2012, the state closed the drug treatment court in Bangor that helped monitor on a weekly basis dozens of drug offenders as well as assist in their getting treatment. After a successful effort by both the City Council and state legislative delegation, the program has been reinstated, and it will be able to monitor and provide treatment options to at least 30 drug offenders at any one time.
    Law-Assisted Diversion Project
    The city is working on a jail diversion effort in partnership with the Health Equity Alliance. We also are working to fund a substance abuse case manager embedded in the police department. Both efforts will be coordinated with local hospitals and other providers to get nonviolent offenders treatment first, not jail first.
    Detoxification center
    The City Council has supported and sought the establishment of a 10-bed detox center to serve as a first stop for people who commit to recovery. Currently, the only places for people to detox are jail, home or the emergency room. None of those places are equipped to handle the complex needs of someone who is detoxing and establish a continuum of care for them when they leave detox.
    Regional model of continuum of care that increases rural access
    Acadia Hospital has taken the lead and has funding to enlist St. Joseph Hospital and Eastern Maine Medical Center providers in the provision of Suboxone — an alternative to methadone — in their primary care practice settings. This is currently in progress. Penobscot Community Health Care was awarded a federal grant to expand primary care medication-assisted treatment in its practices as did Health Access Network in Lincoln.
    Recovery
    The city has given strong support to Bangor Area Recovery Network efforts for its peer recovery coaching program. The city awarded funding for this important effort to help people stay clean.
    Early Recovery Treatment & Housing
    In conjunction with community partners, the city is involved in exploring several models to complete the continuum of care after someone is released from detox. We have reached out to the Greater Portland Addiction Collaborative and may replicate some of its efforts here. Penquis is our lead partner on this work.
    I am proud of the work of my fellow councilors, along with a hard-working staff that works collaboratively to involve all community partners and has resulted in dozens if not hundreds of saved lives.
  • Democrats won a battle for greater transparency for LePage's forensic facility plan

    Photo and article by Ramona du Houx

    Maine democrats won a battle for greater transparency to build a secure forensic facility next to the Riverview Psychiatric Center on November 30, 2016. 

    Democrats said the forensic unit project needs vetting by the Legislature’s appropriations and health and human services committees for a range of reasons including the financing, operations and policy matters related to who would be housed in the facility. Gov. LePage intends for the facility to be privately run, which could jeopardize the health and wellbeing of citizens if not carefully monitored. That overseeing duty needs to be clarified by the Legislature.

    “This is a fundamental change in how Maine cares for forensic patients that demands proper legislative oversight and public input.” said Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon “DHHS has never brought this proposal to the Legislature, but is essentially threatening to build the project elsewhere and at greater cost if they don't get their way. We must provide proper care to Mainers with serious mental illness, and we are committed to making this happen with the proper oversight that protects this vulnerable population.”

    The Democrats present at the Legislative Council meeting – Gideon, Speaker Mark Eves and House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe – sought to table the proposal so it could be fully vetted as soon as the 128the Legislature convenes in January.

    House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, however, forced a vote to simply approve the project. His motion failed by a vote of 3-3.

    “Let’s remember what got us here in the first place. Three years ago, the feds came in and found that Riverview patients were severely abused – sometimes even with pepper spray and Tasers,” said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, House chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. “As lawmakers, we have a duty to ensure the safety and well-being of the patients in the state’s care. We can’t simply hand a blank check over to the administration.”

     

  • We need to finish FDR’s economic bill of rights

    The current economic and political turmoil in the United States invites us to look back, not in a nostalgic way, but to remember important moments in our nation’s history and take inspiration from the work of transformational leaders. Thus, the Progressive Era and the New Deal are receiving fresh attention.

    We can note as well how voting rights expanded over time to include women as well as men, and blacks as well as whites, and consider how public education spread across the land to include community colleges and state universities as well as elementary and secondary schools.

    Reflecting on our national history can stir up hope and courage, for we have often shown ourselves to be a people of great projects. Some past projects may merit criticism, even condemnation, in the light of current insights and priorities. Yet, however flawed, these projects, together with those that are praiseworthy, indicate that in generations past, America was not afraid of big dreams and acted on those dreams.

    In contrast, America today often sounds small-minded and small-hearted. We need dreams of a gracious society that rival the best dreams of the past so that we can act boldly upon them. We can even bring back good dreams that were not fulfilled in their time but can be realized in ours.

    World War II was still raging when Franklin Delano Roosevelt dispatched his 1944 Message to Congress on the State of the Union. This message included eight points that he identified as a “Second Bill of Rights.”

    Roosevelt told Congress that the nation cannot rest content if some fraction of Americans are without the necessities of life. As America began by asserting inalienable political rights, so with the growth of the national economy, “these political rights proved inadequate to assure equality in the pursuit of happiness,” he said.

    He claimed that certain economic rights “have become accepted as self-evident” and that an economic bill of rights was necessary, expressing these rights in simple, stirring language:

    “The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation;

    “The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

    “The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

    “The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

    “The right of every family to a decent home;

    “The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

    “The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

    “The right to a good education.”

    Subsequent government actions have helped Americans to realize portions of these rights, but the record is mixed and remains always subject to change for the worse. Our national record in some respects compares poorly to those of other nations.

    While the American bill of political rights is admired by freedom-loving people around the globe, the weakness of our economic rights leaves many of our international friends puzzled and disappointed. The need for improvement in these areas is urgent. So, too, is the need to secure these rights as part of our Constitution.

    In his 1944 Message to Congress, Roosevelt noted that “true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. ‘Necessitous men are not free men.’ ” Keeping alive the political principles contained in the first Bill of Rights requires supplementing them with a second Bill of Rights that addresses economic issues.

    Legal scholar Cass R. Sunstein’s 2004 study, “The Second Bill of Rights: FDR’s Unfinished Revolution and Why We Need It More Than Ever,” helped revive interest in what he calls “the speech of the century” and its implications.

    Sunstein notes that FDR’s economic rights proposal “was a direct product of America’s experience with the desperation and misery of the Great Depression.” A 21st-century economic bill of rights can also draw on the tragedy of the Great Recession and the inhumane economy that has prevailed in America throughout the last four decades.

    Our nation made horrible mistakes. We can learn from them. We can establish a far more gracious society than the one we have endured in recent years.

  • It is no time to compromise with the forces of inequality and injustice

    BY KAREN HECK

    It’s been hard to figure out what to write this month, much less how I’m going to cope in the coming years. I’ve just experienced a national election that repudiated pretty much everything I’ve spent the last 35 years of my life working for — reproductive rights, peace, protections from hate speech and crimes aimed at people who aren’t straight, white, able-bodied, and male, and a society in which people actually care about something other than themselves. It’s that kind of love-your-neighbor-as-yourself society I internalized from my Sunday school lessons 50 years ago.

    It’s that kind of society Native tribes are fighting for in North Dakota. They are peacefully attempting to stop an oil pipeline from being built in order to protect water from the eventual oil leaks we know will occur. It’s the kind of society built by people who are thinking past their own generation to the lives seven generations on. It’s based on an understanding that water equals life and it’s their job to protect that life-giving element with all that they have. It’s a society I aspire to live in.

    It’s not at all like the crowd being assembled in Washington who will do all they can to grab what they can now and screw the next generation.

    I’m not naive enough to think the national media will be reporting on the news of Native tribes protecting water or the fact that the new administration’s focus on short-term gains rather than long-term public good will leave us less well-off than ever. I can pretty much figure out what we’ll be hearing and reading in the future based on the media’s obsession this past year in bringing us its version of the news.

    We’re now in the post-truth era of news. Who needs to check distortions and lies when reporting on a guy’s tweets and his rants is so entertaining? Editors and reporters had to know the man is unqualified for any governmental job, much less the most important one. How could they miss that he’s a guy who knows less about how government works than any high school student, whose temperament is less under control than a 2-year-old’s, and whose racist, misogynist, homophobic rants reminded people of Hitler?

    It’s clearly no longer the media’s job to give us information about qualifications, issues, or the policy ramifications of the candidates. If they were at all interested in that approach, they could have taken a hard look at Maine to project what would happen to the rest of the nation if a man like our governor was elected. We have a governor who has withheld millions of Victims of Crime money from the people of Maine who have been victims of crime! How much lower than that can you go? I’m pretty sure we won’t have to wait too long to find out. Owned and supported by drug and energy companies, the national media’s only interest was and is how much money can be made on the circus it had a hand in creating.

    If you’ve read this far, you know I’m angry. I’m also so sad. I’m sad to think about the future for children in this country. Those who espouse the kinds of thinking Trump and his appointees represent do not display the kinds of values we need our kids to learn. Those values include kindness, decency, and an understanding that life is not about winning but how you play the game.

    I will continue to remember that Hillary Clinton beat Trump by more than 2 million votes. I’ll continue to believe the country’s spirit is best represented by the Statue of Liberty. That spirit is a generous one, because we understand that we are one nation, indivisible and stronger together.

    Speaking out against those who would destroy that spirit is what I will continue to do. Taking to the streets to make my feelings known is one way forward for me. I made arrangements to be at the Million Women March in January.

    Closer to home in Waterville, I was proud to stand with more than 100 people in support of the Native American people protecting water from an oil industry that refuses to acknowledge it is contributing to climate disruption. I was also proud to be part of a small group in Castonguay Square standing in memory of transgender men and women across the globe and in this country who were killed for just wanting to be who they were.

    I realize that there will be calls for compromise with those who are going to be in power. But I will not compromise with an administration of racist, misogynist, homophobic beings bent on the destruction of the idea of equality and justice for all. I had hoped for better days after Nov. 8, but with apologies to Dylan Thomas, I will not go gentle into that good night but I will instead, rage against the dying of the light.

    Karen Heck is a longtime resident and former mayor of Waterville.

  • 'We have the power to declare that ‘enough is enough' says AG Mills, Simpson in Bangor outside Trump rally

    Maine Attorney General Janet Mills speaks at a press conference before Donald Trump's rally at the venue later that afternoon. Katie Mae Simpson looks on with concern. Courtesy photo

    by Ramona du Houx

    Donald Trump held a rally in Bangor, Maine on October 15, 2016. The millionare decided to make Bangor a stop on his campaign for President, because Maine's 2nd District may vote for him, eventhough Sen. Collins has witdrawn her support of the Republican candidate and Trump has made outragious comments towards women.

    Gathered outside the Cross Insurance Center, before Trump spoke to a rally, Democrats called out the fomer Reality show host for his remarks that glorified sexual violence.

     “I grew up in Washington County, here in the 2nd Congressional District,” said Maine Democratic Party Executive Director Katie Mae Simpson. “When I was twelve years old, I was repeatedly sexually assaulted by several boys on my school bus. They grabbed me, without my consent, in the way that Donald Trump described grabbing women. I have a five-year-old daughter, and I do not want her to reach her pre-teen years – the age at which I was assaulted – with Donald Trump as her president. Trump has been to Maine several times, convinced that he can earn at least one of our electoral votes. I hope Mainers will join me in saying enough is enough, that we can work together to end rape culture. The first step is to end the political career of a man who dismisses the glorification of sexual violence as just ‘locker room talk.’” 

     In a tape made public by the Washington Post last week, Trump suggested he could touch and kiss women without their consent because he was a “star.” 

    “No man should ever treat or speak of women the way that Donald Trump has,” said Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett. “Trump’s comments are not ‘locker room talk,’ and many athletes have come forward to dispel this myth. Rather, they are the language of misogyny that has been prevalent throughout his entire campaign.”

    Since the first tape surfaced, the flood gates have opened and new stories about sexual asults by Trump have serfaced. He is currently under investagation, accused of raping a 13 year old. A court date has been set.

    “Donald Trump’s inexcusable actions that demean and degrade women have no place in Maine and no place in the White House,” Maine Attorney General Janet Mills. “I urge Mainers to remember First Lady Michelle Obama’s call to action: ‘We have knowledge, we have a voice, we have a vote.’ Early voting by absentee has already begun in Maine. We have the power to declare that ‘enough is enough,’ and that we will not tolerate this deeply-rooted misogyny in our country. I urge Mainers to visit your town clerk’s office next week and cast your ballot against Donald Trump as soon as you can.”

    Several Democratic state legislators and members of various chapters of the Maine College Democrats stood in support at the press conference.

     

  • Mainers for Responsible Gun Ownership Supporters Join Congresswoman Giffords

    By Ramona du Houx

    Portland Maine Police Chief Michael Sauschuck, along with citizen co-sponsor of Question 3 ballot initiative, Judi Richardson, joined former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ 14-state, 42-day national “Vocal Majority Tour” in support of the Mainers for Responsible Gun Ownership campaign on October 12,2016.

    The trio called on Mainers to vote to reduce gun violence in this election by voting Yes on Question 3.

    “Stopping gun violence takes courage - the courage to do what's right, and the courage of new ideas. I’ve seen great courage when my life was on the line,” said Congresswoman Giffords“Now is the time to come together - to be responsible! Democrats, Republicans - everyone.”

    On January 8, 2011, at a “Congress On Your Corner” event in Tucson with her constituents, Congresswoman Giffords was shot in the head from near point-blank range. In stepping down from Congress in January 2012, Congresswoman Giffords said, “I will return, and we will work together for Arizona and this great country.” She is doing so with her husband, Navy combat veteran and retired NASA astronaut Captain Mark Kelly, with the organization that they founded- Americans for Responsible Solutions- as a way to encourage elected officials to stand up for safer communities. 

    Police Chief Sauschuck, (photo left with Giffords) who along with the Maine Chiefs of Police Association recently endorsed the Yes on 3 campaign, called on the Vocal Majority of Americans and Maine residents who support responsible change to our gun laws to stand up and speak out. 

    “Question 3 on this year’s ballot will close an enormous loophole in the law that means criminals, domestic abuse perpetrators and the severely mentally ill can more easily access firearms in our state. While no law will stop all crime, we know that background checks are the single most effective way to reduce gun violence, said Sauschuck.

    “I’m here today with Judi Richardson and Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, because we are all standing up and speaking out for what we know to be true: background checks are the best way of keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people who would use them to do harm to themselves or others.”

    Question 3 will require background checks for all gun sales in Maine, with reasonable exceptions for passing guns on to family members, and for loaning of guns between friends and neighbors while hunting.

    In states that require background checks on all handgun sales, FBI and CDC statistics have shown that there are 48 percent fewer police officers killed by handguns, 48 percent fewer suicides by firearms and 48 percent less gun trafficking.

    This measure is particularly important for Maine, where nearly half of all murders are due to domestic violence. FBI statistics indicate that in states that have similar laws to Question 3, 46 percent fewer women are shot and killed by their intimate partners.

     “There is more the people of Maine can be doing to help make our state safer. By voting to support Question 3 on election day, Mainers are using their voices to close the loophole in our law that means criminals can get a gun on the unlicensed market with no questions asked and face no responsibility for their actions when they use that gun in a crime. Question 3 is just a common sense solution to prevent prohibited persons from having easy access to firearms,” said Richardson, citizen co-sponsor of the Question 3 ballot initiative.

    The Vocal Majority Tour event in Portland was the 17th stop in the 42-day Tour, which Congresswoman Giffords and Captain Kelly kicked off on September 27th in Orlando, Florida, the site of the deadliest mass shooting in our country’s history, the tragedy at the Pulse nightclub that left 49 people dead.

    Following the event today in Portland, the Vocal Majority Tour will travel to Portsmouth, New Hampshire for events with the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama.

    According to recent research, a strong majority of Mainers support this common-sense initiative that will help to keep guns out of the wrong hands, including closing the loopholes in our laws that let felons, domestic abusers, and the dangerously mentally ill buy guns without a background check.

    While some Sheriff's in Maine opose the measure the majority of police officers in the state's largest cities support the common sense plan. It's important to note that sheriffs are elected officials and many are up for re-election.

  • Cumberland County Civic Center Employees Sue For Severance Pay

    Five current and former employees of the Cumberland County Civic Center, in Portland, Maine have filed a class action suit against the Cumberland County Recreation District seeking severance pay under Maine law due to the County’s cessation of operations of the Center.

    The Cumberland County Recreation District (CCRD) ceased operating the Center in March 2015 and terminated all of its employees. Although Spectra (formerly known as Global Spectrum), a Philadelphia-based division of Comcast that now operates the Center, hired many of the CCRD employees, those former employees who were hired now work under vastly different terms of employment.

     “The employees who accepted employment with Spectra now work under substantially inferior terms. For example, the Center employees previously could be terminated only for just cause and could sue if they lost their jobs if they did not agree there was cause; but, as long as it doesn’t discriminate unlawfully, Spectra can fire employees for good reason, bad reason, or no reason at all, and the employees have no recourse. It also offers fewer paid holidays, many fulltime employees were asked to work significantly more hours without any additional compensation, and employees have lost the ability to take comp time for excess hours worked,” stated Plaintiff Roberta Wright, the Center’s long-time marketing director, who worked for the Center for 27 years.

    According to Wright, all the employees who were discharged had to apply for jobs with Spectra, and not all were rehired. Wright worked for Spectra for several months, then retired due to the changes in working conditions.

    Matt Drivas, another Plaintiff, was one of the employees most affected by the changes. Drivas,  worked for the Center for 33 years, including the last 17 years as its concessions manager while simultaneously holding a similar job with the Portland Sea Dogs. Civic Center management and members of its board of trustees assured Drivas that his employment would continue without any changes.

    “Instead of keeping their word, I got a call from Spectra management  advising me I no longer could work both jobs. Ultimately, I chose to work for the Sea Dogs. The loss of my job with the Center cost me the majority of my annual income and retirement,” said Drivas.

     “The employees did not want to file suit. We have tried repeatedly to resolve this matter. Unfortunately, despite the many years of service of the Center’s employees, the CCRD Trustees never seemed to take them seriously. They left their dedicated employees to the whims of an out-of-state employer who provides substantially less benefits and protections. The employees had no choice but to file suit,” said Jeffrey Neil Young, who, together with Roberta de Araujo, of the Augusta law firm Johnson, Webbert & Young represents the employees.

    Young estimated that at least 121 employees would be eligible to participate in the suit.

    Under Maine law, the Center is managed by 9 trustees who reside in Cumberland County and are appointed to the CCRD Board by the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners. Each trustee serves a 3-year term.

  • Trump would repeal 'Obamacare' and 20 million would lose health coverage

    BY RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR--ASSOCIATED PRESS

     A new study that examines some major health care proposals from the presidential candidates finds that Donald Trump would cause about 20 million to lose coverage while Hillary Clinton would provide coverage for an additional 9 million people.

    The 2016 presidential campaign has brought voters to a crossroads on health care yet again. The U.S. uninsured rate stands at a historically low 8.6 percent, mainly because of President Barack Obama’s health care law, which expanded government and private coverage. Yet it’s uncertain if the nation’s newest social program will survive the election.

    Republican candidate Trump would repeal “Obamacare” and replace it with a new tax deduction, insurance market changes, and a Medicaid overhaul. Democrat Clinton would increase financial assistance for people with private insurance and expand government coverage as well.

    The two approaches would have starkly different results, according to the Commonwealth Fund study released Friday.

    The analysis was carried out by the RAND Corporation, a global research organization that uses computer simulation to test the potential effects of health care proposals. Although the New York-based Commonwealth Fund is nonpartisan, it generally supports the goals of increased coverage and access to health care.

    Economist Sara Collins, who heads the Commonwealth Fund’s work on coverage and access, said RAND basically found that Trump’s replacement plan isn’t robust enough to make up for the insurance losses from repealing the Affordable Care Act. “Certainly it doesn’t fully offset the effects of repeal,” Collins said.

    One worrisome finding is that the number of uninsured people in fair or poor health could triple under Trump. It would rise from an estimated 2.1 million people under current laws to between 5.7 million and 7.1 million under Trump’s approach, depending on which of his policy proposals was analyzed.

    When uninsured people wind up in the hospital, the cost of their treatment gets shifted to others, including state and federal taxpayers. Trump has said he doesn’t want people “dying on the street.”

    The study panned one of Trump’s main ideas: allowing insurers to sell private policies across state lines. Collins said insurers would cherry-pick the healthiest customers and steer them to skimpy plans. Other experts don’t see it as bleakly, believing that interstate policies could attract customers through lower premiums.

    A prominent Republican expert who reviewed the study for The Associated Press questioned some of its assumptions, but said the overall conclusion seems to be on target. “You could quibble about some of the modeling, but directionally I think it’s right,” said economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum, a center-right public policy center.

    Collins said the analysis examined some major proposals from each candidate, but did not test every idea.

    The Trump proposals included repealing the Obama health care law, as well as a host of replacement ideas consisting of a new income tax deduction for health insurance, allowing policies to be sold across state lines, and turning the Medicaid program for low-income people into a block grant, which would mean limiting federal costs.

    The study estimated that Trump’s repeal of “Obamacare” would increase the number of uninsured people from 24.9 million to 44.6 million in 2018. But then his replacement proposals would have a push-pull effect. The tax deduction and interstate health insurance sales would help some stay covered, but the Medicaid block grant would make even more people uninsured.

    “The people who would actually gain coverage tend to have higher incomes,” said Collins.

    The result would be an estimated 45.1 million uninsured people in 2018 under Trump – an increase of 20.2 million, reversing the coverage gains under Obama.

    The Clinton proposals analyzed included a new tax credit for deductibles and copayments not covered by insurance, a richer formula for health law subsidies, a fix for the law’s “family glitch” that can deny subsidies to some dependents, and a new government-sponsored “public option” health plan.

    Taken together, the analysis estimated that Clinton’s proposals would reduce the number of uninsured people in 2018 to 15.8 million, which translates to a gain of 9.1 million people with coverage. Not included were Clinton’s idea for allowing middle-aged adults to buy into Medicare and her plan to convince more states to expand Medicaid.

    Collins said the researchers will update their estimates for both campaigns as more details become available.

    The health care report follows another recent analysis that delved into the candidates’ tax proposals. That study by the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget found that Trump’s latest tax proposals would increase federal debt by $5.3 trillion over the next decade, compared with $200 billion if Clinton’s ideas were enacted. The Trump campaign disputed those findings.

  • Equal Protection of the Laws: America’s 14th Amendment - A Maine Exhibit

    Justice?, by Ramona du Houx
     
    Maine's Equal Protection of the Laws: America’s 14th Amendment exhibit opens on Thursday, September 22nd and runs through December 22nd, 2016
     
    The exhibit will be at the Michael Klahr Center on the campus of the University of Maine at Augusta, 46 University Drive in Augusta.
    Featured are 36 works by 17 Maine artists who were inspired by the rights granted by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
    Themes depicted relate to many areas of American society covered by the amendment: including due process, liberty, gender and sexuality, race, legal protections, equality in the workplace, housing, education, law enforcement, rights of the incarcerated, tolerance, and local, state, and federal representation
    The exhibit is being hosted by the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine, in conjunction with the Harlow Gallery of the Kennebec Valley Art Association, with support from the Maine Humanities Council and associated program support by the Maine Arts Commission.
     
    The Holocaust and Human Rights Center is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. or weekends and evenings by appointment or when other events are being held.
    People Power, by Ramona du Houx
     

    Participating artists are listed below alphabetically by town:

    Augusta: Anthony Austin
    Bangor: Jeanne Curran
    Biddeford: Roland Salazar
    Brunswick: Mary Becker Weiss
    Camden: Claudia Noyes Griffiths
    Falmouth: Anne Strout
    Gardiner: Allison McKeen
    Hallowell: Nancy Bixler
    Lincolnville: Petrea Noyes
    Manchester: Bruce Armstrong
    Solon: Ramona du Houx
    Tenants Harbor: Otty Merrill
    Town Unknown: Julian Johnson
    Waterville: Jen Hickey
    West Rockport: Barbra Whitten
    Wilton: Rebecca Spilecki
    Winslow: Mimi McCutcheon

    There are several events planned in association with this project, including the Pride Film Festival – a series of four free films held Friday nights in October at 7 p.m. The films this year are The Boys in the Band (10/7), Fire (10/14), Paragraph 175 (10/21), and The Danish Girl (10/28).
     
    Mike Daisey’s one man play The Trump Card had sold out runs this fall in Washington and New York and is now touring throughout the country. With special permission from the playwright, HHRC Program Director and UMA adjunct professor of drama David Greenham will read the hard-hitting and hilarious monologue on Saturday, October 22nd at 7 p.m. and Sunday, October 23rd at 2 p.m.
    The Trump Card reminds all of us of the role we have played in paving the way to create one of the most divisive presidential campaigns in recent memory. Tickets for The Trump Card are $15 and proceeds benefit HHRC’s educational outreach programs.
    As the Stage Review put it, “Daisey breaks down what makes Trump tick—and in doing so illuminates the state of our American Dream and how we’ve sold it out.” 
     
    14th Amendment by Allison McKeen 
    The HHRC is also pleased to host Everyman Repertory Theater’s production of Lanford Wilson’s Talley’s Folly November 17th, 18th and 19th. The Pulitzer Prize winning play is a love story set in Missouri in 1942 and addresses issues of prejudice and the injustices that caused many to flee Europe in the years leading up to World War II.  
    The New York Times said about the play, “It is perhaps the simplest, and the most lyrical play Wilson has written—a funny, sweet, touching and marvelously written and contrived love poem for an apple and an orange.”   Tickets go on sale September 27th.
     
    Also in November, a group of UMA drama students under the direction of adjunct drama professor Jeri Pitcher will present a reading of their work in progress called Created Equal. The project, created in partnership with the HHRC, the UMA Writing Center, and UMA students will focus on the importance of the 14th amendment today. A full performance of the piece is planned for the spring of 2017.
  • Democrats' policy plans for A Better State of Maine will help families, businesses thrive

    Policies on infrastructure, competitive advantages, vibrant communities to get Maine back on track

    Article and photos by Ramona du Houx

    At a public forum at Mt. Ararat High School, Democratic leaders from the Maine Legislature on September 21, 2016 unveiled “A Better State of Maine,” their vision to build a state where young families and businesses can realize the American Dream by living in healthy, vibrant communities with good paying jobs.Democrats plan to achieve their vision with smart policies that modernize infrastructure, build on the state’s competitive advantages and support the the state's special creative economy.

    “Maine’s success depends on our ability to keep our next generation in state and to bring new people as well. We can do that through smart, targeted strategies to make Maine an attractive place for families, entrepreneurs, workers and small business owners,” said Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Dawn Hill. “Our vision calls for needed investments in our infrastructure, capitalizing on our competitive advantages, equipping young people with the skills they need to compete and policies that support vibrant communities.”

    The policy rollout discussion was wide-ranging and touched on some of Maine’s most challenging problems:

    • Maine's population is the oldest state in the Nation. The majority of workers- in the next ten years- will be of retirement age, leaving huge institutional gaps in the workforce, and creating a greater need to help the elderly retire with dignity and proper healthcare.
    • Not only is our populous aging, so is our infrastructure. The state needs road, bridge and railroad upgrades.
    • Broadband service has to cover all of Maine and cities need to accomidate middle class incomes with affordable housing.
    • Young college graduates are moving out of the state to find jobs that pay decent salaries. And while the medium income is around $30,000 for the Second District, it's $50,000 in the 1st, this disparity needs to be addressed.

    “Maine is losing its young people as they are forced to look for opportunity elsewhere. We need solutions that help young families build their lives in Maine and that revitalize our economy – one cannot happen without the other,” said Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon. “The consequences for our state are dire if we remain on this trajectory. But the right policies can get us back on track.”

    “A Better State of Maine” recognizes that the next generation is our greatest asset and that policymakers must embrace policies that make it possible for young people to build long, prosperous lives in Maine. The number of retirement-aged Mainers is growing and will continue to do so while the number of working-age Mainers will shrink, if there's no policy interventions, according to projections by Maine’s state economist.

    What most people don't realize is that Democrats have been stoically working on all the above issues, while the LePage administration has been obstructing their efforts.

    House Speaker Mark Eves, and Senator Justin Alfond did get laws or reviews passed, some with funding, for all of the above. The bills were drastically watered down from their initial proposals but, and this is an important point, they started the ball rolling. With each session, these laws could and should be strengthened.

    In order to accomplish anything in state government, every bill takes baby steps before it becomes established with larger programs. This is especially true if there is a dramatic divide on how to accomplish these goals.

    At present the LePage administration is opposed to the majority of Democratic initiatives. Democrats want bonds to help in all the above and in research and development. These kinds of bonds have proven to grow the economy with good paying jobs and benefits. So, in order to grow Maine's economy Democrats need majorities in the House and Senate to get needed initiatives passed.

    They identified what policies that will help Maine regain its competitive edge:

    • Strengthening the backbone of Maine’s economy through targeted investments in transportation, broadband and energy;
    • Capitalize on Maine’s competitive advantages, including aquaculture and agriculture, the state’s high-value brand and heritage industries;
    • and Prioritizing policies that support vibrant communities where young families can thrive and equip young people with the work skills they need to make a good living. These include effective training and education opportunities, investments in early childhood and schools and policies to encourage home ownership.
  • ME's proceeds from Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative’s close to $82M

    Maine makes over $2,270,635in 33rd auction

    Article by Ramona du Houx

    Maine brought in $2,265,634.20 from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), 33rd auction of carbon dioxide (CO2) allowances.

    RGGI is the first mandatory market-based program in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. RGGI is a cooperative effort among the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont to cap and reduce CO2 emissions from the power sector. 

    The program, first started in Maine when Governor John Baldacci pushed for it’s implementation and had a bill introduced. The legislation won unanimous support in Maine’s Senate and House. To date RGGI has brought in $81,837,449.15 to the state for weatherization and alternative energy projects, for businesses and homes. 

    “RGGI is working. It is helping Mainers reduce our energy bills and reduce emissions. It is a win-win and a model for the entire nation," said Former State Representative Seth Berry, who sat on Maine’s legislative committee that approved the final RGGI rules.

    States sell nearly all emission allowances through auctions and invest proceeds in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other consumer benefit programs. These programs are spurring innovation in the clean energy economy and creating green jobs in the RGGI states.

    14,911,315 CO2 allowances were sold at the auction at a clearing price of $4.54.

    The September 7th auction was the third auction of 2016, and generated $67.7 million for reinvestment in strategic programs, including energy efficiency, renewable energy, direct bill assistance, and GHG abatement programs. Cumulative proceeds from all RGGI CO2allowance auctions exceed $2.58 billion dollars.

    “This auction demonstrates RGGI’s benefits to each participating state, helping to reduce harmful emissions while generating proceeds for reinvestment. Each RGGI state directs investments according to its individual goals, and this flexibility has been key to the program’s success across a diverse region.” said Katie Dykes, Deputy Commissioner at the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and Chair of the RGGI, Inc. Board of Directors. “Another key RGGI strength is our commitment to constant improvement, as exemplified in the program review process. The RGGI states are continuing to evaluate program elements and improvements as part of the 2016 Program Review, with the goal of reaching consensus on program revisions that support each state’s unique goals and priorities.

    Governor John Baldacci led the effort in Maine to join RGGI and had a comprehensive energy plan similar to Cuomo. Baldacci's clean energy plan focused on how to get Maine off fossil fuels and bring clean energy jobs to the state. His administration created grants to help new innovations like the floating offshore wind platforms and windmills developed at the University of Maine under Dr. Habib Dagher's leadership. (photo: by Ramona du Houx. Dr. Dagher talks with Gov. John Baldacci about the next steps for wind farm implementation offshore. The prototype of the floating windfarm is the firs photo on the page)

    Nine Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).        

    “Independent reports have found the reinvestment of RGGI proceeds is creating jobs, reducing consumers’ utility bills, and boosting state economies while driving down carbon emissions,” said Jared Snyder, Deputy Commissioner at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Vice Chair of the RGGI, Inc. Board of Directors. “Our reinvestment of RGGI proceeds is supporting Governor Cuomo’s transformational clean energy and energy efficiency goals to generate 50 percent of New York’s energy from renewable sources and reduce carbon emissions 40 percent by 2030, ushering in the low-carbon economy essential to the wellbeing of future generations.”

  • Summer adventures vividly recalled by Peter Blachly, book signing Sept. 15th in Bath

    The Stone from Halfway Rock: A Boy's Adventures on the Coast of Maine blends diverse aspects of coastal life 

     By Ramona du Houx

    Maine summers are magical places of wonder, especially for a young boy during the 1950s and '60s, skilled in sailing Casco Bay. Such was life for Peter Macdonald Blachly.

     His book, The Stone from Halfway Rock: A Boy's Adventures on the Coast of Maine blends diverse aspects of coastal life with compelling true stories that invite us to journey with him.

     Peter’s childhood, so vividly retold, also reminds us how important it is to connect with the natural world.

    "Luminous, lyrical, Peter Blachly's stories of childhood summers in Maine are a wondrous reminder of what's important in life. He has me laughing, weeping, visualizing seals and summer storms, remembering the smell of the sea air and promising myself to love the simple," wrote Chellis Glendinning, author of My Name is Chellis & I'm in Recovery from Western Civilization.
    “Beyond the adventures (and underlying them) is a rich experience of, and love affair with — the natural world. If I have successfully conveyed that to my readers, I will be quite content,” said Peter.
     
    On September 15, 2016 at The Mustard Seed Bookstore, in Bath, Peter will talk about his book and sign copies from 5:30 – 7pm.
     
    Included is the author's story of encountering the tragic history of Malaga Island and its neighboring island, where he lived and explored during formative years and where he has returned today.
     
    Peter is also an environmentalist, musician, songwriter and watercolorist. In October, One Way Trip to Mars, a new rock opera musical by Peter and his wife, Johannah Harkness, the cornerstones of the Hollowbody Electric Band, will debut in Bath. The Hollowbody Electric Band plays throughout the mid-coast and has many albums.
     
    Published by Polar Bear & Company of Solon, Maine. Available worldwide, just ask your local bookstore to order it in for $12.95 or equivalent in currency.
     
    An interview with the author: 
    Why'd you write the book? 
    I value my childhood experiences in Maine. Such experiences are so rare in today’s world that I thought others might vicariously share the pure joy I derived from them — or at least identify with them in some way.
     
    How did your adventures, as a kid growing up with a boat, affect your life? 
     
    Living ‘off the grid’ for three months every summer, and being dependent on a homemade sailboat as my main means of transportation, forced me to learn many practical skills that few people have a chance to learn. Such as how to analyze and fix the mechanical problems of a recalcitrant outboard motor, how to gauge and safely navigate in the current, or correctly assess the limits in safely operating a motorboat or sailboat. Most of all, I learned self-dependence and an abiding respect and love for nature.
     
    Did sailing then, inspire a life long love affair with the ocean?
     
    I would say that I developed a life-long love of the coast of Maine, but I actually don’t enjoy the ocean much. It’s too wild, unpredictable and dangerous. Sailing in protected coastal waters, however, is something I’m sure I will love, until I’m too old to sail— and even then I’ll love the memories.

     

     

  • FairPoint strikers win victory in Business Court with overturned decision

    by Ramona du Houx

    On Friday, August 26, 2016, FairPoint strikers won a victory In Business Court when a previous decision was overturned.

    “When we fight, we win. Employees should be entitled to benefits in situations like this where companies are demanding substantial concessions and use scabs to attempt to achieve their goals,” said Don Trementozzi, business manager for CWA, Local 1400, which represents most of FairPoint’s call center workers.

    Maine’s Business Court handed a major victory to former strikers at FairPoint when it reversed a decision of the Unemployment Insurance Commission that denied unemployment benefits to the employees.

    The Court’s decision rejected the Commission’s mandate that in order to obtain benefits, the employees had to prove that FairPoint had maintained substantially normal operations during the lengthy 4-month labor dispute in 2014-15.

    “The Business Court’s decision is a major victory for our members just in time for Labor Day. The decision validates what we have been saying all along—that if FairPoint wants to operate with scabs, it should pay the price and have to pay unemployment benefits,” said Pete McLaughlin, the business manager for IBEW, Local 2327, which represents most of the FairPoint utility workers.

    According to the Business Court’s decision, the Commission erred when it placed the burden of proof on employees, rather than FairPoint, to show that there had not been a stoppage of work. The Business Court’s decision was the first time that the Maine courts have addressed who has the burden of proof in labor disputes.

    Second, the Business Court rejected the Commission’s determination that when Maine amended the unemployment statute in 1985, the Legislature had changed the standard for receipt of unemployment benefits during a strike. Prior to, and even after 1985, Maine courts, like most state courts around the nation, and the Commission, had held that workers were disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits only if the strike caused a substantial curtailment of the employer’s operations.

    However, in its October 2015 decision, the Commission changed course and rejected the substantial curtailment standard; instead, the Commission held that the workers were ineligible for benefits because FairPoint had not maintained substantially normal operations during the strike, a more difficult standard to meet than the substantial curtailment standard.

    The Business Court found that the Legislature had not intended to make any change in the substantial curtailment standard.

    Finally, the Business Court held that the Commission needed to make a week by week determination of eligibility for benefits, raising the possibility that the FairPoint strikers might be entitled to benefits for some if not all weeks during the strike.

    The Business Court’s decision means that the case will be returned to the Commission to reconsider its decision. 

    “FairPoint must now prove that there was a substantial curtailment of work for each and every week of the strike. Workers do not strike often, and usually only strike as a last resort in the face of extreme employer conduct. The FairPoint strikers will be able at least for the near future to keep the unemployment benefits they received pursuant to a decision of a Department of Labor Hearing Officer, who found (unlike the Commission) that no substantial curtailment had occurred. And, it should be easier in the future for employees involved in a labor dispute to receive unemployment benefits, particularly where, as here, the employer chooses to hire strike replacements,” said Jeffrey Neil Young of the Augusta law firm Johnson, Webbert & Young.

  • Study Shows Solar Saves Money for All Ratepayers in Maine by Reducing Peak Demand

    By Ramona du Houx

    An updated analysis of the “value of solar” power in Maine shows that solar installations within the state cut electricity prices for everyone in Maine who pays an electric bill, by reducing peak demand on the grid and power plants. Consumer demand for electricity peaks on hot, sunny summer afternoons, when use of air conditioning goes way up. This is when solar panels are producing power directly for homes and businesses, thereby reducing the demand for electricity from the grid. 

    The updated study shows that by reducing peak demand, the 20 megawatts (MW) of solar power currently installed in Maine will cut electricity bills by about $45 million for homeowners, renters, and businesses that do not have solar installed. Additional benefits from solar add $17 million further in ratepayer savings, avoided pollution from not burning fossil fuels (valued at $58 million), and local job creation. 

    If Maine had 250 MW of distributed solar, a five-year target lawmakers were considering last session, ratepayers would save $775 million over the life of the panels, including $560 million specifically related to reduced peak demand. 

    “Solar is the perfect solution to peak demand because you can get the most electricity from a solar array at exactly the same time that maximum consumer demand for air conditioning is straining our electric grid,” said Phil Coupe, a co-founder of local solar installer ReVision Energy. “In addition, thousands of solar arrays distributed throughout Maine, supporting the grid, are far more resilient than any centralized power plant.”

    Maine’s electricity rates continue to rise as the state’s monopoly utilities build expensive transmission lines specifically to meet demand on peak summer days. The Maine Public Utilities Commission has forecast that transmission rates will jump 30 percent from 2014-2018. Demand-reducing solar installations lower transmission costs, benefiting all ratepayers.

    Even more importantly, power companies run the most expensive and polluting plants during summertime peaks, such as the oil-burning power plant on Cousin’s Island in Yarmouth. These plants charge very high rates for power during these times and are the most dangerous for our environment. Reduced demand for these plants due to solar installations provides big savings for Maine ratepayers. Reduced peak demand translates quickly into reduced carbon emissions and healthier air as well.

    “With recent news about the challenges Maine is expected to face due to the increasing cost of adding capacity to the grid, one solution is staring us straight in the face,” said Vaughan Woodruff, owner of Insource Renewables. “As coal and oil plants are shut down, an obvious choice for providing more power on the hottest days of the year is to use the heat source – the sun – to generate needed electricity.”

    “We know that 2016 is set to be one of the hottest years on record. As Mainers ramp up the AC to stay cool, the electricity grid faces a heavy, costly strain and we all pay for it,” said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Solar clearly has the ability to reduce the strain, the pollution, and the cost for every Mainer who pays an electricity bill. The study shows once again that Maine should be working for more clean, reliable solar energy.” 

    The “Value of Solar”

    In late 2014 the Maine Public Utilities Commission completed a “Value of Solar” analysis to quantify the costs and benefits of solar in Maine. This summer, solar stakeholders, using the Commission’s methodology, updated the analysis by inserting current energy market information.

    The update shows that every 1 MW (enough for approx. 200 homes) of distributed solar installed in Maine creates $7.7 million in lifetime value.

    • About one-quarter of that value stems from the wholesale value of electricity.
    • About 30% of that value comes in the form of reduced electricity prices for all ratepayers from less need to use peaking power plants and less need for building new transmission and distribution networks to meet peak demand.
    • Significant value comes from reductions in the premiums electric ratepayers pay for uncertain future gas prices.
    • Finally, avoided pollution accounts for a substantial part of the benefit of solar power.

    “The Maine Public Utility Commission’s 2014 ‘Value of Solar’ study was really eye-opening, and people around the country paid attention to that thoughtful analysis,” saidJohn Rogers, senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “This update shows that the numbers continue to look impressive as our energy markets evolve. That should give people real confidence that Mainers who go solar are making a positive difference, providing value from lower electric rates to cleaner air.”

    “Mainers are providing cleaner solar energy locally, saving their neighbors millions,” said Chris Rauscher, as spokesperson for The Alliance for Solar Choice. “The Public Utilities Commission should thoroughly examine all of the financial and clean air benefits from rooftop solar before making any changes to solar customers' rates."

    Investor-owned monopoly utilities, such as Central Maine Power, receive a 12% guaranteed rate of return for building costly transmission and distribution line upgrades, which gives them a strong incentive for doing so. 

    “CMP seems perfectly content to watch rates climb as a result of their own spending on transmission lines, at the same time the company complains about solar, downplaying the benefits solar provides to CMP customers by avoiding the need for costly transmission lines and peaking power plants,” said Rauscher.

    “The middle of summer is a good time to thank your neighbors and others who have invested in solar, because they are helping reduce electricity costs for all of us,” saidVoorhees.

     

  • LePage won't join 46 other governors to sign the Compact to Fight Opioid Addiction

    Governor’s refusal reflects his administration’s lack of commitment to treatment

    Governor Paul LePage is refusing to sign the Compact to Fight Opioid Addiction developed by the National Governors Association. The 46 governors who signed the compact are agreeing to redouble their efforts combatting the opioid through a number of ways, including ensuring pathways to recovery.

    LePage's outbursts concerning people who suffer from opioid addiction reflect his policies. He clearly doesn't think their lives matter.

    “Forty-six other governors understand that we need a comprehensive approach to beat the opioid crisis sweeping our country. While other governors from across the political spectrum pledged themselves to this goal, Governor LePage belittles this effort,” said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, the House chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. “Instead of getting serious about this epidemic, Governor LePage, aided by Commissioner Mary Mayhew, continues to scorn the lifesaving potential of the overdose-reversal medication naloxone, makes it harder to access medication-assisted treatment, threatens to shut down methadone clinics and stands in the way of treatment options that the Legislature has approved and funded. He’s got to understand that the lives of real Mainers are hanging in the balance. This is no way to lead.” 

    Other conservative governors, including Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas and Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, signed the compact.

    LePage and Mayhew have opposed strategies in the compact, which include increased access to naloxone (also known by the brand name Narcan), Good Samaritan laws that encourage individuals to call for help when someone is overdosing and expanded treatment options. They have also dragged their heels on the detox center that the Legislature put into law this session. A nonprofit addiction treatment facility in Sanford said its closure was due to the LePage administration’s lack of funding support.

    Roughly 78 Americans lose their lives to the opioid epidemic each day, according to the National Governors Association. In Maine, fatal opioid overdoses kill five people each week, according to figures from the Office of the Maine Attorney General.

  • LLoyd’s Bistro in Damariscotta supports raising Maine’s minimum wage

    By Will Ikard, director of the Maine Small Business Coalition, which represents more than four thousand small business owners across Maine.

    From an interview  with Torie DeLisle of Van Lloyd’s Bistro in Damariscotta about her restaurant, which she founded in 2015 with her husband August and father-in-law Bernie. Van LLoyd’s is one of more than 60 restaurants across the state that support the campaign to raise Maine’s minimum wage. In June, they participated in the Maine Small Business Coalition’s Fair Wage Restaurant Week.

    What is Van Lloyd’s Bistro?

    Van Lloyd’s is a full-service bistro and cocktail bar in Damariscotta. We see it as an experiment in real food. We believe in making everything from scratch, and allowing our culinary interests to take the menu to places that challenge and delight our diners with our variety and creativity.

    Why do you support the referendum to raise Maine’s minimum wage? Since you employee tipped servers, why do you support the effort to gradually phase out the subminimum wage for tipped employees?

    Because it’s the right thing to do. Commission-based mindsets often lead to negative and competitive work environments and encourage workers and owners to think about these job as disposable – not as a long-term position where employees are valued and fairly compensated.

    As small business owners, what do you see as your role in your community?

    To bring people together. As a restaurant, we want to be a place for people to gather and meet others in the community. It always makes us smile when we see separate groups of diners interacting, building connections they did not have before.

    I know you’ve been outspoken about the need for Americans to act to combat the effects of climate change. How does sustainability fit into your business model?

    I think I would have to say that food sustainability is hugely important to August and I personally, and to the business, and we support local organic growers because we want to encourage the sufficiency and sustainability of the region. Not only that, the quality is just so far superior you don’t have to disguise your ingredients by cooking them, you get to showcase their natural beauty. This Summer Van Lloyd’s is foraying into locally farmed sea-greens as a sustainable local product in several dishes.



  • Volunteer for 33rd Annual Maine Audubon Loon Count July 16

    Volunteers Take to the Lakes for 33rd Annual Maine Audubon Loon Count

    On Saturday, July 16, Maine Audubon will conduct its 33rd annual Loon Count. Over 900 Mainers have volunteered to survey lakes and ponds across the state, collecting valuable scientific data that informs and supports conservation efforts.

    This year’s count takes place between 7:00 and 7:30 a.m. Counters are assigned areas to count from shore or by boat, and regional coordinators will compile the results and send them to Maine Audubon for analysis.

    “Loons need lakes with clean, clear water and lots of fish, so they are good indicators of lake health,” said Susan Gallo, director of the Maine Loon Project. “A lake that’s good for loons is good or all kinds of other wildlife — and good for people, too.”

    “The annual count has helped build support for laws that keep our lakes and loons healthy, including regulations around lead free tackle, shoreline development, and invasive plants. It’s also been a great way to get people outside, learning about where loons are, where they nest, and how easy it is to share a lake with a loon family,” Gallo said.

    The 2015 Loon Count enlisted 850 volunteers to survey 290 Maine lakes and ponds. Despite the challenges posed by torrential rain that day, Maine Audubon calculated the loon population in the southern half of Maine to be 2,818 adult loons and 218 chicks. While this number is down about 10% for adults compared to the 2014 estimate, the long-term trend remains positive and the 2015 number is twice what the very first estimate of 1,416 adults was in 1984. The estimate for chicks has consistently gone up and down over the last 32 years, with the 2016 estimate falling just below the 32-year average of 267.

    The loon count is the centerpiece of Maine Audubon’s Maine Loon Project. Through the project, Maine Audubon actively engages people in conservation, educates the public about loon biology and conservation, and collects the scientific data needed to advocate for legislation that benefits loons and the lakes where they live.

    Lake visitors and boaters play an important role in letting loons thrive, by keeping boat speed down and by watching loons and their chicks from a distance.

    “Loon nests are very sensitive to changes in water levels,” said Gallo. “A heavy rainstorm, or wake from a boat going too fast too close to shore, can flood their nests, and eggs literally wash away. We’re coming into the busiest time of year on lakes, so it’s important for people to give loons room and follow Maine’s headway speed law when they are within 200 feet of shore.”

    This year, loon counters and others interested in loon conservation also have the opportunity to get involved with two new projects that have developed in partnership with Maine Audubon:

    • The Signs of the Seasons phenology program is looking for volunteers to monitor loons and their chicks throughout the summer.
    • The Maine Lakes Society has created a Loon Smart Award for homeowners enrolled in their Lake Smart program.

    Visit www.maineaudubon.org/loons for more information on these opportunities and how Mainers can help loons. You may also sign up for the 2017 loon count there.

    For more information about the Maine Loon Project or volunteering, please contact Susan Gallo at (207) 781-2330, ext. 216, or sgallo@maineaudubon.org.

  • Jackson Laboratory sees benefit in raising their minimum wage to $15 an hour




     The Jackson Laboratory has announced a major adjustment in its wage scales for close to 43 percent of its workforce. Nearly 800 employees will benefit from the raise. 

    With the exception of employees in their first six months of training, the lowest wage for full-time workers will now be $15 per hour. The total increase in payroll is expected to be $3.8 million annually.

     Affected employees come from nearly 60 towns around eastern Maine and Waldo County. They are frontline staff working in animal care and positions supporting the laboratory’s research, administration and operations. The average starting salary in many of the affected jobs had been between $10 and $11 per hour.

    “Jackson Laboratory has long recognized that employees are its greatest asset and is proud to be a leader in recognizing and rewarding hourly workers,” stated Chief Operating Officer Charles Hewitt. “This increase in wage scales rewards their improved productivity and increased contribution to the laboratory’s success. It reflects the laboratory’s understanding of the importance of these roles and both the board’s and management’s on-going commitment to reward the entire laboratory workforce fairly and appropriately.”

    According to Hewitt the laboratory is hoping that the increase in its wage scales will help ensure employee retention as well as assist in attracting and hiring committed new employees as the laboratory grows and prospers. Many other facilities across the US have put this model into motion, realizing retention is a huge benefit to company growth and having a stable happy workforce increases productivity.

    The ripple effect in communities where the labs employees live will palpably help local economies. “Business are recognizing that raising wages is in fact good for business,” said the Former Bangor Mayor and current Bangor City Councilor Joe Baldacci.

    The Jackson Laboratory received many grants funded by voter-approved bonds during the Baldacci administration, which allowed the non-profit research laboratory to expand and increase their research and development. After the initial Maine grants, federal awards followed.

    This November Mainers will be given a chance to increase the state’s minimum wage. The Mainers for Fair Wages citizens’ initiative would raise Maine’s minimum wage to $9 in 2017 and then by $1 a year until it reaches $12 by 2020. After that it would increase at the same rate as the cost of living. The initiative would also incrementally raise the tipped minimum wage, until it matches the minimum wage for all other workers by 2024.

    Maine’s current minimum wage is $7.50 compared to the federal minimum wage of $7.25. Governor John E. Baldacci was the last governor to increase it.

    The Economic Policy Institute estimates that gradually increasing the wage to $12 per hour would give over 120,000 Maine workers—more than a fifth of the state’s workforce—a raise.    

    Jackson Laboratory plans to shift all of its East Coast mouse production operations to the former Lowe’s building in Ellsworth by 2018. It is expected the Ellsworth facility will employ 230 workers, and three-quarters of those will be new hires with the rest relocating from working in Bar Harbor.

  • Ramona du Houx exhibits watercolor like images at Maine's SugarWood Gallery

    For the month of July the SugarWood Gallery, at 248 Broadway in Farmington, will feature the fine art photography of Ramona du Houx. The open house will be held on July 1st from 5pm-8pm, during Farmington’s First Friday Art Walk.

    Ramona du Houx creates fine art photography that looks like watercolor paintings evoking mystery and a sense of wonder. Some find them nostalgic and some mystical. Many have said the images have a healing nature.

    “I try to bring the beauty, magic and mystery of nature to viewers by amplifying nature’s essence,” said Ramona, a Solon resident.

    New work on display will include images of Maine’s Windjammer fleet under full sail.

    “Scientists, innovators, and inventors throughout history took the time to observe nature and her connective rhythms. But now society plugs us into the Internet, and while that can open doors, sometimes too much of being Internet-connected disconnects us from the mysteries of the natural world that are transformational. I want to help show how nature’s interconnectedness can lead us to discoveries about our world and ourselves,” said Ramona.

    Ramona uses the camera with a painter’s eye. The technique she discovered back in 1979, in New York, uses movement to create a sense of wonder through colors, textures, memories, and the seasons. Everything within the viewfinder becomes visibly interconnected when objects merge with the motion of the camera as the image, the “lightgraph,” is taken.

    The photographic watercolor technique is always a challenge. “I never know exactly what the results will be, that’s the exciting part of the creation,” said Ramona.

  • Penobscot River Restoration Project final milestone - reconnects river to the sea

    In June, 2016 federal, state, local, and tribal representatives, and project partners gathered in Howland, Maine, to mark and celebrate the completion of the last major milestone in the Penobscot River Restoration Project: the newly constructed fish bypass around the dam in Howland.

    “The Service is proud to have spent over a decade working with the partnership to creatively craft and create a better future for the Penobscot River, modeling how we should restore rivers across the globe,” said Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We have completed monumental construction projects, energy improvements, and other steps redefining how the Penobscot River serves fish, the people of Maine, and the Penobscot Indian Nation. This project has managed to do it all: restore vital habitat for fish and wildlife, support energy needs, and create new economic and recreational opportunities throughout the watershed.”

    Completion of this large stream-like channel will allow American shad, river herring, and Atlantic salmon to swim freely around the dam to and from important historic breeding, rearing, and nursery habitat for the first time in more than a century. The Howland fish bypass fulfills the Penobscot Project’s goal of significantly improving access to nearly 1,000 miles of Maine’s largest river for eleven species of native sea-run fish, while maintaining energy through increased hydropower generation at other dams in the watershed.

    (River reflection, photo by Ramona du Houx)

    The Penobscot Project is widely considered one of the largest, most innovative river restoration projects in the nation-

    “Construction of the Howland bypass is another milestone in efforts to restore Maine’s native sea-run fisheries in the Penobscot River,” said Patrick Keliher, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources. “Passage of anadromous fish species is critical to the health of our state’s marine and freshwater ecosystems. This project will not only provide access to hundreds of miles of critical habitat to Maine’s native sea-run fish, it will ensure continued opportunity for renewable power generation on the Penobscot River.”

    Four years ago, in June 2012, the Great Works Dam removal began, followed by the removal of the Veazie Dam at the head of tide in 2013. At the same time, dam owners built a fish elevator at the Milford Dam, now the only dam on the lower Penobscot.  Dam owners increased power generation at several other locations within the Penobscot watershed to maintain and even increase power generation. 

    Today, the river is on the rebound. This year, more than 1.7 million river herring have already passed above dams removed by the Penobscot Project – up from only several thousand before the Veazie Dam was removed. Fish are now swimming upriver past Howland and into the Piscataquis and through the Mattaceunk Dam on the Penobscot in Medway, and have been observed more than 90 miles upriver from Penobscot Bay. In addition, a record-breaking 2,700 shad passed by Milford this spring. In another exciting development, last week fisheries experts saw the first American shad in recent history passing the West Enfield dam.

    New community activities abound. The new national whitewater race, a 4-day event featuring activities from Old Town to Eddington, is entering its second year.  An annual alewife festival and children’s days has begun at Blackman Stream in Bradley, where more than 450,000 river herring swam up the stream this past month.

    “Construction of the Howland bypass is another milestone in efforts to restore Maine’s native sea-run fisheries in the Penobscot River,” said Patrick Keliher, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources. “Passage of anadromous fish species is critical to the health of our state’s marine and freshwater ecosystems. This project will not only provide access to hundreds of miles of critical habitat to Maine’s native sea-run fish, it will ensure continued opportunity for renewable power generation on the Penobscot River.”

    Dam owners, conservation groups, tribal, state, and federal agencies, and citizens, worked together for more than a decade to accomplish the Penobscot River Restoration Project, which better balances restoration of native sea-run fish with hydropower generation.

    “NOAA Fisheries congratulates the Penobscot River Restoration Trust on their completion of the nature-like bypass in Howland, and looks forward to the continued restoration of sea-run fish to the Penobscot River watershed,” says Dan Morris, Deputy Regional Administrator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Region. “The Trust, its member organizations, State of Maine, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and Penobscot Indian Nation have been wonderful partners in the Penobscot River Restoration Project over the years.”

    Restoring the Penobscot Indian Nation's river-

    The restored river provides many cultural, economic, and recreational opportunities from the Penobscot headwaters to the Gulf of Maine. As a result of the project, the river now better supports Penobscot Indian Nation tribal culture, renews traditional uses, provides major benefits to fish and wildlife, and increases business and regulatory certainty for dam owners.

    “The Penobscot River watershed is the ancestral home of the Penobscot Nation, and has sustained our tribal members since time immemorial,” said Kirk Francis, Chief of the Penobscot Nation. “The Penobscot River Restoration Project has allowed our tribe to continue our role as the original stewards of this great resource and we are proud to have been a part of a project that will benefit generations of all peoples well in to the future.”

    The Penobscot Project also demonstrates how diverse interests can work together to develop results-based approaches to fisheries restoration and hydropower basin-wide. This type of approach could serve as a model for other efforts around the world.

    Like the overall Penobscot Project, the Howland Bypass was funded through a combination of federal and private sources, with major funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Fish Passage Program.  The Howland Bypass design and construction team included Kleinschmidt, Inter-Fluve, Inc., Haley Aldrich, CES, Inc. and SumCo Eco-Contracting.

    The Penobscot River Restoration Trust is a nonprofit organization responsible for completing the core elements of the Penobscot Project. Members are the Penobscot Indian Nation, American Rivers, Atlantic Salmon Federation, Maine Audubon, Natural Resources Council of Maine, Trout Unlimited, and The Nature Conservancy. Other major partners include the State of Maine (Department of Marine Resources, Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife), Department of the Interior (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs), PPL Corporation, and Black Bear Hydro Partners LLC.     

     

  • New National Monument would bring real investment to rural Maine

     

     By Ramona du Houx

    Supporters of a new national monument administered by the National Park Service in the Katahdin region of Maine today faced down a lopsided Congressional field hearing, stacked with opponents of the proposal.

     “Our region needs help, not another rehash of the same old arguments against new investment,” said Gail Fanjoy, president of the Katahdin Region Chamber of Commerce. “A new national monument would bring new jobs to our communities and help to revitalize our economy, while also protecting outdoor recreational activities, such as snowmobiling and hunting. And this proposal includes a $40 million endowment to help pay for operations and maintenance.”

    The US House Natural Resources Committee field hearing, organized at the request of Rep. Bruce Poliquin, included only witnesses who oppose the creation of a national monument. No witnesses in support of the plan testified, and no Democrats from the committee attended. Nonetheless more than 45 supporters attended the meeting to show their support and to speak after the field hearing during public comment. Supporters from the region outnumbered opponents who spoke after the field hearing ended.

    “This wasn’t a hearing to learn about the proposal or to answer questions. It was a political stunt meant to capture headlines and give the false impression that the region opposes a new national monument,” said Matt Polstein, a local businessman and supporter of the national monument. “Support for the national monument continues to grow. This show trial is an embarrassment and nothing more than an effort to turn us into props in an attack on the president.”

    On May 16, more than 1,200 people attended a public forum in Orono organized by US Sen. Angus King. Supporters overwhelmingly outnumbered opponents of the national monument. During that forum, Jonathan Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, addressed directly every question asked by opponents of the national monument designation. 

    Congresswoman Chellie Pingree recently wrote President Barack Obama urging him to make the National Monument designation."I believe the case for the creation of a National Monument is strong and is supported by most people in the region and throughout the state," Pingree wrote.

    “For several years, I’ve spoken with hundreds of supporters and opponents in order to have an open conversation about the proposed national park. This has been an open, honest effort,” said Lucas St. Clair. “Rep. Poliquin has been uninterested in hearing the details and learning the facts. He has declined numerous invitations to visit the land in question, and he has ignored the very real concerns of many of his constituents. The economy in rural Maine is hurting. Rep. Poliquin doesn’t have the answers. Instead, he opposes, without a good reason, a plan to invest $100 million in the Katahdin region and create hundreds of jobs.”

    After significant media coverage about the lopsided nature of the hearing, Poliquin invited St. Clair to speak at the public input session and the Natural Resources Committee invited Polstein and St. Clair to testify at the hearing. All the invitations came after the initial list of witnesses was released.

    “This hearing is not a real examination of our community’s situation and the park proposal,” said Anita Mueller, a park supporter. “Our kids are leaving, mills are shuttered and housing prices collapsing. How can Congress be so blind?”

    St. Clair is the president of the board of Elliotsville Plantation, which is the non-profit foundation that has proposed donating 87,500 acres to create the new national monument in the Katahdin region. In addition to donating the land, the foundation will create a $40 million endowment to support ongoing operations and maintenance at the monument, which would be managed by the National Park Service.

    The proposal, which could be an interim step to the creation of a new national park and national recreation area in the Katahdin region, includes permanent protection for traditional outdoor activities and represents a $100 million investment in the Katahdin region.

    A recent independent study found that 10 of the national monuments designated by President Obama have generated more than $156 million in local economic activity annually, supporting more than 1,800 jobs. Between 2011 and 2015, more than 3.9 million people visited the newly designated monuments included in the study.

    The National Park Service reports that Acadia National Park attracted more than 2.5 million visitors in 2014, generating $271 million in local economic output and about 3,500 jobs. Visitation to Acadia increased to 2.8 million visitors in 2015.

    National Monuments have become National partks in the past, which would bring investment to the entire region, as they have done in other areas of the USA.

    For more information, visit: http://mainewoodsnationalmonument.org

  • Maine's Free Fishing Weekend is June 4 & 5

    The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is encouraging everyone to get out on Maine’s waters this weekend to take advantage of free fishing days.

    Free fishing weekend will take place on Saturday, June 4 and Sunday, June 5, when any person may fish for free without a license on Maine’s waterways, except those who have had their license suspended or revoked.

    All other rules and regulations, including bag and possession limits, apply.

  • Congresswoman Pingree urges President Obama to create national monument in Maine

    Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (photo right) wrote to President Obama today to urge him to create a national monument in northern Maine.

    "I am writing today to express my strong support for the creation of a national monument on land owned by Elliotsville Plantation here in Maine.  I believe the case for the creation of a National Monument is strong and is supported by most people in the region and throughout the state," Pingree wrote.

    In her letter, Pingree cited independent polling that shows strong support for a national park or national monument in Maine as well as a recent study that found substantial economic growth in regions where a national monument has been created.

    "I've heard directly and indirectly from business owners throughout my District who benefit from the visitors who travel to Acadia National Park.  Hotels and motels, outdoor recreation equipment dealers, restaurants and other businesses around the state benefit from the millions of visitors headed for Acadia, and I have no doubt the same would be true if a national monument were established in northern Maine," Pingree wrote.

    Full text of Pingree's letter to President Obama is below:

    Dear Mr. President:

    I am writing today to express my strong support for the creation of a national monument on land owned by Elliotsville Plantation here in Maine.  I believe the case for the creation of a national monument is strong and is supported by most people in the region and throughout the state.

     As you know, Senator King recently invited National Park Director Jon Jarvis to a series of meetings and a public hearing in Maine.  Director Jarvis heard a range of voices, differing viewpoints and some legitimate concerns.  Most of the Mainers who turned out at the public hearing supported a national monument designation, which is indicative of the proposal's support across our state.  In fact, according to one recent public survey conducted by an independent polling company, by a 3-to-1 margin Mainers support the creation of a national park from the Elliotsville Plantation.

    According to a recent independent study conducted for small businesses by BBC Research and Consulting, in ten communities in which a national monument has been created during your administration over 1,800 jobs are being supported by the increase in visitors to the area.  And I've heard directly and indirectly from business owners throughout my District who benefit from the visitors who travel to Acadia National Park.  Hotels and motels, outdoor recreation equipment dealers, restaurants and other businesses around the state benefit from the millions of visitors headed for Acadia, and I have no doubt the same would be true if a national monument were established in northern Maine.

    The private landowner who has agreed to donate the land to the American people and provide a $40 million endowment for its operation has made an unprecedented and generous offer.  And as National Park Service Director Jarvis found when he visited the region earlier this month, the flora, fauna and culture significance of the land clearly meet the criteria for creating a national monument with that land.

    In addition, the landowner's offer to donate additional land nearby where traditional recreation uses like hunting, fishing and snowmobiling can take place further ensures the public will be able to enjoy this part of our state in many ways.

    The creation of a national monument in northern Maine would bring economic benefit to our state, is supported by the large majority of our citizens and would permanently protect a unique and beautiful area for the public to use and enjoy.  I urge you to use the authority that Congress granted under the Antiquities Act to create a national monument in northern Maine.

    Sincerely,

    Chellie Pingree

    Member of Congress

  • USDA lowers cost to refinance rural housing loans in Maine and Nationwide

     USDA Rural Housing Service Administrator Tony Hernandez on May 16,2016 announced a series of changes that will make it faster and cheaper for homeowners to refinance USDA Rural Development mortgages.  

     “I am pleased that Maine families and individuals have this opportunity to refinance through USDA Rural Development, ultimately helping them to have more money in their pockets and more to save for the future,” said USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel. 

    Waterville, photo, is a rural Maine town. People living in this area will benfit from the loan changes.

    To date in Maine this Fiscal Year, USDA Rural Development has assisted 886 Maine families or individuals to become homeowners through its Single-Family Housing Guaranteed and Direct Loans, for a total investment of $128.2 million.

    USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel said, “I am pleased that Maine families and individuals have this opportunity to refinance through USDA Rural Development, ultimately helping them to have more money in their pockets and more to save for the future.”

    “These changes reaffirm the Obama Administration’s commitment to middle-class Americans, and I am pleased that we continue to provide affordable housing to support thriving economies in rural communities,” Hernandez said. “Helping homeowners refinance their homes to reduce their monthly payments and take advantage of low interest rates will bring increased capital to rural residents and the communities where they live and work.”

    USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel said, “I am pleased that Maine families and individuals have this opportunity to refinance through USDA Rural Development, ultimately helping them to have more money in their pockets and more to save for the future.”

    The changes take effect June 2, 2016 and apply to mortgages issued through USDA and those where USDA has issued a loan note guarantee.

       Homeowners current on their mortgages for the past 12 months will no longer be required to secure an appraisal, provide a credit report or undergo a debt-to-income calculation when they refinance for a 30-year term. These changes will save time and money.

    USDA began testing these changes in a 2012 a pilot program that was later expanded to include 34 states and Puerto Rico. To date, nearly 9,500 homeowners have refinanced their mortgages. Some borrowers saved as much as $600 a month. The average savings is around $150 per month.   

    The streamlined rules are consistent with banking industry lending standards. These refinanced loans, like all USDA Rural Development housing loans, meet rigorous underwriting standards and are made only to qualified borrowers. The Department of Housing and Urban Development and Department of Veterans Affairs have similar programs for the Americans they serve.

    Interested homeowners with USDA loan guarantees should contact their lender about refinance procedures. Homeowners with USDA Direct loans should contact a USDA housing specialist.

    For additional details on these new changes, please see page 26461 of the May 3 Federal Register. To learn more about USDA housing programs, please contact a housing specialist at your nearest USDA Rural Development office. A list of State offices is available at:  http://www.rd.usda.gov/contact-us/state-offices.

    Since 2009, USDA Rural Development nationwide (#USDARD) has helped 1.1 million rural residents buy homes; invested $11 billion to start or expand 103,000 rural businesses; funded nearly 7,000 community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care facilities; financed 185,000 miles of electric transmission and distribution lines; and helped bring high-speed Internet access to nearly 6 million rural residents and businesses. For more information, visit www.usda.gov/results.

         USDA Rural Development has Area Offices located in Presque Isle, Bangor, Lewiston, and Scarborough, as well as a State Office, located in Bangor.

  • Belfast, Maine to receive $400,000 grant from the U.S. EPA for Brownfields Assessment Program

    The Belfast Shipyard has transformed the waterfront bringing needed economic development. The former site used to be a chicken factory, photo by Ramona du Houx

     

    The City of Belfast learned that it was recently selected to receive a $400,000 Brownfields Assessment grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which will be used to continue the City of Belfast Brownfields Assessment Program. 

    In all Maine will receive $7,340,000 from the Environmental Protection Agency Brownfield Program to assess and cleanup polluted properties throughout the state.

    “Brownfield grants have been absolutely critical in helping Maine communities move forward by cleaning up sites contaminated by former industrial uses so they can be redeveloped. Both directly and indirectly, they have created and supported many jobs throughout the state,” said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. “I’m very glad that these communities will receive funds to boost economic development and protect environmental health.”

    Under this program, owners, developers, and/or prospective purchasers of ‘brownfield’ properties - commercial and industrial properties in Belfast that have redevelopment potential, but which are currently vacant or underutilized due to known or perceived contamination from petroleum or other potential hazardous materials, can receive an environmental assessment and/or cleanup plan for that property, in order to provide environmental due diligence in support of bank financing, to document the environmental liabilities and associated cleanup costs, to help revitalize these properties, and/or to protect the environment and public health. 

    The City of Belfast Brownfields Assessment Program is a voluntary program, and the services are provided at no charge; however the information and reports that are generated by this program become available to the general public.  Owners, purchasers, and/or developers submit a brief application to the City’s Brownfields Selection Committee, who selects the brownfields to be assessed under this program.  

    The City’s program, launched at the beginning of 2012, has already resulted in the assessment of 19 brownfield sites, including ones where the assessments have been followed by environmental cleanup, such as the Old Waldo County Jail, the City-owned parcel located at 45 Front Street (known formerly as the Maskers’ Theater property), and 12-28 Washington Street.  To date, the City of Belfast has received a total of $1.0 million in brownfields assessment funding, with grants being previously awarded in both 2011 and in 2013. 

    The City plans to begin outreach and promotion for their program over the next few months, to find new sites to enroll and assess.  

    Persons with interest in the City’s Brownfields Assessment Program are encouraged to contact Thomas Kittredge, Economic Development Director, at (207) 338-3370, extension 16, or via e-mail at economicdevelopment@cityofbelfast.org, where they can have confidential, no-obligation discussions regarding the program and their site(s).  Information about the City of Belfast Brownfields Assessment Program can also be found at www.cityofbelfast.org/brownfields.

    EPA's Brownfields Program is designed to empower states, communities, and other stakeholders in economic redevelopment to work together in a timely manner to prevent, assess, safely clean up, and sustainably reuse brownfields. 

     

  • Over 1,200 come together for National Monument meeting in Orono, Maine

     Wearing pro-national monument T-shirts, hats and stickers, hundreds of supporters of a proposal to create a new national monument in Maine packed the Collins Center at the University of Maine for a public input session.

    US Sen. Angus King hosted the meeting, which included National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis, who came Maine to learn more about the proposed national monument and to hear from Mainers.

    Some supporters of the Monument designation rode buses from Portland and Augusta to the meeting. They said that the area would finally put on an international stage, draw thousands of tourists and create more jobs in a Katahdin region that needs them.

    “We’re deeply gratified by the hundreds of people who came to Orono to offer their support for the proposal to create a new national monument,” said Lucas St. Clair, the president of Elliotsville Plantation. “It was great to see so many faces from the Katahdin region in the crowd and to see new faces from every corner of Maine speak in favor of the idea.”

    The proposal, which could be an interim step to the creation of a new national park and national recreation area in the Katahdin region, includes permanent protection for traditional outdoor activities and represents a $100 million investment in the Katahdin region.

    “It is printing money. It is bringing economic development, jobs and money to this region,” said Bangor City Council Chairman Sean Faircloth. He cited three national monuments across the U.S. that had created more than 1,500 jobs. He said placing the monument designation on the 87,500-acre Quimby parcel east of Baxter State Park would create “a tremendous economic boon.”

    A recent independent study found that 10 of the national monuments designated by President Obama have generated more than $156 million in local economic activity annually, supporting more than 1,800 jobs. Between 2011 and 2015, more than 3.9 million people visited the newly designated monuments included in the study.

    The National Park Service reports that Acadia National Park attracted more than 2.5 million visitors in 2014, generating $271 million in local economic output and about 3,500 jobs. Visitation to Acadia increased to 2.8 million visitors in 2015.

    For more information, visit: http://mainewoodsnationalmonument.org

    Attendance at the event was estimated at more than 1,200 people, with the vast majority in support of the national monument designation.

    Elliotsville Plantation the non-profit foundation that has proposed donating 87,500 acres to create the new national monument in the Katahdin region. In addition, the foundation will create a $40 million endowment to support ongoing operations and maintenance at the monument, which would be managed by the National Park Service.

  • U.S. Reps. Pingree, Wittman introduce bipartisan legislation to protect working waterfronts

    Working Waterfront in Harpswell, Maine. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Representatives Chellie Pingree (ME-01) and Rob Wittman (VA-01) are introducing bipartisan legislation today to protect the kind of waterfront access and infrastructure that many businesses—and thousands of jobs—depend on in Maine, Virginia, and in communities all over the country.

    “The importance of Maine’s coastline to our state’s economy can’t be understated.  It’s not only the reason millions of people visit our state every year, but many industries—like fishing, boat yards, and aquaculture—simply can’t operate without it,” said Pingree.  “Development pressures mean that we’ve lost an enormous amount of working waterfront in recent decades. To ensure the future of these critical industries, Maine and other coastal states need tools to protect waterfront access and infrastructure.  And that’s what our bill aims to do.”

    "Deteriorating waterfronts don’t just hurt our economy, they hurt our communities," said Wittman.  "These waterfronts support businesses, provide access to water, vitalize the economy, and improve quality of life for folks all over the country. Unfortunately, pressure from population growth and development threaten to destroy Virginia’s many water-dependent industries and displace families that have deep cultural ties to the area. This legislation will protect communities along our coasts by supporting maritime industry, protecting vital jobs, and preserving our natural resources."

    Pingree and Wittman's bill, the Keep America’s Waterfronts Working Act, would establish a Working Waterfront Grant Program that would provide matching, competitive grants to coastal states.  The grants would go toward preserving and expanding access to coastal waters for commercial fishing, recreational guiding, aquaculture, boat building, and other water-dependent businesses.

    Working waterfront in Portland, Maine. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    The bill would also create a Working Waterfront Task Force at the Department of the Interior.  The task force would identify and prioritize critical working waterfront needs with respect to their cultural and economic importance, climate change and other environmental threats, and market conditions for water-dependent businesses.  It would also identify working waterfronts within communities.

    “Strong working waterfronts are critical to the future of Maine's fishing communities and marine economy. Maine has less than 20 miles of working waterfront along our 3,500-mile coastline,” said Nick Battista, Marine Programs Director at the Island Institute. “In Maine, we have worked hard to ensure people can continue to make a living off of the water but we cannot do it alone. It’s essential that our federal agencies better incorporate the needs of our nation’s working waterfronts into their decision-making processes.”

    According to the National Working Waterfront Network, working waterfronts support over 3.4 percent of the country’s total GDP, but there is no federal agency or program designed to help businesses, communities, and states protect these places. 

    “Once a working waterfront gets converted to another use, it’s very difficult to get it back. That means our coastlines can sustain fewer jobs both directly and indirectly,” Pingree said.  “I don’t think the loss of our working waterfronts has been a high enough federal priority.  The government needs a more coordinated response and to support states that want to protect the working waterfronts they still have and expand where possible.” 

  • Maine air quality improved but still high levels of ozone pollution

    Bangor (above) was named one of four cleanest cities in the Northeast in the Lung Association’s 2016 State of the AirReport. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    By Ramona du Houx

    Air quality in Maine and around the country is improving, according to the American Lung Association’s 17th annual State of the Air report released today, and Bangor was ranked as one of the four cleanest cities in the Northeast.  But despite the trend, high ozone levels continue to plague many counties in Maine, especially in southern and coastal regions.  York County received a grade of “F” for ozone pollution and Cumberland County received a “D”.  Knox and Hancock both received a grade of “C” for ozone pollution.  The town of York, a popular beach town in the summer, had the unhealthiest air in region, according to the national study. 

    “We are very happy for Bangor and to be seeing healthier air overall,” said Jeff Seyler, President & CEO of the American Lung Association of the Northeast.  “This is what happens when the Clean Air Act is allowed to work as intended, cleaning up smokestacks and tailpipes in order to make our air healthier.  But it’s not all good news, especially if you live in southern or coastal Maine, where unhealthy ozone levels persist and can lead to asthma attacks, reduced lung function, and expensive hospital admissions.”

    Each year the State of the Air report looks at the two most widespread types of pollution - ozone and particle pollution.  Ozone, which is also known as smog, is created in the atmosphere by the reaction of warm air and sunlight on emissions from vehicles and other pollution sources.  When ozone is inhaled, it irritates the lungs and can cause immediate health problems including wheezing, coughing, asthma attacks and even premature death.  The impacts of ozone pollution are sometimes compared to a “sunburn on the lungs”.

    “Air pollution doesn’t respect state borders and the health effects can be very dangerous,” stated Dr. Marguerite Pennoyer, an allergist and immunologist from Scarborough.  “Children, the elderly, and people with lung or heart disease are most at risk, but even healthy adults who work or exercise outdoors can be harmed.  Maine already has one of the highest asthma rates in the nation.  Couple that with the ever-growing impacts of climate change, and you’ve got a recipe for expensive health problems for generations to come.”

    Particle pollution, called fine particulate matter or soot, is a mixture of very tiny solid and liquid particles which come directly from car exhaust, wood fires, coal burning power plants and other smokestacks.  The body's natural defenses, coughing and sneezing, can fail to keep these microscopic particles from burrowing deep within the lungs.  Particle pollution can trigger asthma and heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer, and early death.

    “I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone,” said Jeanette MacNeille, a Topsham (photo above) resident with asthma.  "I have had hundreds of severe asthma episodes, and each comes with the unstoppable terror from being unable to breathe. There is nothing more important than cleaning up our air so that Maine children and adults don’t have to face asthma attacks so often in the future."

    The State of the Air report covers data collected in 2012, 2013 and 2014, and analyzes particle pollution in two ways - through average annual particle pollution levels and short-term spikes in particle pollution. Nationwide, the best progress in this year’s report came in reducing year-round levels of particle pollution. In Maine, year-round particle pollution levels were similar to those in the 2015 report, with all counties with particulate monitors receiving either an “A” or a “B” grade.  These same counties did not see any spikes in short-term particle pollution that reached unhealthy levels.

    “Here in Maine we are on the receiving end of pollution from states to the south and west of us,” said Tyler St. Clair, Healthy Air Coordinator for the American Lung Association in Maine.  “We depend on our neighbors to keep our air healthy.  That’s why we need strong national ozone standards and common sense limits on carbon pollution from power plants.  Maine’s Congressional delegation must push back against the relentless efforts of polluters to weaken or dismantle the Clean Air Act.  We need to make the same progress on ozone pollution that we’ve made on soot particles. Maine kids shouldn’t have to wait one more day for healthier air.”

    York County, home to almost 200,000 people, had 14 days of unhealthy ozone levels in the three-year reporting period.  Cumberland County, with a population of 285,000, followed with nine unhealthy ozone days, while Knox County had five and Hancock County had four unhealthy days.

    “Ozone is harmful to public health and especially children, older adults and those with asthma and other lung diseases,” added Pennoyer.  “When older adults or children with asthma breathe ozone-polluted air, too often they end up in the doctor’s office, the hospital or the emergency room.” 

    Nationwide, ozone pollution has decreased because of efforts to clean up major sources of the emissions that create ozone, especially coal-fired power plants and vehicles.  But counter-balancing this reduction in emissions is the growing impact of climate change, which brings warmer temperatures worldwide that lead to the creation of more ozone pollution.

    “The impacts of climate change on our health and our economy cannot be ignored,” stated Julie Osgood, Senior Director of Operations at MaineHealth.  “Warmer temperatures create a breeding ground for ozone and are amplifying the amount of air pollution and natural allergens we are forced to breathe.  These are costly outcomes that affect children’s learning and workers’ productivity.  That’s why it’s so important to reduce carbon pollution from power plants, put protective ozone standards into use, and ensure that health protections under the Clean Air Act remain effective and enforced.”

     

  • Maine's proposed $3 Million Bond to Study Ocean Acidification still under consideration by lawmakers

    A short animation about the potential impact of ocean acidification on sea life in the Gulf of Maine. Produced with support from Maine Sea Grant, Dalhousie University, MEOPAR (Marine Environmental Observation Prediction and Response Network), NERACOOS (The Northeastern Regional Association of Coastal Ocean Observing Systems) and NECAN (Northeast Coastal Acidification Network). 

    By Ramona du Houx 

    The Maine Legislature is still considering a bond proposal aimed at addressing ocean acidification (OA) in the Gulf of Maine. LD 998, sponsored by Rep. Wayne Parry (R-Arundel) and Rep. Mick Devin (D-Newcastle), would ask voters to approve a bond to borrow $3 million to be used to collect data, monitor waterways and test ocean acidity along the Maine coast and study its impact on wildlife and commercial shellfish species. 

    “Maine faces a tremendous, fast-evolving environmental challenge,” said Sebastian Belle, executive director of the Maine Aquaculture Association and member of FocusMaine, in testimony last June. “The implications of ocean acidification are only beginning to be understood, but one thing is clear, unless we have the tools to accurately monitor ocean acidification trends, we will be unable to react in terms of management and policy decisions.”

    There is virtual consensus among scientists that about a quarter of the carbon dioxide emitted from fossil fuels and deforestation ends up in the oceans. “There is no argument about this. This is really simple high school chemistry,” said University of New Hampshire OA expert Joe Salisbury.

    As the C02 gets absorbed into the ocean it reacts with seawater to form corrosive carbonic acid, which reduces the alkalinity of the water and inhibits the formation of the molecule calcium carbonate. Maine's hallmark shellfish like clams, lobsters, mussels, shrimp, scallops, oysters and sea urchins use calcium carbonate as the building blocks to form their shells. With fewer calcium carbonate molecules, they have to spend more energy for shell production, which hinders their ability to grow. If the water gets too acidic, it can even dissolve shells. 

    This could devastate Maine's shellfish industry which is a huge part of the state's tourism industry.

    Under ordinary circumstances, the ocean can naturally buffer excess C02. But ever since the Industrial Revolution, humans have emitted so much carbon dioxide into the air and water that chemical changes are happening much faster than at any time during the past 200,000 years.

    The Gulf of Maine's uniqueness also unveils it's inherent weakness to the effects of rapid OA.

    "The northwestern Atlantic, where we live, is particularly sensitive to OA, and it could change really quickly based on water mass changes and we really need to know a lot more,” said Salisbury.

    The Gulf of Maine is particularly susceptible to acidification because it receives so much fresh water from the region’s many large rivers, as well as cold, fresh water from the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and snow and ice melt from the Arctic via the Labrador Current. While the region’s complex flow of water delivers some of the best shell fish on the planet the flow also compounds the acidifying effect because carbon dioxide is more soluble in cold water and fresh water has lower concentrations of carbonate and calcium ions. 

    If the saturation state of calcium carbonate, which is typically 2-5 in the global ocean, goes below 1.6, it can have a detrimental effect on shellfish, especially during their larval stages. 

    “Hatcheries are definitely the canaries in the coal mine,” said Bill Mook, who owns Mook Sea Farm in Walpole. “The window of conditions that are going to be sufficient for natural bivalve larvae is going to continue to close and you’re going to see less predictable recruitment. And that’s what you’re seeing in a lot of places.” 

    Mook hopes Maine law makers will be able to take a proactive approach to the problem and look at how OA impacts the entire Gulf of Maine ecosystem rather than just individual species.

    “We need to demand that the government spends more money in establishing monitoring systems and doing the thoughtful, correct research that’s going to provide businesses like mine with enough information so that we can do a little more planning and come up with strategies to cope with all of this. We can’t avert crises if we don’t know about them and information is really key to our survival.”

  • Gov. LePage said he will not release voter approved bonds for needed housing

    By Ramona du Houx 

    At a town hall meeting in Orono on April 6,2016 Governor Paul LePage stated that, as long as he is governor, he will not release the Housing Bond funds.

    “AARP Maine is deeply disappointed by the Governor’s statement especially given the thousands of Maine seniors who need affordable housing,” stated Lori Parham, AARP Maine State Director.  “At-risk Mainers cannot afford to wait. AARP Maine will continue to work with housing advocates, contractors and developers to ensure Maine people have the housing they need.  We urge the Governor to reconsider his position.” 

    At the Orono town hall meeting, the Governor raised concern that the bonds will only mean profit for developers in Maine. The truth is the bond dollars are to be specifically allocated by the Maine State Housing Authority (MSHA) and will benifit Mainers who need homes and the communities in which they will be built. These bonds also represent good paying jobs for construction workers.

    The $15 million bond was approved by 69 percent of Maine voters last November, but no progress has been made toward implementing it. In July of last year, the Governor attempted to veto the senior affordable housing bond, LD 1205, but he failed. 

    MSHA has an established process to request proposals to build affordable housing throughout Maine. They have received and spent bond funds on affordable housing, including senior projects, numerous times in the past.

    A number of senior projects throughout Maine, including those in Washington County and Waterville, are prepared to submit proposals as soon as MSHA requests them. On February 16th, the MSHA Board sent a letter to the Governor stating in part, "Before we encourage developers to invest their time and money and before we obligate staff resources to this project, it would be helpful to know if and when you plan to approve the bonds." 

    The Housing Bond will begin to enable more Mainers to age in place by building new, affordable homes for older Mainers and dedicating funds to home repair and weatherization of existing homes, some of the oldest in the country.  Right now, 37 percent of those aged 80 and over in Maine pay more than 30 percent of income for housing.

    “Survey after survey shows us that Mainers want to safely age in place, in their own homes and communities,” said Parham.  “The Housing Bond was a bipartisan measure with overwhelming support first from the legislature and then from Maine voters on Election Day.  Contractors and builders are ready to start construction of these homes which represent only a fraction of those that are needed.  Maine cannot afford to wait any longer.”

    For an overall in depth report on the Housing Bond please go HERE.

  • LePage’s damaging attacks on Maine’s most needy must be stopped

    In his budget proposal last year, Gov. Paul LePage sought sweeping cuts to services for people with mental illness, children with autism and health care for seniors. He fought tooth and nail for his harmful agenda and the Legislature had to override his budget veto to finally stop him.

    This year the governor hasn’t submitted a budget, but that hasn’t stopped his attacks on people with disabilities. Instead of using the budget as a weapon, the governor is using his broad executive powers against vulnerable Mainers. The Maine Legislature needs to stop him again.

    The year started with the governor’s attempt to slash services for adults with intellectual disabilities. These are people who in the past would have lived their entire lives in institutions but now live at home with appropriate support. The governor proposed a new “one size fits all” assessment that would have dramatically reduced care for these people and left them at risk. There was public outcry against these devastating cuts but the governor and Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew refused to listen and stubbornly plowed ahead. Undeterred, over 1,300 affected citizens, their families and their supporters took the extraordinary step of formally petitioning the Legislature to stop the new rules. All seven Democrats on the Health and Human Services Committee, along with two of our Republican colleagues, agreed to intervene. In the face of this public outrage, the governor and Commissioner Mayhew finally retreated from their plan.

    Did the governor and commissioner learn any lessons? Did they get the message that Mainers will not tolerate cuts that put our vulnerable neighbors at risk? Apparently not. Just last week DHHS told over 24,000 Mainers with serious mental illness that they may see their services cut in April. These services support people struggling to stay in their homes and avoid more costly hospitalization and residential services. We heard from people like Alaina, who has major depression and PTSD. Without services, Alaina isolates herself at home and cannot even leave without suffering from panic attacks. And Courtney, whose depression is so severe that she can’t get out to appointments or reliably pay her bills. When these frightened Mainers called DHHS, they received an automated message instructing them to contact their mental health provider. Mental health providers, however, had no warning that thousands of clients would be receiving these upsetting notices.

    DHHS is telling Mainers they might be able to get care in other programs. But DHHS told providers last week that it is planning a huge rate cut for those services. These programs already have waitlists. DHHS must know that providers can’t absorb proposed cuts of 25 to 48 percent. DHHS argues that members might be able to get services through its new “behavioral health home” program. However, this program is so new that access to services provided by the program are limited and some parts of Maine have no behavioral health homes at all. Further, the funding provided to run these services is so low that people will receive a greatly reduced level of services if they can get any at all.

    It doesn’t stop there. Just last week, DHHS also announced that it was moving ahead with a plan that will result in the closure of four out of Maine’s 12 mental health peer centers. Peer centers are a critical community resource for people struggling with mental illness. They are a valuable lifeline that help people avoid isolation and loneliness. Peer centers help people who have worked their whole lives to remain in the community and stay out of institutions.

    It is impossible to understand the reasoning behind the LePage administration’s relentless attacks on Maine’s mental health system. Five years of mismanagement at Riverview Psychiatric Center has left patients and staff at serious risk and put the taxpayers on the hook for $60 million in costs because DHHS can’t meet minimum federal standards. Now the governor has focused his attention on dismantling of outpatient services that are essential to helping people with mental illness achieve wellness and avoid hospitalization.

    Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, is serving his second term in the Maine House of Representatives, representing District 34, which encompasses part of Westbrook. He is House chair of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee.

  • Maine’s welfare policies, since LePage, have had dire consequences for kids

    Changes in public policy motivated by politics, not facts, have been disastrous for Maine children.

    Since Congress passed “welfare reform” 20 years ago, it has become increasingly clear that many of these so-called reforms have failed, leaving many parents and children in deeper poverty without sustainable employment.

    Many of these policies simply were not based in the realities of people’s lives and ignore the economic environment people are living in. They are unsupported by social science research or evidence and have left far too many families and children behind.

    Today, we see increasing levels of severe poverty — for example, the doubling of the number of people living on less than $2 per day — and thousands of single parents working in low-wage jobs with little hope for the future. They’re working, but they still can’t support their families and often must leave their children with inadequate care.

    For a while, Maine was able to buck this trend and be a national leader. Twenty years ago, with unanimous agreement on both sides of the aisle, policymakers increased opportunity for poor families through innovative programs such as Parents as Scholars, which sent thousands of low-income parents to college. 

    They increased stability for low-income working parents with important transitional services such as health care and child care.

    Today, we are crashing toward the bottom of states, as more children and their parents go without health insurance, a place to live or enough to eat.

    Five years ago, Maine changed direction. Our state took a highly politicized turn in its policy making around poverty and welfare. This change has had dire consequences for some of Maine’s most vulnerable children and families and, ultimately, for the whole state.

    While other parts of the country have shown improvement in fighting poverty and hunger, Maine has seen an increase in deep child poverty, growing numbers of uninsured children and parents, and more and more households facing food insecurity.

    Between 2010 and 2014, Maine had the sharpest increase (50 percent) of any state in the country in the number of children living in extreme poverty — or less than half the federal poverty line, about $10,000 for a family of three. Growing up in extreme poverty has life­long consequences for individuals and their communities, including poor school attendance, increased contact with the criminal justice system and a weaker connection to the labor market.

    Among families with children eligible for TANF, only half as many (31 percent) received the help they needed from that program as did those in 2010 (60 percent). A study we conducted on the consequences of families losing assistance because of the state’s strict five-year time limit revealed harsh consequences for families, including increased hunger and homelessness, often leading to family separation. Maine ranks in the worst third of all states in the country in terms of children living apart from their families.

    Since the 2010 Affordable Care Act, every state in the country except Maine has seen an increase in the percentage of people with health insurance. This is a direct result of Maine refusing federal dollars to expand Medicaid, something that was prescribed in the historic health reform law as a method for increasing health insurance coverage. Maine is the only state that has had a statistically significant increase in the number of children without health insurance between 2010 and 2014.

    Maine families also are experiencing increased hunger. While food insecurity has declined in the rest of the nation as a whole, the percentage of people in Maine who face food insecurity increased from 2009 to 2014. Maine has the third highest ranking in the United States for very low food security and the highest rate of child food insecurity in New England.

    These trends are dire and very troubling. They are a direct consequence of policy decisions based on ideologies that withhold opportunity instead of promoting it. They are creating untold hardships for the poorest children in our state; hardships that will result in lifelong consequences, and as such do not bode well for their or our futures.

    It is imperative that we turn these frightening trends around so we do not ruin the lives of a large segment of the next generation of Mainers.

    If we don’t change course, the damage will seep into every part of our state, undermining our workforce, our schools and our communities.

    Sandy Butler is professor of social work and is the graduate program coordinator in the School of Social Work at the University of Maine. Luisa S. Deprez is professor emerita of sociology and women and gender studies at the University of Southern Maine. First appeared in the BDN

  • Index highlights LePage administration’s failure to provide for rural Mainers

    by 


    A recent study by the Economic Innovation Group (EIG) reveals that 52,000 Mainers live in distressed communities and demonstrates the extent of the LePage administration’s failed economic policies in the wake of the Great Recession.

    For a project called The Distressed Communities IndexEIG identified the zip codes with the greatest levels of economic distress using a series of economic indicators. The indicators, which were measured in 2013, include: education levels, housing occupancy, labor force participation rate, poverty rate, ratio of median income to the statewide median, the change in employment since 2010, and the change in number of businesses since 2010. These indicators show long-term, structural economic problems.

    In one respect, Maine fares better than most states. Only 4 percent of its population lives in zip codes with more than 500 people identified as “distressed” by the study—that ranks Maine 40th out of 50 states and Washington, DC.

    Still, approximately 52,000 Maine people live in distressed communities. The disparity between Maine’s most and least distressed communities is striking and represent two different narratives of economic recovery since the Great Recession.

    Most Distressed: 04774 (St. Francis)

    Maine Average

    Least Distressed: 04021 (Cumberland)

    No High School Degree 23% 9% 2%
    Housing Vacancy Rate 10% 7% 0%
    Adults Not Working 65% 41% 31%
    Poverty Rate 21% 14% 2%
    Median Income vs. State Median 51% 100% 194%
    Change in Employment, 2010-13 -11.8% 1.3% 48.7%
    Change in Businesses, 2010-13 -3.6% -0.8% 15.1%
    Distress Score (out of 100) 95.6 0.0

    St. Francis, Maine’s most distressed community by zip code, has twice the proportion of its adult population not working compared to Cumberland. This is partly because the population of St. Francis is older (in 2013, it had a median age of 53.9, compared to 45.0 for Cumberland), which is itself a symptom of economic distress. But other indicators affirm the disparity between these two communities. The median income in St. Francis is almost one quarter what it is in Cumberland, and half the statewide average. St. Francis has lost jobs and businesses while Cumberland has seen significant increases in these indicators.

    The general disparity between Maine’s southern and coastal communities and the rural areas inland and Down East has been a growing concern for policymakers and has only gotten worse since the recession. While many in Southern Maine have seen jobs and incomes return to pre-recession levels, those in other areas are still hurting desperately.  Statewide economic statistics that show Maine (slowly) emerging from the worst of the downturn mask this divergence.

    Against this backdrop, it is instructive to evaluate LePage administration policies. Time and again, the administration has undercut programs and investments that could buffer rural Mainers from the continued impacts of the recession and leave them better positioned to seize emergent opportunities. Refusal to accept federal funds to provide health care access to tens of thousands of Mainers has a disproportionate impact on rural Mainers and undercuts jobs. The administration’s refusal to apply for a federal waiver last year to make nutrition assistance more widely available also hits rural residents hardest.

    In fact, the most distressed communities based on EIG’s analysis are the same communities that stand to gain the most from Medicaid expansion and supplemental nutrition assistance. Beyond these programs, policies that cut income and estate taxes reduce state funding for schools and local services and are a step in the wrong direction. They ultimately trigger property tax increases for residents in communities with little capacity to absorb such cost shifts and are a recipe for increasing inequality.

  • We should be concerned over Poland Spring's contract with Fryeburg Water Co.

    First appeared in the BDN
    The recent Maine Supreme Judicial Court oral arguments regarding the contract between the Fryeburg Water Co., a small water company, and Poland Spring, as part of the Nestle corporation, has spurred information in the media that we believe is alarmist and inaccurate.

    As water utility providers in Maine, we are not concerned or alarmed by the contract between the water system in Fryeburg and a large customer. Here’s why:

    — There are Maine laws and regulations already in place that protect Maine’s natural water resources, including the use of groundwater, that ensure the long-term viability and sustainability of Maine’s water.

    — Maine is water rich, and with 24 trillion gallons of water falling on the state each and every year, our water resources are recharged at least annually, including the groundwater and aquifers. The amount of groundwater used by water utilities and water bottlers each year is less than 1 percent of the entire annual recharge of the groundwater.

    — Many Maine water utilities have contracts in place with large water users, including breweries, carbonated drink manufacturers, ice manufacturers and distributors and water bottlers, which provide an important source of revenue that lower and stabilize water rates for all customers.

    — Maine has many wonderful, renewable natural resources that are exported each year, and each promotes the beauty and pristine nature of our state. Our long and successful history of exporting trees, blueberries, lobsters, potatoes and water are a source of pride, as well as an economic benefit.

    As Maine water utility professionals, we are stewards of Maine’s water resources, and we have a mission of providing safe and adequate drinking water to our customers each and every day. We know our service is essential to life, and we are fortunate to have an abundant source of water. We believe strongly that the contract between Fryeburg Water and Poland Spring is consistent with this mission with no detrimental impact on the environment and our water resources.

    Finally, we are proud that what we do each day in providing clean drinking water to our customers is complemented and promoted with the export of this same pristine natural resource outside the state. The water bottlers in Maine, including Poland Spring, endorse the value of drinking just good ol’ water and in doing so endorse Maine.

  • Baldacci Brother’s to host spaghetti dinner to help displaced workers and their families

    Gov. John Baldacci serving spaghetti at one of his benefit spaghetti dinners. photo by Ramona du Houx 

     By Ramona du Houx

    Former Governor John Baldacci and Former Bangor Mayor and City Councilor Joe Baldacci will host a spaghetti supper to benefit the Good Neighbor Fuel Fund at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Jay on February 20th, from 4-6pm.

    Last fall, Verso Corporation laid off 300 workers — roughly a third of the workforce — at its Androscoggin Mill in Jay. The mill is the largest employer in the area.

    “These are our neighbors. They need us all to pull together and help them and their families. We need to keep public focus on the workers and their families who need help and real leadership,” said Former Bangor Mayor Joe Baldacci.

    The Good Neighbor Tri Town Emergency Heating Fund helps assist people living in the towns of Jay, Livermore and Livermore Falls, where most of the displaced workers live.  The Baldacci’s are working with Debra Kendall of The Good Neighbor non-profit.

    Tickets for the Spaghetti Dinner are on sale at Otis Credit Union (9am-4:30pm) at $10 for adults and $6 for children.

    The Baldacci brothers will be cooking the spaghetti sauce from their family’s secret recipe that became famous at Momma Baldacci’s, the former family restaurant of Bangor. The two-term governor, along with his brother will be serving the meal.

    Gov. Baldacci with his brother Joe, making spaghetti from their family's secret sauce. Photo Jeff Kirlin

    “It’s a hard time for these workers, and their families,” said Gov. John Baldacci. “Helping those in need is second nature for the people of Maine. Our dinners have become a family tradition, one where we’re proud to help out when and where we can. Maine truly is one big family.”

    This January Verso Corp. filed for bankruptcy, as part of the Corporation’s continued restructuring. With the fate of the Jay mill uncertain, the fate of 565 workers and their families hangs in the balance.

    The Androscoggin Mill opened in 1965 and operated five paper machines; working at the mill soon became a proud tradition for many generations.

    For years the Baldacci family ran an Italian restaurant in Bangor. Its last incarnation was Momma Baldacci’s and it became a meeting place known for its food, conversation, and community atmosphere. To highlight and help issues in the community and around the sate the Baldacci’s started charity spaghetti dinners. 

    John Baldacci’s as a congressman, governor and former governor has continued to hold the dinners for communities and causes in need. Former Bangor Mayor and City Councilor Joe Baldacci has taken up the torch, and started spaghetti suppers to promote the minimum wage issue last fall. Together the Baldacci brothers will host the event in Jay.

  • Energy efficiency projects funded by RGGI save Maine hospitals thousands- so they can better serve communities

    “The Aroostook Medical Center is committed to providing high quality healthcare at a reasonable cost, all while being good stewards of our environment,” said Timothy M. Doak, Facility Engineer, The Aroostook Medical Center speaking. “Efficiency Maine, utilizing RGGI funds, has been a critical partner in that endeavor." 

    On February 16, 2016 leaders of major hospitals In Bangor, Aroostook County, and Mid-Coast Maine joined together with a top commercial building efficiency expert and the head of Maine’s leading environmental group to focus on the financial benefits of hospital energy efficiency improvements that have been funded by the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

    “The record shows the value of RGGI to our hospitals, to our efficiency businesses, and our environment is enormous,” said Lisa Pohlmann, Executive Director, Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Today we can see the real-world energy efficiency improvements, made possible with RGGI funds, delivering major benefits to the state.” 

    The super-efficient cogeneration plant that served as a backdrop for today’s press conference reduces the amount of natural gas EMMC burns to heat its facility, as well as the amount of electricity they need to buy. RGGI has helped to fund this kind of equipment at locations around the state, including Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor.

    “The Aroostook Medical Center is committed to providing high quality healthcare at a reasonable cost, all while being good stewards of our environment,” said Timothy M. Doak, Facility Engineer, The Aroostook Medical Center. “Efficiency Maine, utilizing RGGI funds, has been a critical partner in that endeavor.  Our most recent project alone is reducing our electrical costs by $89,000 annually, helping us to control health care costs while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This is just one example of how RGGI is benefiting Maine and Mainers.”

    The control room for an efficient boiler at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor demonstrated the importance of channeling RGGI funds to help hospitals and other commercial, industrial, and residential energy users invest in energy efficiency improvements. 

    “We believe that a healthy environment is critical to the health of our patients and families in our community,” said Helen McKinnon, RN, vice president, Support Services, Eastern Maine Medical Center. “Our partnerships with NRCM and Efficiency Maine have been critical to our success in enhancing our ongoing energy conservation and efficiency programs. Not only have these programs reduced our emissions and promoted a healthier environment, but they have decreased our energy costs and allowed us to focus more resources on direct patient care.”

    Not only can energy conservation reduce overall business expenses and harmful carbon pollution - it can also improve lighting conditions for a better workplace environment.

    “Our company works with hospitals and medical facilities throughout the entire state of Maine and in New Hampshire and Vermont. Our work has saved Maine hospitals millions of dollars in operating costs and substantially reduced climate-changing pollution, and we have been awarded multiple awards for energy conservation from Efficiency Maine. To continue this good work, it is extremely important that RGGI funding be available so these energy conservation projects can continue,” said Chris Green, President of Mechanical Services, a Maine corporation with over 100 employees and offices in Portland, Augusta, Bangor, and Presque Isle. 

    “Pen Bay Medical Center is committed to providing high quality, compassionate, patient-centered care to our friends and neighbors in the Midcoast,” said Louis Dinneen, Vice President of Engineering & Facilities at Pen Bay Medical Center. “We are grateful for the partnership of the Efficiency Maine Trust, whose support has allowed us to provide more reliable heating/cooling and brighter and more efficient lighting, all while significantly reducing our operating costs and overall environmental impact.”

    The importance of the Clean Power Plan - RGGI is a model

    The Clean Power Plan sets the first limits ever on carbon pollution from power plants. Power plants are the nation’s largest source of this pollution, generating 40 percent nationwide. The plan is constantly under attack from U.S. Senators in coal-producing states and their allies. The votes of Maine Senators Collins and King are crucial to preserving this much-needed plan.

    “RGGI is seen as a model for other states across the U.S., as they prepare to implement the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. Because of RGGI, Maine in a position to easily meet targets set in the Plan,” said Pohlmann.

     Independent economic analysis has revealed that RGGI has provided a net benefit to the economy of Maine and the region since it was started in 2008. Over the last three years alone, RGGI as added $122 million to the Maine State Gross Product as well as hundreds of jobs. (Analysis Group, 2015) The program has also caused a net reduction in energy costs of hundreds of millions of dollars and has dramatically lowered carbon pollution from power plants across the region. Today coal and oil provide a much lower portion of Maine’s electricity mix than they did at the start of RGGI.

    “RGGI is a shining example of how smart, innovative policies can meet our environmental, economic, and energy challenges,” said Pohlmann. “With energy efficiency projects at hospitals like these, we can see how RGGI is providing benefits that reach into our health care community as well. Maine should be proud of its approach to RGGI.”

    Just this past Novemeber over 200 nations agreed to cut back carbon emmissions in Paris at the Climate Conference. The USA was heralded as leading the way. A key component to the implementation of the Paris agreement depends on the USA's Clean Power Plan.

    Despite the success of RGGI, efforts to roll back the program pop up periodically in Augusta, while in Washington, DC, polluters have sought to repeal the Clean Power Plan before it even gets underway. Both kinds of attacks appear blind to the actual benefits of RGGI. Governor LePage has submitted legislation to slash the use of RGGI funds for energy efficiency programs for businesses such as these three hospitals. That legislation is currently in front of Maine’s Energy & Utilities committee.

    “Right now legislation under consideration in Augusta would cut RGGI funding for large energy users by 80 percent, costing Maine businesses and institutions more than $100 million in increased energy bills,” said NRCM’s Lisa Pohlmann. “NRCM supports increasing, or, at least maintaining, current funding levels for energy efficiency.

  • Bangor City Councilor, Joe Baldacci withdraws from Maine's Second Congressional District race


    Bangor City Councilor, Joe Baldacci has decided to withdraw from Maine's Second Congressional District race, making the Democratic nominee, Emily Cain.

    "Today we thank Joe Baldacci for his service to the people of Maine. Although his campaign for congress has ended, I know that his work standing up for Maine families will continue," said Phil Bartlett, Chair of the Maine Democratic Party. "We look forward to working with him over the coming months to continue to advocate for the important issues that he has been a champion for on the campaign trail and to make sure we send a Democrat to Washington to represent the second congressional district."
    Joe raised $161,000 for the campaign. 
    “I am excited and ready to work with Joe to take back this seat,” Emily Cain said in a statement that Baldacci’s decision “was selfless and brave” and “in the best interest of the people of Maine.”

    This is Joe Baldacci's statement:

    When I first contemplated running, about a year ago, I spoke with a regional director of the party down in D.C. The very first question he asked me wasn’t about my commitment, credentials, ties to the district etc; the first question he asked me was “Are you married to a Billionaire?”

    This was my first indication that this fight might be an uphill one.

    I continued the fight for the Second Congressional district because I have an abiding commitment to serving the people who live here; our friends, neighbors and fellow citizens. I genuinely bristled at the idea that our Representative in Congress is going to be dictated to us by the Washington, D.C establishment of either party. 

    I have been particularly honored by just having the opportunity to run for Congress. My family and I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting with so many of you throughout the entire district and have found great political support for better representation in Congress.

    But the reality is, I’m not married to a billionaire. I am a small business owner. I have 7 people in my employ who count on me for their livelihood. I have a wife and two daughters, whose futures I’m not prepared to mortgage in order to compete with the unlimited amount of out of state money; which is what would be required in this race.

    Over the last 7 months, this campaign has made significant strides considering we literally started from scratch and we are now, according to polls, in contention for the Democratic nomination. 

    I have built friendships and relationships all across the District that I hope to continue to work with in future political endeavors.

    But it is clear that the most important thing we can do now is to come together as Democrats, not divide resources, and build a united front against an incumbent who needs to be replaced with a person who will genuinely represent Maine’s values in Congress.

    I am very glad I got in.

    I am very proud of the message we delivered to party committees: that it was time for Democrats to start running as Democrats and to stand up for our seniors, our veterans and our kids.

    I am particularly proud of winning a yearlong effort to pass a minimum wage increase for working families. That was a genuinely hard won victory. And I look forward to supporting passage of a statewide minimum wage increase.

    I pledge to Emily Cain, who will be the Democratic nominee, my full support in our united effort to elect a Democratic Representative for the Second District.

    Joe Baldacci

  • Maine lawmakers unanimously pass law to issue voter-approved bonds for land conservation

    Article and photos by Ramona du Houx

    Maine lawmakers unanimously gave their approval to reauthorize $6.5 million in voter-approved Land for Maine’s Future bonds as part of a bipartisan effort to revive the expired bonds.

    “It was great to see how Land for Maine’s Future brought the Legislature together. We did important work today to ensure our state’s most important land conservation effort continues to successfully protect access for all Mainers,” said Rep. Martin Grohman, D-Biddeford.

    An amendment from Grohman stripped the original text of LD 1454 and replaced it with a 5-year reauthorization of bonds approved by voters in 2010. The bonds expired in November of 2015, when Gov. Paul LePage failed to release them.

    “We are delighted that legislators from both sides of the aisle voted unanimously to reinstate the 2010 Land for Maine's Future bonds,” said Beth Ahearn, legislative director for Maine Conservation Voters. “Already promised LMF funding can now be invested in more than 30 projects across Maine to benefit our economy and provide recreational opportunities to all.”

    The Legislature opened the second session by coming together on this issue. The House on the first day of session passed an order to recall LD 1454 from the governor’s desk, and the Senate followed suit. The cooperation prevented a veto of the bill and provided the opportunity to amend it.

    “These valuable conservation projects have waited a long time for funding that was promised, but needlessly delayed,” said Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, the lead Senate Democrat on the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee. “This vote will put them back on track, giving them the go-ahead to protect valuable natural resources in my community for generations.”

    Sen. Breen thanked the countless citizens of Maine who demanded the bonds be issued and the conservation projects be allowed to move forward. “They voted more than five years ago to authorize these projects, and they demanded, rightfully, that their decision be respected.”

    The bill — LD 1454, “Resolve, Reauthorizing the Balance of the 2009 Bond Issue for Land Conservation Projects” — will be sent to Gov. Paul LePage. He has 10 days to sign the bill into law, veto it, or let it pass into law without his signature.

  • MaineHousing offers veterans and active duty military low home rates-starting at 3.25 percent

    Maine's housing authority is offering veterans and active duty military low home loan rates starting at 3.25 percent  (4.217 percent APR, 0 points).

    The quarter-point reduction on MaineHousing’s competitive First Home Loans is in appreciation for the commitment and sacrifices made by Maine’s veterans and active duty military on behalf of Maine’s residents.

    The interest rate reduction applies for veterans and active duty military that are first-time or returning homebuyers and is in addition to the other features of MaineHousing’s First Home Loan Program, including up to $3,500 towards down payment and closing costs. A hoMEworks-approved homebuyer education class is required to receive the $3,500 in assistance.

    MaineHousing’s competitive 30-year fixed rate mortgages are available to eligible first-time or returning homebuyers with little or no down payment when combined with a government guaranty such as VA, FHA or RD. Under the First Home Loan Program, returning homebuyers must not have owned a home in the last three years. That requirement is waived for veterans and active duty military. The home must be in Maine and be the homebuyer’s primary residence. Also, the loan stays in Maine.

    In 2015, MaineHousing’s First Home Loan Program began offering first-time and returning homebuyers up to $3,500 in down payment and closing cost assistance, and 750 homebuyers purchased homes. MaineHousing’s goal is 1,000 home loans this year.

    MaineHousing’s First Home Loans are available through more than 40 partner-lenders (called Green Key Lenders) statewide. They include most major banks statewide as well as a few mortgage corporations.

    Veterans, active duty military. and interested homebuyers may learn more about the First Home Loan Program at www.mainehousing.org.

  • Maine's minimum wage ballot campaign submits signatures


    By Ramona du Houx

    On January 14, 2016, Mainers for Fair Wages submitted 75,000 verified signatures to the Maine Secretary of State to place an increase in the minimum wage on the November ballot, far more than the 61,123 required. Supporters marked the event with a rally in the State House Hall of Flags and remarks from more than a dozen Mainers from across the state, many of them making low wages themselves, who helped to collect the signatures.
     
    “I’m a single mother and I know what it’s like to work low wage jobs and not be able to make ends meet. On $8 an hour it was impossible to afford basic necessities for my family like childcare, transportation and keeping a roof over our heads. While I was working full time I still needed to rely on food assistance to be able to feed my family,” said Melissa Stevens of Lewiston. “I joined the minimum wage campaign last fall to collect signatures to support this initiative and I am thrilled to be heretoday with so many community leaders from all walks of life as we submit far more than enough signatures to place this referendum on the ballot.”
     
    Mainers for Fair Wages, a coalition including the Maine People's Alliance, Maine Small Business Coalition, and Maine AFL-CIO, launched the petition process for a citizen initiative to raise Maine's minimum wage in June. If passed, the initiative would increase the minimum wage to $9 per hour in 2017 and then by $1 a year until it reaches $12 by 2020. After that the wage would increase at the same rate as the cost of living. The initiative would also incrementally raise the sub-minimum tipped wage until it matches the minimum wage for all other workers by 2024.
     
    Raising the state minimum wage would directly affect more than 130,000 low-wage workers in Maine, most of them women and many of them supporting families, according to calculations by the Economic Policy Institute.
     
    “I am working as a tipped worker at a restaurant and a boost in my base wage would mean that I would not have to rely solely on tips in order to support myself,” said Esther Pew of Portland. “It’s hard to stick to a budget and be financially responsible when your wages can fluctuate drastically from one shift to the next. Getting a steady paycheck from my employer, and not just tips from my customers, would be a boost for me and thousands of tipped workers, mostly women, working in restaurants all over Maine.”
     
    According to Mainers for Fair Wages, the submission of signatures marks the end of the first phase of their people-powered campaign and the beginning of the next.

    “From the time I was 15, I’ve had to work a number of minimum wage jobs to help my family make ends meet. As the breadwinner, I was responsible, as a child, for making sure the heat stayed on through the winter, and unfortunately, I often failed in this endeavor,” said Tyler Williams, an employee of a big box store in Bangor. “Recently, I was forced to drop out of school because minimum wage, does not pay enough to get necessities, much less to pay tuition, too. This is the true tragedy of having such a low minimum wage. No one should have to choose between an education and a pittance. Hard work is supposed to give you the opportunity to pull yourself out of poverty, but $7.50 doesn’t help you out of poverty. It keeps you in it.”

    The ballot question committee has already raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from supporters giving contributions average just over $30 each and the campaign will seek to increase and strengthen that broad base of support in the months between now and November.

    “When I was 26, I was diagnosed with aggressive stage four breast cancer.  I had to leave the workforce for in order to deal with it and regain my health and strength.  Since then, I have had a hard time finding dependable and livable wage work that allows me to make ends meet while still paying off huge amounts of medical debt.  I currently work two part time jobs at very close to minimum wage, plus I help my parents with their business. With these three jobs, I still don’t make enough to get by,” said Brandy Staples of Phippsburg. “I heard similar stories all the time while I was collecting signatures to get this initiative on the ballot.  That’s what motivated me to collected more than 600 signatures last summer and fall. Raising Maine’s minimum wage to $12/hour will help me get on my feet and will help so many others like me.”

    Many businesses belive in raising the wage-

    “When working Mainers make a decent living, they spend that extra money in our communities. It’s good for the whole economy, including my business,” said Adam Lee, Chairman of Lee Auto Malls. “In the last year and a half Lee Auto Malls has raised our starting wage from $9 to $10 and six months ago we raised it to $11 per hour. It’s the right thing and the smart thing to do.”

    Every Democrat lawmaker in the State House and State Senate supports the measure- 

    "I was proud to join dozens of ‪#‎FairWageME‬ activists as they announced their submission of more than 80K signatures in support of $12/hr," said State Senator Justin Alfond.

    There have been many measures lawmakers have put forward-everyone has been veoted by Gov. LePage.

    “While big corporations and the top 1 percent continue to rake in money faster than they can count it, regular working folks struggle to get by,” said Sen. John Patrick. “No Mainer should work hard and plays by the rules only to earn poverty wages. There’s no question that the time has come to raise the minimum wage.”

    The office of the Secretary of State now has 30 days to review the petitions before referring the initiative to the legislature, which can choose to enact it without change or allow it to be placed on the November ballot.
     

  • President Obama's full State of the Union, 2016

     PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, my fellow Americans:  

    Tonight marks the eighth year that I’ve come here to report on the State of the Union.  And for this final one, I’m going to try to make it a little shorter.  (Applause.)  I know some of you are antsy to get back to Iowa.  (Laughter.)  I've been there.  I'll be shaking hands afterwards if you want some tips.  (Laughter.) 

    And I understand that because it’s an election season, expectations for what we will achieve this year are low.  But, Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the constructive approach that you and the other leaders took at the end of last year to pass a budget and make tax cuts permanent for working families.  So I hope we can work together this year on some bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform -- (applause) -- and helping people who are battling prescription drug abuse and heroin abuse.  (Applause.)  So, who knows, we might surprise the cynics again. 

    But tonight, I want to go easy on the traditional list of proposals for the year ahead.  Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty, from helping students learn to write computer code to personalizing medical treatments for patients.  And I will keep pushing for progress on the work that I believe still needs to be done.  Fixing a broken immigration system.  (Applause.)  Protecting our kids from gun violence.  (Applause.)  Equal pay for equal work.  (Applause.)  Paid leave.  (Applause.)  Raising the minimum wage. (Applause.)  All these things still matter to hardworking families.  They’re still the right thing to do.  And I won't let up until they get done.

    But for my final address to this chamber, I don’t want to just talk about next year.  I want to focus on the next five years, the next 10 years, and beyond.  I want to focus on our future.

    We live in a time of extraordinary change -- change that’s reshaping the way we live, the way we work, our planet, our place in the world.  It’s change that promises amazing medical breakthroughs, but also economic disruptions that strain working families.  It promises education for girls in the most remote villages, but also connects terrorists plotting an ocean away.  It’s change that can broaden opportunity, or widen inequality.  And whether we like it or not, the pace of this change will only accelerate.

    America has been through big changes before -- wars and depression, the influx of new immigrants, workers fighting for a fair deal, movements to expand civil rights.  Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future; who claimed we could slam the brakes on change; who promised to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control.  And each time, we overcame those fears.  We did not, in the words of Lincoln, adhere to the “dogmas of the quiet past.”  Instead we thought anew, and acted anew.  We made change work for us, always extending America’s promise outward, to the next frontier, to more people.  And because we did -- because we saw opportunity where others saw only peril -- we emerged stronger and better than before.

    What was true then can be true now.  Our unique strengths as a nation -- our optimism and work ethic, our spirit of discovery, our diversity, our commitment to rule of law -- these things give us everything we need to ensure prosperity and security for generations to come. 

    In fact, it’s in that spirit that we have made progress these past seven years.  That's how we recovered from the worst economic crisis in generations.  (Applause.)  That's how we reformed our health care system, and reinvented our energy sector.  (Applause.)  That's how we delivered more care and benefits to our troops coming home and our veterans.  (Applause.) That's how we secured the freedom in every state to marry the person we love.  (Applause.) 

    But such progress is not inevitable.  It’s the result of choices we make together.  And we face such choices right now.  Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, turning against each other as a people?  Or will we face the future with confidence in who we are, in what we stand for, in the incredible things that we can do together?

    So let’s talk about the future, and four big questions that I believe we as a country have to answer -- regardless of who the next President is, or who controls the next Congress. 

    First, how do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy?  (Applause.) 

    Second, how do we make technology work for us, and not against us -- especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change?  (Applause.) 

    Third, how do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman?  (Applause.) 

    And finally, how can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?

    Let me start with the economy, and a basic fact:  The United States of America, right now, has the strongest, most durable economy in the world.  (Applause.)  We’re in the middle of the longest streak of private sector job creation in history.  (Applause.)  More than 14 million new jobs, the strongest two years of job growth since the ‘90s, an unemployment rate cut in half.  Our auto industry just had its best year ever.  (Applause.)  That's just part of a manufacturing surge that's created nearly 900,000 new jobs in the past six years.  And we’ve done all this while cutting our deficits by almost three-quarters.  (Applause.) 

    Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction.  (Applause.)  Now, what is true -- and the reason that a lot of Americans feel anxious -- is that the economy has been changing in profound ways, changes that started long before the Great Recession hit; changes that have not let up. 

    Today, technology doesn’t just replace jobs on the assembly line, but any job where work can be automated.  Companies in a global economy can locate anywhere, and they face tougher competition.  As a result, workers have less leverage for a raise.  Companies have less loyalty to their communities.  And more and more wealth and income is concentrated at the very top.

    All these trends have squeezed workers, even when they have jobs; even when the economy is growing.  It’s made it harder for a hardworking family to pull itself out of poverty, harder for young people to start their careers, tougher for workers to retire when they want to.  And although none of these trends are unique to America, they do offend our uniquely American belief that everybody who works hard should get a fair shot.

    For the past seven years, our goal has been a growing economy that works also better for everybody.  We’ve made progress.  But we need to make more.  And despite all the political arguments that we’ve had these past few years, there are actually some areas where Americans broadly agree.

    We agree that real opportunity requires every American to get the education and training they need to land a good-paying job.  The bipartisan reform of No Child Left Behind was an important start, and together, we’ve increased early childhood education, lifted high school graduation rates to new highs, boosted graduates in fields like engineering.  In the coming years, we should build on that progress, by providing Pre-K for all and -- (applause) -- offering every student the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one.  We should recruit and support more great teachers for our kids.  (Applause.) 

    And we have to make college affordable for every American.  (Applause.)  No hardworking student should be stuck in the red.  We’ve already reduced student loan payments to 10 percent of a borrower’s income.  And that's good.  But now, we’ve actually got to cut the cost of college.  (Applause.)  Providing two years of community college at no cost for every responsible student is one of the best ways to do that, and I’m going to keep fighting to get that started this year.  (Applause.)  It's the right thing to do.  (Applause.) 

    But a great education isn’t all we need in this new economy. We also need benefits and protections that provide a basic measure of security.  It’s not too much of a stretch to say that some of the only people in America who are going to work the same job, in the same place, with a health and retirement package for 30 years are sitting in this chamber.  (Laughter.)  For everyone else, especially folks in their 40s and 50s, saving for retirement or bouncing back from job loss has gotten a lot tougher.  Americans understand that at some point in their careers, in this new economy, they may have to retool and they may have to retrain.  But they shouldn’t lose what they’ve already worked so hard to build in the process. 

    That’s why Social Security and Medicare are more important than ever.  We shouldn’t weaken them; we should strengthen them. (Applause.)  And for Americans short of retirement, basic benefits should be just as mobile as everything else is today.  That, by the way, is what the Affordable Care Act is all about.  It’s about filling the gaps in employer-based care so that when you lose a job, or you go back to school, or you strike out and launch that new business, you’ll still have coverage.  Nearly 18 million people have gained coverage so far.  (Applause.)  And in the process, health care inflation has slowed.  And our businesses have created jobs every single month since it became law.

    Now, I’m guessing we won’t agree on health care anytime soon.  (Applause.)  A little applause right there.  Laughter.)  Just a guess.  But there should be other ways parties can work together to improve economic security.  Say a hardworking American loses his job -- we shouldn’t just make sure that he can get unemployment insurance; we should make sure that program encourages him to retrain for a business that’s ready to hire him.  If that new job doesn’t pay as much, there should be a system of wage insurance in place so that he can still pay his bills.  And even if he’s going from job to job, he should still be able to save for retirement and take his savings with him.  That’s the way we make the new economy work better for everybody.

    I also know Speaker Ryan has talked about his interest in tackling poverty.  America is about giving everybody willing to work a chance, a hand up.  And I’d welcome a serious discussion about strategies we can all support, like expanding tax cuts for low-income workers who don't have children.  (Applause.)  

    But there are some areas where we just have to be honest -- it has been difficult to find agreement over the last seven years.  And a lot of them fall under the category of what role the government should play in making sure the system’s not rigged in favor of the wealthiest and biggest corporations.  (Applause.) And it's an honest disagreement, and the American people have a choice to make.

    I believe a thriving private sector is the lifeblood of our economy.  I think there are outdated regulations that need to be changed.  There is red tape that needs to be cut.  (Applause.)  There you go!  Yes!  (Applause  But after years now of record corporate profits, working families won’t get more opportunity or bigger paychecks just by letting big banks or big oil or hedge funds make their own rules at everybody else’s expense.  (Applause.)  Middle-class families are not going to feel more secure because we allowed attacks on collective bargaining to go unanswered.  Food Stamp recipients did not cause the financial crisis; recklessness on Wall Street did.  (Applause.)  Immigrants aren’t the principal reason wages haven’t gone up; those decisions are made in the boardrooms that all too often put quarterly earnings over long-term returns.  It’s sure not the average family watching tonight that avoids paying taxes through offshore accounts.  (Applause.)   

    The point is, I believe that in this In new economy, workers and start-ups and small businesses need more of a voice, not less.  The rules should work for them.  (Applause.)  And I'm not alone in this.  This year I plan to lift up the many businesses who’ve figured out that doing right by their workers or their customers or their communities ends up being good for their shareholders.  (Applause.)  And I want to spread those best practices across America.  That's part of a brighter future.  (Applause.) 

    In fact, it turns out many of our best corporate citizens are also our most creative.  And this brings me to the second big question we as a country have to answer:  How do we reignite that spirit of innovation to meet our biggest challenges?

    Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there.  (Laughter.)  We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight.  And 12 years later, we were walking on the moon.  (Applause.)   

    Now, that spirit of discovery is in our DNA.  America is Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers and George Washington Carver.  America is Grace Hopper and Katherine Johnson and Sally Ride.  America is every immigrant and entrepreneur from Boston to Austin to Silicon Valley, racing to shape a better world.  (Applause.)  That's who we are. 

    And over the past seven years, we’ve nurtured that spirit.  We’ve protected an open Internet, and taken bold new steps to get more students and low-income Americans online.  (Applause.)  We’ve launched next-generation manufacturing hubs, and online tools that give an entrepreneur everything he or she needs to start a business in a single day.  But we can do so much more. 

    Last year, Vice President Biden said that with a new moonshot, America can cure cancer.  Last month, he worked with this Congress to give scientists at the National Institutes of Health the strongest resources that they’ve had in over a decade. (Applause.)  So tonight, I’m announcing a new national effort to get it done.  And because he’s gone to the mat for all of us on so many issues over the past 40 years, I’m putting Joe in charge of Mission Control.  (Applause.)  For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the families that we can still save, let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.  (Applause.) 

    Medical research is critical.  We need the same level of commitment when it comes to developing clean energy sources.  (Applause.)  Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it.  You will be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.  (Applause.)   

    But even if -- even if the planet wasn’t at stake, even if 2014 wasn’t the warmest year on record -- until 2015 turned out to be even hotter -- why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future? (Applause.) 

    Listen, seven years ago, we made the single biggest investment in clean energy in our history.  Here are the results. In fields from Iowa to Texas, wind power is now cheaper than dirtier, conventional power.  On rooftops from Arizona to New York, solar is saving Americans tens of millions of dollars a year on their energy bills, and employs more Americans than coal -- in jobs that pay better than average.  We’re taking steps to give homeowners the freedom to generate and store their own energy -- something, by the way, that environmentalists and Tea Partiers have teamed up to support.   And meanwhile, we’ve cut our imports of foreign oil by nearly 60 percent, and cut carbon pollution more than any other country on Earth.  (Applause.)  Gas under two bucks a gallon ain’t bad, either.  (Applause.) 

    Now we’ve got to accelerate the transition away from old, dirtier energy sources.  Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future -- especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels.  We do them no favor when we don't show them where the trends are going.  That’s why I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet. And that way, we put money back into those communities, and put tens of thousands of Americans to work building a 21st century transportation system.  (Applause.) 

    Now, none of this is going to happen overnight.  And, yes, there are plenty of entrenched interests who want to protect the status quo.  But the jobs we’ll create, the money we’ll save, the planet we’ll preserve -- that is the kind of future our kids and our grandkids deserve.  And it's within our grasp. 

    Climate change is just one of many issues where our security is linked to the rest of the world.  And that’s why the third big question that we have to answer together is how to keep America safe and strong without either isolating ourselves or trying to nation-build everywhere there’s a problem.

    I told you earlier all the talk of America’s economic decline is political hot air.  Well, so is all the rhetoric you hear about our enemies getting stronger and America getting weaker.  Let me tell you something.  The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth.  Period. (Applause.)  Period.  It’s not even close.  It's not even close. (Applause.)  It's not even close.  We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined.  Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world.  (Applause.)  No nation attacks us directly, or our allies, because they know that’s the path to ruin.  Surveys show our standing around the world is higher than when I was elected to this office, and when it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead -- they call us.  (Applause.)

    I mean, it's useful to level the set here, because when we don't, we don't make good decisions.    

    Now, as someone who begins every day with an intelligence briefing, I know this is a dangerous time.  But that’s not primarily because of some looming superpower out there, and certainly not because of diminished American strength.  In today’s world, we’re threatened less by evil empires and more by failing states. 

    The Middle East is going through a transformation that will play out for a generation, rooted in conflicts that date back millennia.  Economic headwinds are blowing in from a Chinese economy that is in significant transition.  Even as their economy severely contracts, Russia is pouring resources in to prop up Ukraine and Syria -- client states that they saw slipping away from their orbit.  And the international system we built after World War II is now struggling to keep pace with this new reality.

    It’s up to us, the United States of America, to help remake that system.  And to do that well it means that we’ve got to set priorities.

    Priority number one is protecting the American people and going after terrorist networks.  (Applause.)  Both al Qaeda and now ISIL pose a direct threat to our people, because in today’s world, even a handful of terrorists who place no value on human life, including their own, can do a lot of damage.  They use the Internet to poison the minds of individuals inside our country.  Their actions undermine and destabilize our allies.  We have to take them out.

    But as we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands.  Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks, twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages -- they pose an enormous danger to civilians; they have to be stopped.  But they do not threaten our national existence.  (Applause.)  That is the story ISIL wants to tell.  That’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit.  We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious, and we sure don't need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is somehow representative of one of the world’s largest religions.  (Applause.)  We just need to call them what they are -- killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed.  (Applause.)  

    And that’s exactly what we’re doing.  For more than a year, America has led a coalition of more than 60 countries to cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupt their plots, stop the flow of terrorist fighters, and stamp out their vicious ideology.  With nearly 10,000 air strikes, we’re taking out their leadership, their oil, their training camps, their weapons.  We’re training, arming, and supporting forces who are steadily reclaiming territory in Iraq and Syria. 

    If this Congress is serious about winning this war, and wants to send a message to our troops and the world, authorize the use of military force against ISIL.  Take a vote.  (Applause.)  Take a vote.  But the American people should know that with or without congressional action, ISIL will learn the same lessons as terrorists before them.  If you doubt America’s commitment -- or mine -- to see that justice is done, just ask Osama bin Laden.  (Applause.)  Ask the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, who was taken out last year, or the perpetrator of the Benghazi attacks, who sits in a prison cell.  When you come after Americans, we go after you.  (Applause.)  And it may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limits.  (Applause.)  

    Our foreign policy hast to be focused on the threat from ISIL and al Qaeda, but it can’t stop there.  For even without ISIL, even without al Qaeda, instability will continue for decades in many parts of the world -- in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, parts of Pakistan, in parts of Central America, in Africa, and Asia.  Some of these places may become safe havens for new terrorist networks.  Others will just fall victim to ethnic conflict, or famine, feeding the next wave of refugees.  The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet-bomb civilians.  That may work as a TV sound bite, but it doesn’t pass muster on the world stage.

    We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis, even if it's done with the best of intentions.  (Applause.)  That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately will weaken us.  It’s the lesson of Vietnam; it's the lesson of Iraq -- and we should have learned it by now.  (Applause.)   

    Fortunately, there is a smarter approach, a patient and disciplined strategy that uses every element of our national power.  It says America will always act, alone if necessary, to protect our people and our allies; but on issues of global concern, we will mobilize the world to work with us, and make sure other countries pull their own weight.   

    That’s our approach to conflicts like Syria, where we’re partnering with local forces and leading international efforts to help that broken society pursue a lasting peace.

    That’s why we built a global coalition, with sanctions and principled diplomacy, to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.  And as we speak, Iran has rolled back its nuclear program, shipped out its uranium stockpile, and the world has avoided another war.  (Applause.)   

    That’s how we stopped the spread of Ebola in West Africa.  (Applause.)  Our military, our doctors, our development workers -- they were heroic; they set up the platform that then allowed other countries to join in behind us and stamp out that epidemic. Hundreds of thousands, maybe a couple million lives were saved.

    That’s how we forged a Trans-Pacific Partnership to open markets, and protect workers and the environment, and advance American leadership in Asia.  It cuts 18,000 taxes on products made in America, which will then support more good jobs here in America.  With TPP, China does not set the rules in that region; we do.  You want to show our strength in this new century?  Approve this agreement.  Give us the tools to enforce it.  It's the right thing to do.  (Applause.)   

    Let me give you another example.  Fifty years of isolating Cuba had failed to promote democracy, and set us back in Latin America.  That’s why we restored diplomatic relations -- (applause) -- opened the door to travel and commerce, positioned ourselves to improve the lives of the Cuban people.  (Applause.) So if you want to consolidate our leadership and credibility in the hemisphere, recognize that the Cold War is over -- lift the embargo.  (Applause.)  

    The point is American leadership in the 21st century is not a choice between ignoring the rest of the world -- except when we kill terrorists -- or occupying and rebuilding whatever society is unraveling.  Leadership means a wise application of military power, and rallying the world behind causes that are right.  It means seeing our foreign assistance as a part of our national security, not something separate, not charity. 

    When we lead nearly 200 nations to the most ambitious agreement in history to fight climate change, yes, that helps vulnerable countries, but it also protects our kids.  When we help Ukraine defend its democracy, or Colombia resolve a decades-long war, that strengthens the international order we depend on. When we help African countries feed their people and care for the sick -- (applause) -- it's the right thing to do, and it prevents the next pandemic from reaching our shores.  Right now, we’re on track to end the scourge of HIV/AIDS.  That's within our grasp.  (Applause.)  And we have the chance to accomplish the same thing with malaria -- something I’ll be pushing this Congress to fund this year.  (Applause.) 

    That's American strength.  That's American leadership.  And that kind of leadership depends on the power of our example.  That’s why I will keep working to shut down the prison at Guantanamo.  (Applause.)  It is expensive, it is unnecessary, and it only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies.  (Applause.)  There’s a better way.  (Applause.)   

    And that’s why we need to reject any politics -- any politics -- that targets people because of race or religion.  (Applause.)  Let me just say this.  This is not a matter of political correctness.  This is a matter of understanding just what it is that makes us strong.  The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity, and our openness, and the way we respect every faith. 

    His Holiness, Pope Francis, told this body from the very spot that I'm standing on tonight that “to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.”  When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer.  That’s not telling it like it is.  It’s just wrong.  (Applause.)  It diminishes us in the eyes of the world.  It makes it harder to achieve our goals.  It betrays who we are as a country.  (Applause.) 

    “We the People.”  Our Constitution begins with those three simple words, words we’ve come to recognize mean all the people, not just some; words that insist we rise and fall together, and that's how we might perfect our Union.  And that brings me to the fourth, and maybe the most important thing that I want to say tonight.

    The future we want -- all of us want -- opportunity and security for our families, a rising standard of living, a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids -- all that is within our reach.  But it will only happen if we work together.  It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates.  It will only happen if we fix our politics.

    A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything.  This is a big country -- different regions, different attitudes, different interests.  That’s one of our strengths, too.  Our Founders distributed power between states and branches of government, and expected us to argue, just as they did, fiercely, over the size and shape of government, over commerce and foreign relations, over the meaning of liberty and the imperatives of security.

    But democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens.  It doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice.  It doesn’t work if we think that our political opponents are unpatriotic or trying to weaken America.  Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise, or when even basic facts are contested, or when we listen only to those who agree with us.  Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get all the attention.  And most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some special interest.

    Too many Americans feel that way right now.  It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency -- that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better.  I have no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office.

    But, my fellow Americans, this cannot be my task -- or any President’s -- alone.  There are a whole lot of folks in this chamber, good people who would like to see more cooperation, would like to see a more elevated debate in Washington, but feel trapped by the imperatives of getting elected, by the noise coming out of your base.  I know; you’ve told me.  It's the worst-kept secret in Washington.  And a lot of you aren't enjoying being trapped in that kind of rancor. 

    But that means if we want a better politics -- and I'm addressing the American people now -- if we want a better politics, it’s not enough just to change a congressman or change a senator or even change a President.  We have to change the system to reflect our better selves.  I think we've got to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around.  (Applause.)  Let a bipartisan group do it.  (Applause.) 

    We have to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families or hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections.  (Applause.)  And if our existing approach to campaign finance reform can’t pass muster in the courts, we need to work together to find a real solution -- because it's a problem.  And most of you don't like raising money.  I know; I've done it.  (Applause.)  We’ve got to make it easier to vote, not harder.  (Applause.)  We need to modernize it for the way we live now.  (Applause.)  This is America:  We want to make it easier for people to participate.  And over the course of this year, I intend to travel the country to push for reforms that do just that.

    But I can’t do these things on my own.  (Applause.)  Changes in our political process -- in not just who gets elected, but how they get elected -- that will only happen when the American people demand it.  It depends on you.  That’s what’s meant by a government of, by, and for the people. 

    What I’m suggesting is hard.  It’s a lot easier to be cynical; to accept that change is not possible, and politics is hopeless, and the problem is all the folks who are elected don't care, and to believe that our voices and actions don’t matter.  But if we give up now, then we forsake a better future.  Those with money and power will gain greater control over the decisions that could send a young soldier to war, or allow another economic disaster, or roll back the equal rights and voting rights that generations of Americans have fought, even died, to secure.  And then, as frustration grows, there will be voices urging us to fall back into our respective tribes, to scapegoat fellow citizens who don’t look like us, or pray like us, or vote like we do, or share the same background.

    We can’t afford to go down that path.  It won’t deliver the economy we want.  It will not produce the security we want.  But most of all, it contradicts everything that makes us the envy of the world. 

    So, my fellow Americans, whatever you may believe, whether you prefer one party or no party, whether you supported my agenda or fought as hard as you could against it -- our collective futures depends on your willingness to uphold your duties as a citizen.  To vote.  To speak out.  To stand up for others, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us. (Applause.)  We need every American to stay active in our public life -- and not just during election time -- so that our public life reflects the goodness and the decency that I see in the American people every single day. 

    It is not easy.  Our brand of democracy is hard.  But I can promise that a little over a year from now, when I no longer hold this office, I will be right there with you as a citizen, inspired by those voices of fairness and vision, of grit and good humor and kindness that helped America travel so far.  Voices that help us see ourselves not, first and foremost, as black or white, or Asian or Latino, not as gay or straight, immigrant or native born, not as Democrat or Republican, but as Americans first, bound by a common creed.  Voices Dr. King believed would have the final word -- voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love. 

    And they’re out there, those voices.  They don’t get a lot of attention; they don't seek a lot of fanfare; but they’re busy doing the work this country needs doing.  I see them everywhere I travel in this incredible country of ours.  I see you, the American people.  And in your daily acts of citizenship, I see our future unfolding.

    I see it in the worker on the assembly line who clocked extra shifts to keep his company open, and the boss who pays him higher wages instead of laying him off. 

    I see it in the Dreamer who stays up late at night to finish her science project, and the teacher who comes in early, and maybe with some extra supplies that she bought because she knows that that young girl might someday cure a disease.

    I see it in the American who served his time, and bad mistakes as a child but now is dreaming of starting over -- and I see it in the business owner who gives him that second chance.  The protester determined to prove that justice matters -- and the young cop walking the beat, treating everybody with respect, doing the brave, quiet work of keeping us safe.  (Applause.) 

    I see it in the soldier who gives almost everything to save his brothers, the nurse who tends to him till he can run a marathon, the community that lines up to cheer him on.

    It’s the son who finds the courage to come out as who he is, and the father whose love for that son overrides everything he’s been taught.  (Applause.) 

    I see it in the elderly woman who will wait in line to cast her vote as long as she has to; the new citizen who casts his vote for the first time; the volunteers at the polls who believe every vote should count -- because each of them in different ways know how much that precious right is worth.

    That's the America I know.  That’s the country we love.   Clear-eyed.  Big-hearted.  Undaunted by challenge.  Optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.  (Applause.)  That’s what makes me so hopeful about our future.  I believe in change because I believe in you, the American people.  

    And that’s why I stand here confident as I have ever been that the State of our Union is strong.  (Applause.) 

    Thank you.  God bless you.  God bless the United States of America. 

  • Maine House lawmakers unanimously backs land preservation bonds despite Gov. LePage

    By Ramona du Houx

    The Maine House of Representatives on January 12, 2016, unanimously gave its initial approval to a measure reauthorizing $6.5 million in voter-approved Land for Maine’s Future bonds as part of a bipartisan effort to revive the expired bonds. Some of these voter-approved bonds date back to the Baldacci administration. The vote was 147-0.

    “The fight to fully fund Land for Maine’s Future proved to be a truly bipartisan effort. Legislators on both sides of the aisle who understand the critical importance of preserving Maine’s natural resources and securing our economic future joined together to ensure that our state’s most vital land conservation program will continue to provide access for all Mainers,” said Rep. Martin Grohman, D-Biddeford, an avid hunter and supporter of Land for Maine’s Future.

    An amendment from Grohman stripped the original text of LD 1454 and replaced it with a 5-year reauthorization of bonds approved by voters in 2010. The bonds expired in November, on the first regular day of the deer hunting season, when Gov. Paul LePage did not release them.

    “Today was a win for voters, outdoorsmen and women, outdoor recreation businesses and other Mainers who recognize the importance of Land for Maine’s Future to our economy – particularly for rural Maine. It will be great to see these voter-approved bonds released and preserving land for recreation and waterfront, forestry and farming jobs,” said House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, a Maine guide and a leading proponent in the effort to free the bonds.

    “We are delighted that legislators voted unanimously today to reinstate the 2010 Land for Maine's Future bond that expired in November,” said Beth Ahearn, legislative director for Maine Conservation Voters.  “Already promised LMF funding can now be invested in more than 30 projects across Maine to benefit our economy and provide recreational opportunities to all.”

     The Legislature opened the second session by coming together on this issue. The House on the first day of session passed an order to recall LD 1454 from the governor’s desk, and the Senate followed suit. The cooperation prevented a veto of the bill and provided the opportunity to amend it.

    LD 1454 faces further votes in the House and Senate.

     

  • State Sen. Breen hails movement to release voter-approved conservation bonds

    Photo: Western Mts. of Maine by Ramona du Houx

    Sen. Cathy Breen of Falmouth hailed the House of Representatives’ approval of a bill to reauthorize $6.5 million of voter-approved conservation bonds that expired last year when the governor refused to issue them.

    On Wednesday, the House recalled LD 1454 from the governor’s desk and amended it to reauthorize the bonds, which were approved by voters to support projects vetted and approved by Land for Maine’s Future.

    The bill now heads to the Senate. The governor has indicated that if the bonds are revived, he will issue them.

    “I eagerly await my chance to vote ‘yes’ on this bill, and hope all my fellow Senators will do the same,” said Breen, the ranking Senate Democrat on the Environment and Natural Resources Committee. “These bonds were delayed for far too long, which left deserving, vetted conservation projects around our state in limbo for far too long. It will be good to finally get them back on track.”

    Sen. Breen has been an advocate for the release of the voter-approved conservation bonds, and a supporter of the conservation projects in and out of her district. Such projects include protection for wildlife refuge, outdoor recreation, working waterfronts and family farms.

    “We are pleased with the strong bipartisan support for reviving the 2010 LMF bond,” said Tom Abello, senior policy adviser with The Nature Conservancy in Maine. “Sen. Breen’s leadership in the effort to encourage the Governor to release the voter-approved LMF bonds was critical to this positive outcome. With today’s vote, LMF funding will soon be invested in more than 30 projects across Maine, which will bolster recreational opportunities and benefit our natural resource based economy.

  • Central Maine union members deliver Christmas Dinner Harvest to families in need

    By Ramona du Houx

    Unions members who work at the Sappi Fine Paper in Skowhegan raised $15,854 in their annual Christmas Dinner Harvest drive and delivered Christmas dinners and donations to local area foodbanks on December 17th and 18th.

    "It gets better every time," said Cindy Rancourt, Recording Secretary of United Steelworkers Local 9. "It was very successful, everyone was very happy. We want to help the community out. This was a big effort from a lot of people working together."

    Workers who are members of United Steelworkers Local 9 along with members of three other local unions at Sappi have been working to raise the money to provide meals to families in need and donations to community food cupboards for Christmas.

    "We're so glad to be able to help out families in our community who may be struggling to make ends meet this holiday season," said Patrick Carleton of Chesterville, a paper maker at Sappi and President of United Steelworkers Local 9. "We were able to purchase an incredible amount of food, we filled 11 trucks completely, an 18 foot trailer, and a 12 foot trailer. We have already heard back from a few of the foodbanks saying thank you, they didn’t expect to receive so much."

    The collection has happened annually since 2008.

    Union members loaded 11 trucks and two trailers to deliver food to 11 different community foodbanks as well as delivering 100 complete Christmas Dinners. The towns include Fairfield, Vassalboro, Waterville, Oakland, Skowhegan, Mercer, Smithfield, Madison, Solon, Starks and Farmington.

    In addition to the funds raised by union members, donation were contributed by Sappi Fine Paper, Fairfield grocer the Village Market, and Associated Grocers of New England.

    In addition to the Christmas dinners and food cupboard donations, the members also purchased and delivered comfort items to the Veterans Volunteer Services at Togus on December 17th. These items include winter socks, shampoo, soap, shaving cream, razors and electric shavers, gas cards, Hannaford cards for groceries, mittens, hats, light jackets, sweatshirts and a few games.

     Union volunteers met today at the Village Market on Main Street, Fairfield where they purchased and loaded food and drove it to the USW Local 4-9 Union Hall. It was then divided up, loaded onto trucks, and went out to the communities.

    Afterwards the Christmas Harvest Drive Committee held their Annual Meeting to start planning for next year.

  • Non-profit Waterville Creates! awarded $1.5 million Alfond grant

    Photos and article by Ramona du Houx 

    Waterville Creates! has been awarded $1.5 million in grants from the Harold Alfond Foundation that will “help establish Waterville Creates! and support work of Waterville Creates! partners,” increasing arts and culture programming in the city.

    “Waterville Creates! has brought together Waterville’s major arts organizations,” said Greg Powell, chairman of the Harold Alfond Foundation. “This funding confirms our commitment to supporting the Waterville Creates! mission to lead the marketing and programming efforts on behalf of the Waterville’s arts and cultural institutions.”

    “It will help ensure ongoing efforts to increase the collaborative programming of Waterville Creates! partners — the Colby Museum of Art, Maine Film Center, Waterville Main Street, Waterville Opera House, Waterville Public Library and Common Street Arts,” said the chairman of the Waterville Creates! board, Larry Sterrs. “This effort has already increased recognition of the importance of these organizations to the vitality of central Maine and helped to continue the Waterville renaissance in benefit to its citizens locally and regionally.”

    Waterville Creates! works to enhance the arts and cultural institutions in the city.

  • Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative leads way in USA for carbon reduction to meet Paris protocol - a model example

    At the Paris Climate Change Conference over 350 state and local elected officials, representing every state, launched a sign on letter calling for 50 percent clean energy by 2030, and 100 percent clean energy by 2050. More elected officials are expected to sign on the letter in the coming days.

    A number of current and former elected officials organized the “elected official’s letter” initiative including former Maine State Representative Alex Cornell du Houx, former Councilor and Deputy Town Supervisor Town of Caroline, New York, Dominic Frongillo, and California East Bay Municipal Utility District Director Andy Katz.

    “We organized this initiative to highlight the important work state and local governments are doing to promote clean energy and reduce carbon pollution, despite many members of Congress who lack the leadership to protect our families and communities,” said Cornell du Houx.

    Over 17 elected officials from Maine signed the letter, including Portland City Councilor Jon Hinck. When Hinck was a member of the Maine state legislature he worked tirelessly on clean energy initiatives. He helped with the law that made Maine part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative leads (RGGI). The RGGI, America’s first cap-n-trade agreement, has earned the state over $74 million that has been invested in clean energy initiatives. The legislation had a unanimous vote for implementation during the Baldacci administration.

    “The RGGI gives Northeast States a start in the worldwide effort to increase efficiency and meet power demand without fueling climate change,” said Hinck.

    The transition to renewable energy sources creates jobs and opportunities.

    Farmington’s new Medical Arts Center at Franklin Community Health Network’s is saving energy while delivering critical medical care, in a large part, because of $59,532 in incentives from RGGI funds awarded by the state’s Efficiency Maine — the agency that channels RGGI earnings to clean energy projects.

    RGGI estimates a return of more than $2.9 billion in lifetime energy bill savings to more than 3.7 million participating households, and 17,800 businesses. California's Cap-and-Trade Program, which started in 2012, generated $969 million in revenue for the state through the end of 2014. It is expected to generate $2 billion a year or more in the future.

    The RGGI states have experienced over a 40 percent reduction in power sector carbon pollution since 2005, while the regional economy has grown eight percent. “This proves that we can reduce pollution that’s putting our communities’ health at risk while growing jobs and prosperity. From East Coast to West Coast — states and local communities are leading the way,” said Katz.

    PHOTO: Former State Representative Alex Cornell du Houx speaking at the Paris summit.

    California, the world’s 7th largest economy, recently passed legislation to achieve 50 percent clean energy by 2030, and has started down that road with their own form of RGGI.

    “California’s example shows that climate action can be an engine for broadly shared economic prosperity,” said California Senator President Pro Tempore Kevin De León, at the “elected official’s letter” Paris press conference on December 8th. “By promoting the development of clean energy resources, we are simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving air quality, and creating jobs that can lift families out of poverty. If Congress won’t act, it’s incumbent on state and local leaders to do the job for them.”

    When Congress has been gridlocked over how to combat climate change local communities have taken on the challenge.

    This year, the United States has hit many clean energy milestones. America has added more clean power than natural gas, with clean energy generation up 11 percent while natural gas generation declined. During this time, jobs in the solar power industry grew 20 times faster than the rest of the economy.

    "We want the rest of the world to know that the climate-denying, anti-science voices in Congress do not represent America,” said Nick Rathod, Executive Director of the State Innovation Exchange. “Innovations at the state level often drive our national policy forward and that is exactly what is happening in the fight against climate change. States are leading the way."

    With the historic treaty to reduce carbon emissions worldwide that was reached in Paris on December 12, 2015 more clean energy projects need to be implemented.

    “Now we really have to step up the effort and meet the challenge,” said Hinck.

    The “elected official’s letter” initiative also supports the implementation of President Obama's Clean Power Plan, as it will bring the U.S. within seven percent of the stated goal.

    “We appreciate the administration’s leadership and commitment to working with state and local government,” said Cornell du Houx. “This letter is only the beginning. We will be working with state and local elected officials across America to ensure a healthier and safer future for our children. As leaders responsible for America’s present and future prosperity, we must take action now.”

  • Leaders of nearly 50 Maine businesses urge Collins, King to defend EPA Clean Power Plan

     

    RGGI, America’s first cap-n-trade agreement, has earned the state over $74 million

     By Ramona du Houx

    On December 16, 2015, clean energy business leaders gathered in Portland at a solar panel company, ReVision Energy, to release a letter that urges Maine Senators Susan Collins and Angus King to continue their support for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) finalized Clean Power Plan. If passed the plan will be the biggest national action yet to cut carbon pollution from power plants — power plants are the largest source of this climate-changing pollution in the nation. 

    The plan, in many ways, is modeled after the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), America’s first cap-n-trade agreement, which has earned the Maine over $74 million that has been invested in clean energy and weatherization initiatives.

    “Maine people and businesses expect their Congressional leaders to stand up for Maine’s interests, and not be beholden the ideologies and rhetoric from out-of-state corporate polluters,” said Margaret Hoyt of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “We’re pleased to see that leadership from Collins and King.”

    The letter emphasizes the importance of both Senators’ to continue their support as corporate polluters with vested interests in coal and oil, along with their political allies from other regions, repeatedly try to block the plan in Congress.

    “Nine years ago, Evergreen Home Performance looked at Maine’s combination of old houses, high oil dependence and natural resources and saw a business opportunity,” said Evergreen Home Performance founder Richard Burbank. “Since then, we’ve transformed hundreds of Maine houses from energy hogs to comfortable, efficient, worry-free homes, giving homeowners a nice buffer against volatile fuel prices, and employed highly trained workers.”

     Maine is expected to meet its Clean Power Plan requirements by continuing participation in the RGGI which limits pollution and generates funds through quarterly auctions of carbon credits.

    When Portland City Councilor Jon Hinck was a member of the Maine state legislature he worked tirelessly on clean energy initiatives. He helped with the law that made Maine part of RGGI. The legislation had a unanimous vote for implementation during the Baldacci administration. “The RGGI gives Northeast States a start in the worldwide effort to increase efficiency and meet power demand without fueling climate change,” said Hinck.

    The transition to renewable energy sources creates jobs and opportunities and RGGI helps.

     Farmington’s new Medical Arts Center at Franklin Community Health Network’s is saving energy while delivering critical medical care, in a large part, because of $59,532 in incentives from RGGI funds awarded by the state’s Efficiency Maine — the agency that channels RGGI earnings to clean energy projects.

    RGGI estimates a return of more than $2.9 billion in lifetime energy bill savings to more than 3.7 million participating households, and 17,800 businesses. The RGGI states have experienced over a 40 percent reduction in power sector carbon pollution since 2005, while the regional economy has grown eight percent.

    “We do about 100 home energy savings projects every year, and we are always happy to make homeowners more comfortable in their homes,” said Josh Wojcik, founder of the family-owned Upright Frameworks. “Thanks to RGGI, incentives are available to homeowners for this work. It’s great that RGGI sets Maine on the right course to meet the Clean Power Plan, too.”

    Through RGGI, Maine’s overall economy has grown and energy costs have been reduced.

    At the latest RGGI auction, on December 2, carbon credits brought in $4.2 million, primarily for Efficiency Maine to invest in energy improvements for Maine homes and businesses. Efficiency Maine’s annual report, released November 30, shows that RGGI provided almost all of the funds to help homes and large businesses and industry reduce oil and other heating fuel costs. According to that report, in the year ending June 30, 2015, the Home Energy Savings Program yielded $43 million in lifetime home energy savings for nearly 10,000 homes, supporting hundreds of jobs in the clean energy sector at the same time.

    However, Congressman Bruce Poliquin voted in favor of the Clean Power Plan repeal. His statements indicated he doesn’t understand or appreciate the fact that independent economists have shown that RGGI has created hundreds of jobs in Maine including a $215 million net benefit to Maine’s economy, and a boon to our environment.

    “Power plants should not be given unlimited license to treat our sky like an open sewer,” said Phil Coupe, co-founder of ReVision Energy. “The Clean Power Plan sets basic parameters to limit carbon pollution in the same way that there are limits on other pollutants like arsenic and mercury.”

    Climate change poses a serious threat to Maine’s economy, environment, and quality of life. Air pollution carried downwind from dirty power plants harms Mainers’ health and increases cases of asthma, cancer and heart disease. Warmer temperatures increase the number of vector-borne diseases in Maine, specifically causing Lyme disease, carried by deer ticks, to skyrocket.

    Climate change also threatens Maine’s nature-based industries like farming, winter guiding, fishing, and skiing, by increasing the severity and frequency of storms and making weather patterns less predictable. In addition, warmer and more acidic oceans threaten the long-term viability of lobsters and other marine fisheries, jeopardizing the culture and economy of Maine’s coastal communities.

    “Maine business leaders are already seeing how climate change threatens Maine’s economy, environment, and way of life, and they are already building a cleaner, more efficient economy,” said Hoyt. “Now, the Clean Power Plan will guarantee the rest of the nation follows New England’s lead with power plant carbon limits as strong as ours. Maine’s Clean Energy businesses support these common-sense proposals because they create enormous economic opportunities as we transition to cleaner, more efficient energy solutions.”

     So far, the letter has been signed by 46 Maine clean energy businesses, including Reed & Reed president and CEO Jack Parker, Evergreen Home Performance co-owners Elise Brown and Richard Burbank, Solaris owner Suzan Elichaa, ReVision Energy co-founder Phil Coupe, Penobscot Home Performance founder Matt Damon, Upright Framework founder Josh Wojcik, Vice President for State Policy at SunEdision, and Goggin Energy founder and owner Ann Goggin.

    In the run up to the global climate talks in Paris, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) pushed through a bill that would repeal the plan, in part to weaken the U.S. position in any climate deal. Collins and King voted against the repeal bill, helping ensure it lacks the votes necessary to override President Obama’s veto.

    Since the Paris worldwide agreement of 195 nations to limit carbon emissions happened on December12, 2015, Congress approved an extension for a research and development tax break and extends the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for clean energy projects by five years.

    "Getting a five-year PTC extension in this bill was important for clean energy companies in Maine and around the country," said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree.  "Before this, companies didn't know from one year to the next whether this tax break was going to be on the books.  That makes it very hard to plan the clean energy projects that have created thousands of jobs already in our state." 

    However, over the coming months, there are likely to be additional attempts by McConnell and his allies to repeal or block the Clean Power Plan. They rejected the Paris treaty, agreeing with 3 percent of so-called scientists that global warming isn't happening.

    The Clean Power Plan is an essential part of the commitment the U.S. made in Paris.

  • Unique gifts at the Hallowell Holiday Gift Shop with work of nearly fifty local artists

    By Ramona du Houx

    With the Flow and the Holiday Pottery Shop have teamed up to offer an amazing array of local artisan's work just in time for the holidays.

    Once inside customers are astounded with the displays of unique gifts. Many exclamations of excitement can be heard as shoppers discover gifts for that special somebody- or themselves.

    The store is located at 100 Water Street – 'the big red building' just up from the riverfront park at Winthrop Street.

    “This building gives us plenty of room to display the work of local artisans in a big bright space with plenty of parking right beside it. Combine this with all the other great shopping and dining in Hallowell and you have a shopping experience you can look forward to instead of dreading,” said Geoff Houghton, co-owner of the building and owner of the Liberal Cup.

    With the Flow is a new shop featuring locally made nature-themed T-shirts from Liberty Graphics.

    “We carry over fifty of Liberty Graphic's most popular designs in sizes ranging from infant oneseys to adult XXL. Especially popular as gifts are the Robert McCloskey books and and matching shirt designs from Blueberries for Sal and One Morning in Maine,” said Will Sugg, owner of With the Flow. 

    In addition to Liberty Graphics T-shirts, posters, and cards With the Flow features past year's posters from the Common Ground Country Fair, farm products from Sprucebush Farm, Beyond Coffee, Hinterland Photography cards and prints, Richard Macdonald Stained Glass, Kristin Bishop Felt Critters, Untitled Herbs bath products, Hallowell Soap Works fine soaps, Maine Balsam Fir Products, N44º Woodworks crafts and wreaths, Toki Art cards, All Star Hula Hoops and toys, and sonrisa henna studio tattoos on weekends.

    The Holiday Pottery Shop, sponsored by Central Maine Clay Artists, is in its eighth year hosting a pop-up shop.

    The work features Loken Pottery, The Potter's House, Maple Lane Pottery, Mudgirl Pottery, Malley Weber, Fine Mess Pottery, Ditch Lily Pottery, Lakeside Pottery, Alley Cat Pottery and Hyydraworks!, and the jewelry of Spirt House, Boyd Johnson and Jean McWillams.

    “We also feature the glass work of Faith Benedetti, the fine art of Helene Farrar and Lori Austell, fiber by Susan Blasidell, Riverdog Designs, Norma McDonough and Wendy Harrington, woodwork by Cheryl Scibeliti, and personal care products by  Moonshadow Farm and Aurelie All Natural,” said shop coordinator Mary Kay Spencer.

    Patrons hope the shop will continue throughout the year.

    For more information please click on the links:

    With the Flow

     Holiday Pottery Shop

    For more images of the work please go here.

  • Pingree introduces landmark Food Recovery Act aimed to feed America by reducing food waste


    Congresswomen Cheillie Pingree on her farm in Maine.

    By Ramona du Houx

    Maine ranks 12th in the nation in food insecurity with one in four children going hungry everyday while there is good food being trashed. Congresswoman Chellie Pingree has started the ball moving to solve the problem for Maine, and the nation.

    On December 7, 2015 at the Portland Food Co-Op, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree announced her bill to reduce the amount of food that is wasted each year in the United States.  That piece of legislation, The Food Recovery Act, includes nearly two-dozen provisions to reduce food waste across the economy.

    “I am hoping desperately that this gets the conversation going in Washington. 40 percent of all food produced in the United States each year is wasted," said Pingree. 

    • America increased food waste in 2010 by 16 percent as 33.79 million tons of food were wasted that year - enough to fill the Empire State Building 91 times.
    • Every ton of food wasted results in 3.8 tons of greenhouse gas emissions from the methane gas that is created at is decomposes.
    • A single restaurant in the U.S. can produce approximately 25,000 to 75,000 pounds of food waste in a year, according to the Green Restaurant Association.

    “Every day, we needlessly waste a staggering amount of perfectly good food and the general public doesn’t even know it’s happening,” said Sarah Lakeman, Sustainable Maine Project Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

    Pingree added, "The Food Recovery Act takes a comprehensive approach to reducing the amount of food that ends up in landfills and at the same time reducing the number of Americans who have a hard time putting food on the table."

    Pingree's bill targets wasted food in four areas:

    1. at the consumer level,
    2. in grocery stores and restaurants,
    3. in schools and other institutions,
    4. and on the farm.

    "Wasted food costs us over $160 billion a year in this country," said Pingree.  "That works out to about $125 a month for a family of four. We can save money and feed more Americans if we reduce the amount of food that ends up getting sent to landfills."

    Pingree’s bill would provide new tax deductions for diverting unwanted food to food banks and using inedible food scraps, such as banana peels and eggshells, for compost.

    The bill also provides grant funding to help schools and public institutions make better connections with local farms, including using lower-priced fruits and vegetables that aren’t deemed pretty enough to sell commercially. These “ugly” fruits and vegetables are often trashed when they hold as much value in their nutrients and vitamins as their manikin cousins. The problem has been that farmers don’t have the resources to take the “ugly” fruits and vegetables to food banks or educational institutions. It’s time consuming, so they trash tons of good food, daily. The proposed tax deductions should turn this catastrophe around.

    Pingree was joined by dozens of people representing groups and organizations from throughout Maine. 

    Restaurants often toss scraps into the garbage adding to landfills. But any scrap that is biodegradable can and could be reclaimed by the earth — by composting it. Then that compost will be rich in nutrients to put on gardens in the spring. Some restaurants compost and have their own gardens, like Pingree’s own restaurant. The tax-deductions in her bill would give more restaurants the incentive to compost.

     "Wasting food is bad for the economy, bad for the environment and bad for Americans who are struggling to afford healthy food to feed their families. Congresswoman Pingree is a national leader on sustainable food and farming and I’m glad she’s taking on this huge issue of wasted food," said celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, co-founder of Food Policy Action and owner/chef of Crafted Hospitality.

    Pingree’s bill clarifies that “sell-by” dates on food are only manufacturer suggestions, not dates required by the federal government, which most people assume they are. Those “sell-by” dates do not mean the food is unsafe to eat after that date.

    The irony of the current system is that farmers, restaurants, and supermarkets all want to feed people. But in all these businesses there is unintentional food waste.

    “Connecting farmers to hungry people through incentives to donate food, and recycling waste food when it is no longer usable closes the loop in the system rather than contributing to the conventional linear waste stream,” said Ted Quaday, Executive Director, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

    “This groundbreaking legislation offers assistance to farmers and retailers, supports food recovery organizations, and helps consumers by clarifying the senseless date labels that appear on foods. It thus achieves many of the goals our clinic has advocated over the past few years and we are thrilled to work in support of its passage,” said Emily Broad Leib, Director of Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic. 

    Hannah Semler, of Healthy Acadia's Gleaning Program in Hancock County wrote a statement of support for the legislation."In Maine, and throughout the U.S. as well as other parts of the world, managing excess food from farms is becoming a pathway to food security. Healthy Acadia sees the integration of food waste reduction strategies as a quality management concern for food business, schools, hospitals, food pantries, and household economics. We expect many synergies to come from the Food Recovery Act… and we are grateful to be a part of the conversation.”

  • New federal rules will require grocery stores to keep track of the sources of ground beef



    By Ramona du Houx

    New federal rules will require grocery stores to keep track of the sources of ground beef.

    Congresswoman Chellie Pingree said the regulations, she pushed for, will help track food-borne illnesses like the antibiotic-resistant salmonella outbreak linked to Hannaford Supermarkets in 2011. 

    "I'm glad USDA has issued these rules that will make it mandatory for retailers to keep track of where the beef they are grinding is coming from—this is something we have been pushing hard for and I'm glad regulators have agreed it's necessary.  As we learned the hard way, the voluntary guidelines that have been in place were just not sufficient when contaminated ground beef ended up in the grocery store," said Pingree.

    The Congresswoman had pushed the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to toughen up requirements for retailers to keep careful records of the sources of meat used to produce ground beef in their butcher shops. 

    Pingree, who sits on the committee that oversees the USDA's budget, had asked Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack pushing for better record keeping to allow quick tracing of food-born illnesses related to tainted ground beef.

    Pingree said while the record keeping will help find the source of illnesses from ground beef, the increased use of antibiotics in animal feed continues to put consumers at risk for antibiotic-resistant infections.

    "The particular strain of Salmonella found in the 2011 outbreak was drug resistant, something we are seeing more and more often," said Pingree. "The use of human antibiotics in animal feed has become more and more common and it's leading to new strains of infections that no longer respond to the antibiotics we have.  It's a pretty scary problem."

    The Salmonella linked to the outbreak four years ago was multi-drug resistant.  Although the infections traced to the ground beef responded to some drugs, a number of antibiotics normally used to treat Salmonella proved ineffective with that strain. 

    The incidence of drug resistant infections in farm animals has been on the increase since large-scale cattle, hog and chicken growers started adding antibiotics to feed.  The antibiotics help ward off some of the disease that comes when animals are packed into tighter quarters and fed lower quality feed.  But when antibiotics are given to animals on a daily basis, it doesn’t take long for new, drug-resistant forms of the disease to emerge.

    Pingree is a sponsor of a bill banning the use of antibiotics in animal feed unless they are medically necessary and has pushed federal officials to limit their use.

  • Nations agree to curb climate change with historic Paris draft agreement

    By Ramona du Houx

    Negotiations went through the night to come up with an agreement in Paris, France, to curb climate change amoungst over 191 nations. On December 12, 2015 the draft treaty was reached.  Phone calls between the US President Barack Obama, and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, and appeals from the French Priminister Hollande and the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, all helped to push countries towards agreeing to the final draft.

    In the pact would commit countries to keeping the rise in global temperatures by the year 2100 compared with pre-industrial times "well below" 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and "endeavor to limit" them even more, to 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

    Critically, countries would also be committed to limiting the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activity to the same levels that trees, soil and oceans can absorb naturally, beginning at some point between 2050 and 2100.

    Read the draft agreement HERE.

    The full plenary session still requires an unanimous agreement from all contries. This is set to take place on Saturday afternoon and evening. Objections at this stage could still disrupt a final deal.

    Ban Ki-moon urged countries to agree the deal, “We have come to a final moment of a journey that has been going on for decades. The end now is in sight. Let us now finish the job. We must protect the planet that sustains us. Billions of people are relying on your wisdom."

    Photo: Alex Cornell du Houx, a former state Rep. from Maine, is in Paris as a leader of lawmakers from everystate that are demanding action on climate change. The coalition he represents have a sign up letter for current lawmakers that bypasses Congress for clean energy action. See more here.

  • Over 400 of Portland’s middle school students stand with Paris Climate Change Conference for action now

    Students from King Middle School at Portland City Hall on December 4, 2015, making a stand to encourage people to take action personally against climate change. Photo by Portland Citycouncilor Jon Hinck.

    By Ramona du Houx

    Cars honked and people waved support for over 400 students from King Middle School, city officials, members of 350.org, and concerned citizens when they marched to Portland City Hall on December 4, 2015. There they held a rally to promote climate change awareness and urge people to make changes to reduce waste, pollution and carbon emissions.

    “Climate Change is not a debate—it’s happening now,” said an impassioned student driving the reality home that this generation will experience the effects of the world’s climate changing in devastating ways if we don’t take action now.

    The students have been studying climate change issues, and the march/rally was part of their assignment.

    “The kids have it right on climate. The rest of us should follow their lead and get on the job of making our energy system clean and renewable,” said City Councilor Jon Hinck.

    Speakers called for immediate action and told the audience they can start recycling, composting, walking or biking instead of driving, and switching out traditional light bulbs to low-energy alternatives. The students point: everyone can make a difference if we all act.

     “We are not here to celebrate, but to motivate,” said eighth-grader Siri Pierce at City Hall. “We know this will be a more serious problem in the future, so why not start fighting now?”

    The march coincided with the United Nations climate talks in Paris, which hopefully will culminate with a legal global treaty amongst the 191 countries taking part in the talks.

    The last time a global climate treaty was signed was in 1997 with the Kyoto Protocol. But that agreement only required wealthy countries to reduce carbon emissions.  This time developing and emerging nations are poised to sign on, making this agreement truly global.

    Many nations have come to understand climate change technologies can help grow economies. Alternative energy is among the industries in Maine that show the most potential for job growth, according to a state report commissioned by the Maine Technology Institute in 2013 to identify fast-growing, technology-intensive industries that could yield significant economic growth.

    Businesses that work in alternative energy are a part of the state’s fastest-growing sectors, according to the report. The sector experienced job gains in Maine of 11.9 percent, from 2007 to 2012, and is predicted to grow by 4.7 percent through 2022, beating a forecasted U.S. growth rate of 2.3 percent.

    “I am very motivated — and you are my motivation,” Mayor Michael Brennan told the students as he gave them a key to the city.

     Portland is currently adding solar panels to city buildings. The effort is part of the city’s climate action plans that are being currently implemented across all aspects of its operations from transportation and land use planning, to vehicle policies and fuel usage.

     

     

  • Portland, ME, launches landlord registration process

    Photo of Portland, Maine in the sumertime by Ramona du Houx

    Rental housing registration form now available, due by January 1

    Following the creation of the Housing Safety Office, Portland, Maine, is now ready to launch the rental housing registration process, which requires landlords to register their rental properties and pay a $35 fee per unit by January 1, 2016.

    The form can be found at www.portlandmaine.gov/housingsafety and the fee can be paid online.

    "The rental housing registration will allow us to gather much needed data on our rental housing stock in Portland,” said Jon Jennings, City Manager. “This data will be used to help build a database for our inspectors, and be available as a resource for the public. We urge landlords to submit their registration forms as quickly as possible so we can begin building the database and performing inspections in the new year.”

    Landlords can reduce the registration fee through the use of the following approved discounts:

    • $10 for a fully-sprinkled building (verification: testing/maintenance report and/or maintenance contract)
    • $7.50 for a centrally-monitored fire alarm (verification: Fire Department logs and/or alarm contract)
    • $5 for a HUD HQS inspection (verification: inspection report within last year)
    • $10 for a HUD UPCS inspection (verification: inspection report within last year)
    • $2.50 for a smoke-free policy (verification: copy of lease and spot checks)

    The fee cannot drop below $15 per unit.

    The City Council approved the creation of the Housing Safety Office on June 25, 2015 following recommendations presented to them by the Fire/Code Inspections Task Force. In addition to the new Administrator and inspectors who will be cross-trained in code enforcement and fire safety, the Housing Safety Office is charged with implementing a risk-based prioritization process for inspections; conducting inspections; and overseeing and enforcing the revised landlord registration ordinance.  

  • Lawmakers tour five production, education, and shipping facilities during Portland Waterfront jobs tour

    Maine lawmakers Rep. Jorgensen, Rep. Moonen, Rep. Russell, Sen. Alfond, Speaker Eves, Rep. Chipman, Rep. Farnsworth, with Bert Jongerden of the Fish Exchange, Bill Needelman Portland's Waterfront Coordinator and Ray Swenton of Bristol Seafood toured the Portland Fish Exchange with Ray Swenton of Bristol Seafood. Courtesy photo.

    By Ramona du Houx

    Maine State House Speaker Mark Eves joined Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond and Rep. Matthew Moonen and Rep. Diane Russell in their districts with other Portland lawmakers and city officials to tour businesses and facilities along the city waterfront. The visit was a continuation of a statewide jobs tour launched in January by Eves.

    Most of these state Representatives were present during Governor John Baldacci's tenure when voter bonds were used to help build up the waterfront, dredging and establishing a pier. The grants helped the city promote the deep city port, which has attracted Eimskip from Iceland as well as more cruse ships.

    “Maine’s marine economy is vital to the strength of our state,” said Eves. “It was great to witness the deep commitment shared by employees, industry experts and business and community leaders to innovation and the creation of enduring partnerships between public and private sectors that will make Maine second to none."

    Representatives Erik Jorgensen, Ben Chipman and Richard Farnsworth were also present for the tours of Bristol Seafood, Portland Fish Exchange, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, the Ready Seafood Company, and Eimskip’s facility at the International Marine Terminal.

    “Meeting with the people who have helped make Portland the economic and cultural juggernaut it is today was a thrill and a privilege,” said Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond of Portland. “We should all look to the experience of entrepreneurs, business owners and workers who have created a thriving economy in Portland, and replicate their success elsewhere in our state.”

    Lawmakers, Maine House Speaker Eves, Sen. Alfond, Rep. Russell and Rep. Moonen, visit Bristol Seafood in Portland, Maine, on a jobs tour. Courtesy photo.

    Legislators began the tour at Bristol Seafood and Portland Fish Exchange. The Portland Fish Exchange, opened in 1986, is America’s first all-display fresh seafood auction. Over 20 million pounds of seafood are bought and sold each year at the Exchange.

    "The Portland waterfront is a critical component of the Maine employment picture. Fisheries, transportation, tourism, and industry supply goods, services, and jobs for the region. These jobs rely on access to the water and investment in aging infrastructure to continue and to grow," said Bill Needelman, Waterfront Coordinator for the city of Portland. "The City is pleased to work with the legislature and all branches of state government to strengthen marine employment on Portland's waterfront."

    Lawmakers also toured the Cohen Center for Interactive Learning at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. GMI recently was awarded it's largest grant of $6.5 million NASA to support climate change education. During the Baldacci administration GMI regularly would receive grants from Maine from bonds, which has helped GMI grow its diverse programs.

    “The Cohen Center for Interactive Learning is a great example of how education can help children and families understand Maine’s marine economy and why it’s so important,” said Representative Moonen. “It was great to see such comprehensive research made accessible and family friendly. Understanding is the first step towards action.”

    Ready Seafood Company, stop four on the tour, is a family owned and Maine grown business that employs over 50 and sources millions of pounds of live lobster ranging from the Gulf of Maine to the Canadian Maritimes.

    "We saw countless examples of ingenuity and dedication to quality that help raise the standards for not only Maine but New England as well," said Rep. Russell. "We remain committed to supporting Portland's thriving waterfront industries and the people and families who rely on them."

    Lawmakers closed out the tour at Eimskip’s facilities at the International Marine Terminal. Eimskip is Iceland’s oldest shipping company, and has offices in 19 countries worldwide.

  • Paris Climate Change summit opens with Pres. Obama's call for action

    President Barack Obama will be in Paris at the Climate Change summit to help guide nations on this issue. He said that last year carbon emissions world wide did not grow, or diminish, while third world countries economies grew. This signaled that the world understands fighting climate change with new technologies also grows economies.

    Pres. Obama said, "old"arguments for inaction on (climate change) had been broken... I come here personally as the leader of world’s biggest economy and second biggest emitter to say that America not only acknowledges its role in climate change but embraces doing something about it," said Pres. Obama during the opening session of a United Nations conference attended by 196 nations, he said the "old" arguments for inaction on (climate change) had been broken.

    Some 151 world leaders converged on the exhibition halls at Le Bourget Airport just outside the French capital to attend the summit.

    For the first time in history, we have a chance to put in place a global climate agreement that will spur countries to take ambitious action that will reduce carbon pollution, support clean energy, and ensure we deliver a planet that is worthy of future generations.

  • Maine researchers published in Science discover increased carbon dioxide enhances plankton growth

      

    Science study reports that coccolithophores’ abundance has increased by an order of magnitude since 1960s, significantly changing the ocean’s garden.

    by Ramona du Houx

    Coccolithophores—tiny calcifying plants that are part of the foundation of the marine food web—have been increasing in relative abundance in the North Atlantic over the last 45 years, as carbon input into ocean waters has increased. Their relative abundance has increased 10 times, or by an order of magnitude, during this sampling period.

    “This provides one example on how marine communities across an entire ocean basin are responding to increasing carbon dioxide levels. Such real-life examples of the impact of increasing CO2 on marine food webs are important to point out as the world comes together in Paris next week at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change,” said Dr. William Balch, senior research scientist at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences.

    This finding was diametrically opposed to what scientists had expected since coccolithophores make their plates out of calcium carbonate, which is becoming more difficult as the ocean becomes more acidic and pH is reduced.

    “The results show both the power of long-term time-series of ocean observations for deciphering how marine microbial communities are responding to climate change and offer evidence that the ocean garden is changing,” said Dr. Balch.

    These findings were reported in the November 26th edition of Science and based on analysis of nearly a half century of data collected by the long-running Sir Alister Hardy Foundation (SAHFOS) Continuous Plankton Recorder sampling program.

    Dr. Balch, who is also a co-author of the paper, added, “We never expected to see the relative abundance of coccolithophores to increase 10 times in the North Atlantic over barely half a century. If anything, we expected that these sensitive calcifying algae would have decreased in the face of increasing ocean acidification (associated with increasing carbon dioxide entering the ocean from the burning of fossil-fuels). Instead, we see how these carbon-limited organisms appear to be using the extra carbon from CO2 to increase their relative abundance by an order of magnitude.”

    “Something strange is happening here, and it’s happening much more quickly than we thought it should,” said Anand Gnanadesikan, associate professor in the Morton K. Blaustein Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Johns Hopkins, and one of the study’s five authors.

    Gnanadesikan said the Science report certainly is good news for creatures that eat coccolithophores, but it’s not clear what those are. “What is worrisome,” he said, “is that our result points out how little we know about how complex ecosystems function.”

    Coccolithophore blooms photographed from a far. Photo Credits: Ocean Ecology Laboratory, Ocean Biology Processing Group NASA Goddard Space Center.

    The result highlights the possibility of rapid ecosystem change, suggesting that prevalent models of how these systems respond to climate change may be too conservative, he said.

    Coccolithophores are often referred to as “canaries in the coal mine.” Some of the key coccolithophore species can outcompete other classes of phytoplankton in warmer, more stratified and nutrient-poor waters (such as one might see in a warming ocean).

    Until this data proved otherwise, scientists thought that they would have more difficulties forming their calcite plates in a more acidic ocean. These results show that coccolithophores are able to use the higher concentration of carbon derived from CO2, combined with warmer temperatures, to increase their growth rate.

    When the percentage of coccolithophores in the community goes up, the relative abundance of other groups will go down. The authors found that at local scales, the relative abundance of another important algal class, diatoms, had decreased over the 45 years of sampling.

    The team’s analysis was of data taken from the North Atlantic Ocean and North Sea since the mid-1960s compiled by the Continuous Plankton Recorder survey. The CPR survey was launched by British marine biologist Sir Alister Hardy in the early 1930s. Today it is carried on by the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Sciences and is conducted by commercial ships trailing mechanical plankton-gathering gear through the water as they sail their regular routes. Dr. Willie Wilson, formerly a senior research scientist at Bigelow Laboratory, is now director of SAHFOS.

    “In the geological record, coccolithophores have been typically more abundant during Earth’s warm interglacial and high CO2 periods. The results presented here are consistent with this and may portend, like the “canary in the coal mine,” where we are headed climatologically,” said Balch.

    The lead author of the paper was Sara Rivero-Calle, a PhD candidate at John Hopkins University. In addition to Balch, her co-authors were Anand Gnanadesikan of John Hopkins, Carlos E. Del Castillo of NASA, and Seth D. Guikema of the University of Michigan.

    Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, an independent not-for-profit research institution on the coast of Maine, conducts research ranging from microbial oceanography to large-scale ocean processes that affect the global environment. Recognized as a leader in Maine’s emerging innovation economy, the Laboratory’s research, education, and technology transfer programs are spurring significant economic growth in the state.

  • USDA awards $2.68 Million in distance learning and telemedicine grants for 7 Maine projects

    Telemedicine at work in Maine.

    On Nov. 19, 2015 Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that USDA is investing $23.4 million in 75 projects in 31 states and the Western Pacific to expand distance learning and telemedicine opportunities in rural areas.

    In Maine, seven organizations have been selected to receive a total of $2.68 in grant funds for distance learning and telemedicine projects in Maine communities. Historically Maine organizations have been in the top of the country in terms of these awards, as is again this year one of the top three states tied for number of recipients funded.

    “This represents a major investment in healthcare and education for Maine’s rural and Native American populations. These projects mean that adult learning, mental health services, home healthcare, diabetes management and many other quality programs will be available to residents in Maine’s rural communities without the cost of gas or stress associated with traveling long distances,” said USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel.

     The grants are being provided through USDA Rural Development’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine program. They may be used to purchase equipment to provide educational and telemedicine services to rural communities.

    “Rural communities often lack access to specialized medical care or advanced educational opportunities necessary for stronger rural economies,” said Vilsack. “These grants will help increase access to health care and many other essential services.”

    The grants in Maine go to: 

    • Maine Rural Health Collaborative, LLC, Mount Desert Island, $431,599 - Rural Development funds will enable the project to offer telemedicine services to nine rural clinics located in the northern and eastern areas of Maine.  Through the project, psychiatrist services, dermatology, diabetes care, and other specialty management services will be provided.  In addition, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians (Aroostook County) and the Passamaquoddy Indian Health Centers (Washington County) will participate in the network.  It is estimated that 3,000 Native Americans will also benefit from this project.
    • Easton School District, Easton, $499,773- Rural Development funds will be used to deploy fully-interactive video-teleconferencing equipment at 1 hub-site and 29 end-user sites i.e., 27 public schools, 1 occupational training center and a Micmac facility (a federally-recognized tribe), to facilitate the interexchange & sharing of educational and vocational materials among educators, students and adult learners via the Internet.
    • Regional School Unit 64, Corinth, $498,535- Rural Development funds will be used to establish an interactive distance learning network that broadcasts classes from Hudson Elementary School, Maine Central Institute, and Hampden Academy to 6 schools served by RSU 64 School District, 3 schools served by RUS 50 School District as well as Beatrice Rafferty School located on the Passamaquoddy reservation.
    • Region Two School of Applied Technology (Rural Maine Public Health Consortium), Houlton, $498,825- Rural Development funds will be used to connect the Pleasant Point Adult Education Center on the Passamaquoddy Tribal Reservation and 48 other Adult Education centers throughout Southern and Eastern Maine.  Region 2 School of Applied Technology, the lead organization, will oversee this project as well as the sister project with Maine Adult Education Consortium while University of Maine (UM) serves as technology hub for both projects.  Educational content in nursing, allied health, and mental health subject areas will originate from Kennebec Valley Community College (KVCC) to all connected education centers.  Mobile devices with telepresence packages will be installed at the education centers while cart-mounted video endpoint equipment will be deployed at the hubs and hub/end-user sites.  The project also leverages existing video equipment at UM, KVCC and Somerset Public Health sites.
    • Region Two School of Applied Technology, Houlton, $499,378- Rural Development funds will be used to offer adult classes ranging from basic literacy and high school completion to highly specialized, career-focused training amongst 42 end user sites.  The project will enable local residents to go to a local facility and choose classes offered from anywhere in the state.  Another benefit of the project is that fewer teachers will be required for the area to teach the same number of students, reducing duplication of effort and creating opportunity for them to develop and offer new classes.
    • Kno-Wal-Lin Home Health Care Management, Inc., Rockland, $130,000- Rural Development funds will be used to provide tele-homecare monitors, plus integrated peripherals, to elderly, disabled and chronically ill residents of rural Maine.  Through remote patient monitoring, improved integration of patient information, and quicker response times for practitioners when patients are in jeopardy, patients will receive the timely care needed to prevent emergency room visits, hospitalization and institutionalization.  The use of the proposed home monitoring system and video-links will allow health professionals and patients to interact in a more frequent and timely manner.  Patients will experience reduced stress, a reduced need to travel to and from healthcare services, and will save time and money. Individuals will experience an increased quality of life and be able to remain at home as long as possible, despite having age-related handicaps and illnesses. 
    • Home Health Visiting Nurses of Southern Maine, Saco, $129,400- Rural Development funds will be used to deliver telehealth services to patients in their homes.  The services that will be provided are daily nurse monitoring of vital signs, video connection with clinicians, medication management modules, and disease specific health education.  The project will benefit western Cumberland County, northern York County, and western York County.

    The awards are being announced on National Rural Health Day to highlight work underway in the private sector, academia and in state and federal rural health offices to address the unique health care needs of rural communities.

    Funding of each award announced is contingent upon the recipient meeting the terms of their grant agreement.

    Since 2009, USDA has provided more than $213 million in loans and grants for 634 distance learning and telemedicine projects in rural areas nationwide.

    President Obama’s plan for rural America has brought about historic investment and resulted in stronger rural communities.

    USDA Rural Development has Area Offices located in Presque Isle, Bangor, Lewiston, and Scarborough, as well as a State Office, located in Bangor. 

  • Endangered Sturgeon return to Penobscot River post dam removal

    Endangered shortnose sturgeon released into the Penobscot River. Photo submitted by G. Zydlewski

    by Ramona du Houx

    Endangered shortnose sturgeon have rediscovered habitat in the Penobscot River that had been inaccessible to the species for more than 100 years prior to the removal of the Veazie Dam in 2013. The Dam's removal was the result of the dedication of many environmental organizations, including the Natural Resource Defense Council, state and local officials, native tribes and concerned citizens, over fifteen years.

    University of Maine researchers confirmed evidence that three female shortnose sturgeon were in the area between Veazie and Orono, Maine in mid-October.

    Researchers had previously implanted these sturgeon with small sound-emitting devices known as acoustic tags to see if they would use the newly accessible parts of the river. Among the most primitive fish to inhabit the Penobscot, sturgeon are often called “living fossils" because they remain very similar to their earliest fossil forms. The fish can live more than 50 years and their bony-plated bodies contribute to making them unique.

    Historically, shortnose sturgeon and Atlantic sturgeon had spawning populations in the Penobscot River as far upstream as the site of the current Milford dam, and provided an important food and trade source to native peoples and early European settlers. Overharvest and loss of suitable habitat due to dams and pollution led to declines in shortnose sturgeon populations and a listing as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1967.

    Graduate student C. Johnston and Associate Professor J. Zydlewski implant a small tagging device into a shortnose sturgeon

    In 2012, Gulf of Maine populations of Atlantic sturgeon were listed as threatened under the ESA. Today, a network of sound receivers, which sit on the river bottom along the lower river from Penobscot Bay up to the Milford Dam, detect movement and location of tagged fish.

    According to Gayle Zydlewski, an associate professor in the University of Maine School of Marine Sciences, the three individual fish observed were females. These fish have since been tracked joining other individuals in an area identified as wintering habitat near Brewer, Maine. Wintering habitat in other rivers is known to be staging habitat for spawning the following spring.

    “We know that shortnose sturgeon use the Penobscot River throughout the year, and habitat models indicate suitable habitat for spawning in the area of recent detection upriver of Veazie, although actual spawning has not yet been observed,” said Zydlewski.

    Since 2006, Zydlewski has been working with Michael Kinnison, a professor in UMaine’s School of Biology and Ecology, and multiple graduate students, including Catherine Johnston, to better understand the sturgeon populations of the Penobscot River and Gulf of Maine. Johnston, who has been tagging and tracking sturgeon in the Penobscot for two years to study the implications of newly available habitat to shortnose sturgeon, discovered the detections of sturgeon upstream of the Veazie dam remnants. Each new bit of information adds to the current understanding of behavior and habitat preferences of these incredible fish.

    “We’re very excited to see sturgeon moving upstream of where the Veazie Dam once stood, and into their former habitats,“ said Kim Damon-Randall, assistant regional administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries’ Protected Resources Division. “We need to do more research to see how they're using it, but it's a tremendous step in the right direction.”

    Habitat access is essential for the recovery of these species. The removal of the Veazie Dam is only a portion of the Penobscot River Restoration Project, which, when combined with the removal of Great Works Dam in 2012, restores 100 percent of historic sturgeon habitat in the Penobscot. In addition to dam removals, construction of a nature-like fish bypass at the Howland Dam in 2015 significantly improves habitat access for the remaining nine species of sea-run fish native to the Penobscot, including Atlantic salmon and river herring.

    “Scientific research and monitoring of this monumental restoration effort has been ongoing for the past decade,” said Molly Payne Wynne, Monitoring Coordinator for the Penobscot River Restoration Trust. “The collaborative body of research on this project is among the most comprehensive when compared to other river restoration projects across the country.”

     NOAA Fisheries is an active partner and provides funding for this long-term monitoring collaboration that includes The Penobscot River Restoration Trust, The Nature Conservancy and others. These efforts are beginning to shed light on the response of the river to the restoration project. Restoration of the full assemblage of sea-run fish to the Penobscot River will revive not only native fisheries but social, cultural and economic traditions of Maine’s largest river.

  • Marine Microbiology Initiative awards grants to 100 scientists -Bigelow Laboratory gets $150,000

    Dinoflagellates are single-celled marine organisms that use two (dino) whip-like organs called flagella (flagellates) to propel themselves in water. (stock photo)

    Bigelow Laboratory is part of international effort to develop ways to model marine microbial ecology to increase understanding and predictability of ocean systems

    By Ramona du Houx

      Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences Senior Research Scientist José Antonio Fernández Robledo will spend the next year developing molecular tools to manipulate dinoflagellates to better understand their function and how they might transform themselves under varying conditions.

      Dinoflagellates are single-celled marine organisms that use two (dino) whip-like organs called flagella (flagellates) to propel themselves in water. They are distributed throughout the global ocean and are the first link in the aquatic food chain--the initial transfer of light energy to chemical energy (photosynthesis). Almost all other organisms are dependent upon this energy transfer for their subsequent existence.

      This work, being done in collaboration with Dr. Claudio H. Slamovits at Dalhousie University in Halifax Nova Scotia, is part of an $8 million Marine Microbial Initiative launched by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

      The Initiative will occur over the next two years supporting the efforts of more than 100 scientists across 33 institutions to collectively tackle the challenge of developing methods to bring experimental model systems to the ocean.

       Bigelow Laboratory was awarded $150,000 in funding.                     

      The genetic tools generatedin this effort will allow researchers to investigate the activities of microbial genes to understand how these organisms function in marine ecosystems and provide the capability to ask scientific questions inways not currently possible.

      Model systems, such as the mammalian gut bacterium Escherichia coli for microbiology and the fruit fly and zebra fish for biomedicine, have been invaluable for deciphering complex biology. For example, by studying fruit flies, scientists gain insight into the inheritance of human traits such as eye color. But in the world of marine microbial ecology, there are very few model systems and associated tools that enable scientists to deeply explore the physiology, biochemistry, and ecology of marine microbes, which are key drivers of the ocean’s elemental cycles, influence greenhouse gas levels, and support marine food webs.

      Ginger Armbrust, Ph.D., from the University of Washington explained that an important outcome would be to “expand the community of people that are working on these organisms and making big breakthroughs into how these organisms function.” She added, “New model systems will be a magnet for people from outside the field of marine microbial ecology as they will suddenly be able to work with marine microbes in ways that they are used to working with other model organisms.

    “It is great to be part of this international effort to advance understanding of the marine microbial community and how it might respond to change,” said Bigelow Laboratory scientist Fernández Robledo. Bigelow photo

      Currently, researchers have access to powerful tools in biology to help them understand the ocean, such as microscopy and DNA sequencing, but are lacking essential tools in genetics to make robust experimental model systems. Without these tools, scientists are less able to link specific genes to cell behavior or determine how microbes interact within their environment and with one another – critical information for understanding how ocean ecosystems function.

      “It is great to be part of this international effort to advance understanding of the marine microbial community and how it might respond to change,” said Bigelow Laboratory scientist Fernández Robledo. “The support from the Moore Foundation will allow us to jump start our genetic capabilities here and help contribute to global ocean understanding.”

      Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, an independent not-for-profit research institution on the coast of Maine, conducts research ranging from microbial oceanography to large-scale ocean processes that affect the global environment. Recognized as a leader in Maine’s emerging innovation economy, the Laboratory’s research, education, and technology transfer programs are spurring significant economic growth in the state.

  • Minimum Wage Ballot campaign has enough signatures to be on 2016 ballot

    On Election Day the campaign to place a minimum wage increase on the ballot in 2016 announced that it had collected more than 30,000 signatures from voters at polls across the state on Election Day. Over 300 volunteers collected signatures at more than 100 poll locations across the state. The campaign has now collected more than 90,000 signatures since beginning in June – well over the 61,123 needed to qualify and all but guaranteeing placement on the 2016 ballot.

    "The amount of support we saw yesterday at the polls for raising the minimum wage was tremendous," said Amy Halsted, Campaign Manager for Mainers for Fair Wages. "It's clear that Mainers are ready and waiting for a raise. At a time when so many families are working hard and struggling to make ends meet on poverty wages, we can't wait any longer."

    In April, the Maine People's Alliance, Maine Small Business Coalition, and Maine AFL-CIO submitted the paperwork to launch a citizen initiative to raise Maine's minimum wage to $9 in 2017 and then by $1 a year until it reaches $12 by 2020. After that it would increase at the same rate as the cost of living. The initiative would also incrementally raise the sub-minimum tipped wage until it matches the minimum wage for all other workers by 2024.

    "Poll after poll shows that an overwhelming majority of Mainers want to raise the minimum wage," said Halsted. "Raising wages statewide will help over one hundred and thirty thousand Mainers who are working hard, most of them women, often at more than one job. Working people deserve better than poverty pay for full time work."

  • Maine House Speaker Eves praises housing bond victory, urges LePage to act quickly

     Speaker of the House Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, on Tuesday night praised the passage of bond Question 2 on the statewide ballot. The bond passed with 68 percent of the vote.

    Eves led the bipartisan effort in the State Legislature to pass the $15 million bond proposal to invest in affordable and efficient housing for Maine seniors.

    “The passage of the housing bond is a huge victory for Maine seniors and the economy. It’s a win win for communities across the state,” said Eves, who sponsored the bond proposal. “The investment will help a dire need for affordable housing for Maine seniors, while also helping to create construction jobs in communities in rural and urban areas of our state. Maine voters sent a strong message tonight in support of seniors. I urge the governor to release the bond quickly and honor the will of the voters.”

    Maine has a shortage of nearly 9,000 affordable rental homes for low income older adults, and that this shortfall will grow to more than 15,000 by 2022 unless action is taken to address the problem, according to a report by independent national research firm Abt Associates.

     “With the passage of the Housing Bond, Maine can start to scale that number back through improved affordable housing measures in some of our most vulnerable communities,”said Lori Parham, AARP Maine State Director. 

    The Senior Housing Bond will enable more Mainers to age in their own homes by revitalizing communities and providing new homes for older Mainers; dedicating funds to home repair and weatherization of some existing homes; and by creating jobs in the construction industry.

    AARP Maine heard from thousands of their 230,000 members in the state regarding this issue in the weeks leading up to the election.  On October 20th, more than 4,000 AARP members participated in a live tele-town hall with Senate President Mike Thibodeau (R-Winterport) and House Speaker Mark Eves (D-North Berwick).  Participants were invited to ask questions during the town hall meeting and many callers expressed their support for the state’s investment in affordable housing.

  • Bangor voters can show raising wages is the right thing to do

    The important debate over raising the minimum wage in Bangor most certainly will be affected by the decisions made by the voters on Tuesday, Nov. 3.

    Tuesday’s election is not only for the future of Bangor but for the future of Bangor’s values and leadership throughout the region. We have been leaders and innovators throughout our city’s history. By electing the right candidates, we can show Augusta, Washington, D.C., and the rest of the state of Maine that providing a livable wage to our citizens not only is morally right but economically right as well.

    There are many fine candidates running for Bangor City Council. They may bring a host of ideas and experiences to the job of councilperson. Of this group, Meg Shorette and Sarah Nichols are the only ones fully committed to the issue of raising wages for those who live and work in Bangor.

    Raising the minimum wage, which has been frozen for more than six years, is an issue of basic economic fairness. After decades where most families have seen their incomes stagnate, it is time that political leaders focus on how we can raise the wages of all workers and strengthen the American middle class.

    The current minimum wage has a lower purchasing power than it did in 1968. While corporate profits are at an all time high, middle- and working-class family incomes continue to shrink. We can and should do something about that.

    The Bangor minimum wage ordinance takes into account all those involved: workers, businesses and city administrators. It raises the minimum wage from $7.50 to $8.25 in the first year. In 2017, it increases again to $9 and in 2018 to $9.75. After that, the minimum wage will be tied to the consumer price index. It does not include tipped workers or those under the age of 18. It is a smart and measured way to help our citizens without hurting local businesses. These gradual steps allow business and the city to adjust to the changes while helping low-wage workers get closer to a living wage. It is a win-win for all those involved and is the right thing to do.

    Many have asked, “Why should Bangor or any city adopt a local minimum wage ordinance?”

    My first preference, as with most people, was to see a federal minimum wage increase. Unfortunately, we have a Congress that is actively hostile to any wage increase. That goes for the state level as well. The governor has vetoed and will continue to veto any minimum wage increase. He has gone so far as to sponsor legislation making it illegal for cities and towns to raise the minimum wage locally.

    In order to get a higher minimum wage, Bangor needs to be a leader once again for Maine.

    Over four terms on the City Council, I have fought for and helped pass policies that have brought hundreds of millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs to our region of Maine.

    Being pro-growth and for raising the minimum wage is simply good business. Putting more money in workers’ pockets means more money they spend at local businesses. Raising wages helps keep people with full-time jobs off our welfare rolls and helps strengthen families and communities.

    Shorette and Nichols clearly understand this.

    They both have strong individual records of community service, and both will bring new blood and new energy to the City Council. Both want to work for policies that will help all Bangor families make ends meet and create jobs. They will fight for a city that works for everyone.

    So, let’s vote to continue to move forward the important work of raising wages for all Maine workers. Let’s be leaders, economically and morally.

    Joe Baldacci is a current Bangor city councilor and Democratic candidate for the 2nd Congressional District of Maine.

  • Rep. Davitt appeals decision on bill to boost funding for veterans programs in Maine

    Rep. Jim Davitt is appealing the Maine Legislative Council’s rejection of his bill to increase funding for programs that support Maine veterans and their families.

    “Too many veterans, service members and their families are struggling,” said Davitt, D-Hampden.  “This bill will help existing programs better serve veterans’ immediate needs. It’s an important step our state can take to help military families in need.”

    The bill would create a check-off box on the existing form Mainers use to file their income tax returns.  By checking the box, filers could choose to donate $5 or another amount, which would be dedicated to funding nonprofit veterans’ services initiatives through grants to be administered by the Maine Bureau of Veterans Services.

    “By working with organizations that already serve veterans, we can maximize the impact of these funds,” said Davitt.  “Maine is fortunate to have dedicated people working to help veterans in need, but these programs need our support to ensure that no Maine veteran goes hungry or without housing.”

    According to Maine Center for Economic Policy, more than 8,000 Maine veterans are living below poverty level.

    During even-numbered years, the Legislature generally limits bill submissions to those that address emergencies and other pressing situations. The Legislative Council, which is made up of each party’s leaders in the Maine House and Senate, decides which bills fit the criteria. 

    Of the nearly 400 bills submitted for the 2016 legislative session, 33 received the green light from the Council.  The Council will consider all appeals on Nov. 19.

    Davitt, a veteran of the U.S. Army, earned the Bronze Star for his service in Vietnam.  He is serving his first term in the Maine House and represents Hampden and Newburgh.

     

  • If waitresses earned a decent minimum wage, our dignity might get a raise

    Editorial by Annie Quandt, a server working in the Old Port and a resident of Westport Island. First appeared in the PPH

    While I’ve never had someone completely stiff me because it took them a while to get their food – the customers’ rationale in the New Jersey incident, as they noted on the receipt – I frequently find myself putting up with almost anything from customers in order to get the tips that make up half of my income.

    In Maine, 82 percent of all tipped restaurant workers are women, and any woman who has worked for tips will tell you that sexual harassment and rude comments are, sadly, just another part of the job.

    When your customers pay your wages instead of your employer, you don’t have the luxury of speaking up when you feel uncomfortable or disrespected; if rent is due that week or you have a family to feed, you just have to put up with it.

    I’ve been working at a restaurant on Commercial Street in Portland for just about a year now, and I just picked up a second serving job on Commercial Street to make ends meet. Recently, two men came in, clearly intoxicated, and sat at their table for an hour and a half trying to look up the waitresses’ skirts.

    All of the women working that night could feel these men leering and were uncomfortable and anxious the whole shift. When we complained to management, they told us to cut off their alcohol consumption – but nothing else was done.

    These types of incidents are commonplace in the restaurant industry. I have been asked out on dates, with the customer’s pen hovering over the tip line as he waited for my answer. I have been asked for my number more times than I can count. I have had customers comment on my outfit or my body while I’m working. I’ve wanted to say something, but the customer is always right … right?

    When women servers can’t defend themselves from rude behavior from customers, the entire restaurant culture begins to accept it as the norm. Even management plays a role in harassment in this industry.

    If you’re not “date ready” when you show up for your shift, in some restaurants, you’ll be told to change or unbutton your top or to put on more makeup to make yourself appealing. In my case, the managers have made it clear that the curvier girls are not allowed to wear certain clothing items, while the more slender servers can wear whatever they want to work.

    Comments like this about body types and personal style not only make us all feel watched and uncomfortable but also sometimes make it more difficult for us to do our jobs. When I’m sweeping and cleaning and doing side work in 95-degree heat, the freedom to wear a skirt versus jeans is almost a necessity.

    Complaints about sexual harassment from co-workers are rarely taken seriously in restaurants. It is always tough to report unwanted attention or harassment from co-workers or customers, but it is especially difficult if the harassment comes from management.

    Where do you turn when the person who holds power over you at your job is the one harassing you? What happens if you do make a formal complaint? The restaurant industry is a tight-knit community, and if any employer thinks you might be a hassle, they won’t hire you.

    Servers wield so little power in their positions and in their wages, and I am inclined to think that the two are inextricably linked.

    According to a Restaurant Opportunities Centers United survey, servers working in states like Maine – where there is a sub-minimum wage for tipped workers – are three times more likely to experience harassment on the job than servers who work in states where everyone makes the same minimum wage.

    This is evidence of a systemic problem – combined with the fact that, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 7 percent of American women work in restaurants but 37 percent of all EEOC sexual harassment complaints come out of this industry. We’re allowing an entire industry full of hardworking women to go to work with the presumption that they will be harassed.

    I support the 2016 “wages with dignity” referendum, which would raise the minimum to $12 by 2020 and eliminate the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers by 2024. Earning the same minimum wage as other workers would mean tipped workers wouldn’t feel like they have to ingratiate themselves with their customers regardless of their behavior.

    It would mean that management and our co-workers would have to respect us as equals (because when you are paid less, you must obviously be worth less). And it would mean a stable wage for the long winters and tough weekday shifts when servers are more willing to sacrifice dignity at work in order to make ends meet.

    I deserve dignity on the job, and one fair minimum wage would help me get it.

  • LePage releases a fraction of Land for Maine’s Future funds but still holds $11.5 million hostage

    Article and photos by Ramona du Houx

    Governor Paul LePage has reluctantly agreed to release $2.2 million for Land for Maine’s Future projects, but is still refusing to sell new voter approved bonds for the land conservation program.

    LePage’s decision to free up the money will allow several projects that have been stalled for to move forward. 

    For months, LePage has been holding $11.5 million for the program hostage as he pushes lawmakers to divert revenues from timber harvesting on state-owned lands into a new program, apparently, to help low-income Mainers heat their homes.

    “This is a first step, but we're right back where we were a month ago when we first learned the governor was trying to freeze LMF work entirely,” said Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond. “The governor is still holding $11.5 million of voter-approved bonds hostage in his outrageous attempt to extort concessions from the Legislature.”

    The millions of dollars of bond funding is slated to support conservation projects in dozens of communities around the state. These projects protect recreational wildlife areas, working waterfronts and family farms. 

    LePage also had frozen $2.2 million left over from bond sales approved during the Baldacci administration, considered an outrageous deed of not acting in accordance to the wishes of the voters of Maine. 

    It is these $2.2 million worth of bonds that will go toward projects that already have been endorsed by the board and have been waiting for the release of the funds— for years. All projects must match the Land for Maine’s Future dollars with money from other sources, and the taxpayer money carries an additional requirement that the land must remain open to the public for recreation.

    The Crooked River Forest project in Otisfield/Harrison and the Eagle Bluff project in Clifton will receive roughly $400,000 of the $1.6 million. A third project, which would protect a commercial fishing wharf in St. George, will receive $250,000. Another $199,600 is available for farmland preservation.

    The remaining funds will not cover all eligible projects already lined up.

     In addition lawmakers will have to reauthorize some bonds that expire because of LePage’s delaying tactics next month. When the Legislature returns in January, lawmakers will consider a bill to reauthorize $6.5 million in unsold bonds that will expire in November. 

    LePage has shown few signs that he will reverse course on selling new bonds without lawmakers agreeing to his hostage terms to funnel timber revenues into a home heating assistance program. Attorney General Janet Mills said courts would be skeptical of his plan because of the tight restrictions on how logging money can be spent.

    According to the polling firms – one Republican and the other Democratic — 74 percent of respondents said LePage should release voter-approved bond funds.

     

     

  • AARP Maine, Avesta and Homeless Voices for Justice oppose Portland’s Question 2

     AARP Maine, Avesta Housing and Homeless Voices for Justice announced their opposition to Portland’s Question 2 during a press conference at an affordable housing project under construction on Munjoy Hill.

    “At a time when AARP Maine is working with Portland to ensure the city is a community for all ages to live, work and play, this proposal is very restrictive and would greatly impact housing options for older and middle-income Portlanders,” said Lori Parham, AARP Maine State Director. “As currently written, the referendum is also confusing and unclear to voters. AARP Maine urges Portland voters to Vote No on Portland Question 2.”

    AARP Maine is a nonprofit social mission organization working on behalf of 230,000 people 50 and older statewide.

    Avesta Housing is one of the largest nonprofit developers of affordable housing in New England and is consistently recognized nationally for groundbreaking work bringing together nonprofit, for-profit, private and public-sector organizations for the benefit of Maine communities. 

    “Last year more than 3,000 households sought an affordable home from Avesta, but we were only able to help about 300 because resources are so scarce,” said Dana Totman, President of Avesta Housing. “Now, in 2015, requests for our housing are up by another 25 percent overall and more than 45 percent among senior households. In the face of much needed affordable housing, our concern is that at least six of the affordable properties we have built in Portland in recent years, now housing more than 200 seniors and families, may never have happened if this proposed view referendum was in place. An additional hurdle to creating much needed affordable housing is a risk that people in need of affordable housing can’t afford.”

    Homeless Voices for Justice also announced its opposition to Question 2. The organization is led and organized by people who have struggled with homelessness and seeks to empower disenfranchised people.

    “There are nearly 500 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in Portland – evidence of the housing crisis we face in this city,” said William Higgins, Advocate, Homeless Voices for Justice. “Any policy that has the potential to block affordable housing development poses a great risk to our most vulnerable community members. We simply can't afford to take that risk."

    “Portland’s Question 2 is poorly written and overly broad. It goes too far and will hurt every neighbor in our city, making it harder for people to afford to live, work and build their businesses here,” said Lisa Whited, co-chair of the No on Portland’s Question 2 campaign. “Our coalition continues to grow as more people realize that Portland’s Question 2 will hold our city back.”

    Other organizations that have announced opposition to Portland’s Question 2 include GrowSmart Maine, the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Portland Community Chamber of Commerce, the Maine Real Estate and Development Association, The Greater Portland Board of REALTORS®, Maine Commercial Association of REALTORS®, the Portland Society for Architecture and growing list of small businesses.

     

    In addition to the endorsement, AARP Maine and Avesta reminded voters that there will be two Question 2s on the ballot in Portland. The statewide Question 2 is a bond to support senior housing, which is supported by AARP Maine, Avesta Housing and Portland’s Future, the political action committee leading the No on 2 campaign in Portland. Portland Question 2 is the land use ordinance, which the groups oppose based upon its impacts on senior and affordable housing.

  • October 21: A New National Park for Maine presentation by NRCM in Belfast

    National Resources Council of Maine's Ryan Parker will give a presentation at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Belfast, 37 Miller Street, on  October 21st at 6:30 p.m. about Elliotsville Plantation, Inc.’s (EPI) proposal to create a National Park and National Recreation Area east of Baxter State Park.

    EPI has proposed to donate up to 150,000 acres to the federal government to create Maine’s second National Park. Ryan will use photos and film to give attendees a glimpse of the land and its special features, and will describe the journey toward making the dream of a National Park and National Recreation Area reality.

    This event is free and open to the public and begins at 6:30 p.m. Light refreshments will be served. FMI: please contact Ryan at rparker@nrcm.org or (207) 430-0144

  • The proposal for a new National Park in Maine receives strong support in poll

    A proposal to create a new national park and national recreation area in Maine continues to be overwhelmingly popular among Maine voters. Up to 150,000 acres would be donated to the federal government to create Maine’s second National Park.

    “The park and recreation area would create between 450-1,000 jobs, permanently protect access for outdoor recreation such as snowmobiling and hunting, and include a $40 million endowment to offset costs,” said Lucas St. Clair, the president of Elliotsville Plantation Inc., the foundation that has proposed creating the park and recreation area. “The latest poll shows again that there is strong support for the national park and recreation area and the economic benefits they would provide to the state and the region.”

    In a poll released last week by Critical Insights, 60 percent of Maine voters said they support creating a new national park and national recreation area while only 20 percent of respondents said they opposed the idea.

    This is the third consecutive public poll showing strong support for a new national park. In June, a poll of Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, where the national park and recreation area would be located, found that 67 percent of voters across the district approve of the proposal, while just 25 percent oppose.

    And a poll question released by the Natural Resources Council of Maine in April showed similarly strong support, with 59 percent of respondents supporting the proposal and only 20 percent opposed.

    The most recent Critical Insight poll was conducted Sept. 24-30 and included 300 landline and cell phone surveys and 300 online respondents. With a total sample of 600, results presented here have an associated sampling error of +/- 4 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.

    The June poll of 500 likely voters was conducted by Moore Information and pollster Hans Kaiser. Kaiser has extensive experience polling in Maine and his clients include U.S. Senator Susan Collins, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee.

    The poll, which included both landline and cell phone interviews, was conducted May 13-14. It has a margin of error of 4 percent with a 95 percent confidence level.

    “The park and recreation area gets wide majority support among a wide cross section of respondents, including Republicans (57 percent support), Democrats (77 percent support) and Independents (68 percent support),” Kaiser wrote in a memo about the poll. “Men and women, voters of all ages, conservatives, moderates and liberals are all supportive of the proposal with large majorities in each group favoring it.”