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Quality of life in Maine
  • EOPA Veterans, who are elected officials, tell Congress make funding for Land Water Conservation permanent

    Vedio courtesy Elected Officials to Protect America's Lands

    Article and still photos by Ramona du Houx

    Veterans who are also lawmakers traveled to D.C. to urge Interior Sec. Zinke to help reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which brings millions to each state every year for the upkeep of our parks and other public lands.

    "We are committed to preserving and protecting America’s public lands — by doing so we are continuing our mission to preserve and protect our nation," said Former Maine State Rep. Alexander Cornell du Houx, who served in the Marines in Iraq and is now a Lieutenant in the Navy Reserves.

    Before their visit to Capitol Hill, the Elected Officials to Protect America's Lands  had 80 veterans who are elected officials sign on to a letter they sent to Sec. Zinke insisting that he reauthorize the LWCF in full.

    A week after their D.C. visit - where they called on 7 U.S. Senators to educate them about the effort - the bill supporting the LWCF made it out of committee, where it had been stalled for a year.

    "The apparent Permanente resolution of the LWCF budget is a critical step in fostering both better stewardship of our natural spaces and an important symbol: Veterans can play a helpful role in facilitating good policy,” said State Representative Paul Evans (OR). “It’s our job to stand up, as veterans, and make sure government works for everyone. I went to D.C. because we have to make sure sustainability and stewardship are national priorities. Our natural spaces are at least as important, in terms of national security, as our oil.”

    Now the bill needs to be brought to the floor of Congress for a vote.

    "While having the bill come out of committee is an important milestone, there is more work to be done. I'm glad our delegation had the opportunity to met with our US. Senators. With 80 veterans who are lawmakers signing the letter to Sec. Zinke insisting on reauthorization of LWCF I feel we've played our part. Veterans understand the importance of our natural places that give solace to millions. They are a part of our cultural heritage, without them we wouldn't be the nation we are,” said State Representative Debra Maria Sarinana (NM). “LWCF needs permanent reauthorization as well as full and dedicated funding. As the Committee moves to advance legislation allocating energy revenues for other purposes, it is vital that Congress continues to provide guaranteed funding to LWCF."

    Since 1964, LWCF has touched every state, conserving national parks and forests, land by rivers, lakes and oceans, working forests, farms and ranches, fish and wildlife refuges, trails, and more than 41,000 state and local parks in every corner of the United States. All this has been done at no cost to taxpayers as the program is entirely funded through royalties collected on offshore drilling.

    "Congress needs to be reminded that our natural resources cannot be neglected. I was pleased to join with my state legislative colleagues to make the case to renew the Land and Water Conservation Fund in Washington," said Assistant Speaker of the House, Felix W. Ortiz (NY).

    The LWCF runs out of funding Sept. 30, 2018.

    Members of the Elected Officials to Protect America's Lands met with Sen. Rob Wyden, and other U.S. Senators, on Sept 6th on Capitol Hill to urge the reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Sen Wyden, and all the Congressional members they met met with are supportive of the LWCF becoming fully funded. From left to right in the back: State Sen. Rick Kolowski (NE), Asm. Felix Ortiz (NY) US Senator Rob Wyden, State Rep. Paul Evans, Former State Rep. Alexander Cornell du Houx, (ME) Delegate Pat Young (MD). In the front: State Rep. Debbie Sarinana,(NM) and Rep. Michael Sheehy (OH).

    The elected officials met with the following Members of Congress:

    • Sen. Ron Wyden (OR)
    • Sen. Jeff Merkley (OR)
    • Sen. Martin Heinrich (NM)
    • Sen. Tom Udall (NM)
    • Sen. Angus King (ME)
    • Rep. Peter DeFazio (OR-4)
    • Sen. Chuck Schumer (NY)
    • Sen. Rob Portman (OH)
  • RiverWalk in Waterville, Maine open to the public, made possible with Land and Water Conservation Funds

    The Two Cents Bridge in Watervile, Maine got it's name from the toll charged to workers who had to cross the river to work in the factories. It's construction is unique in wire bridges and give thrills to those who cross over as the wind sways the structure. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    By Ramone du Houx

    Colorful paths at the RiverWalk at the Head of Falls have transformed the disused waterfront near the Two Cents Bridge in Waterville, Maine.

    The pathways circle around connecting Waterville back to it's historic past of life along the riverfront. There is even a conduit for electricity to an outdoor amphitheater, which will host performances of locals as well as invited entertainers and speakers. The theme of the RiverWalk is “Waterville’s Return to the River.”

    The RiverWalk was designed by Mitchell & Associates of Portland, was funded with many differnt donations and grants. The Waterville Rotary Club in 2015 gave the lead gift of $150,000 for the RiverWalk project as a way of celebrating its centennial. City councilors accepted $50,000 from the Waterville Development Corp., and that funding was part of $300,000 the city raised locally to match a $300,000 grant from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Then other donations came in. 

    "Without the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) projects that are vital to communities around Maine might never be funded. The LWCF is often used to get matching funds. We, as veterans, owe it to our country to stand up and defend LWCF for future generations," said State Rep. Robert Alley who recently signed a letter with 80 lawmakers who are veterans to help reauthorize the LWCF. "Our lands are our cultural heritage. Maine's economy depends on our wonderful natural places, that have received funds from LWCF. I'm proud to stand with my fellow brothers and sisters to ensure the fund is reauthorized. Waterville's creative economy is growing, in part, because of LWCF funds."

    The city several years ago installed water, sewer, electricity and parking at Head of Falls, which is off Front Street. With the aide of community block grants, the Department of Economic and Community Development's help during the Baldacci administration, the city, and private donations in 2010 the city built a plaza west of the Two Cent Bridge that includes benches, an informational kiosk, a walkway and landscaping.

    Though the RiverWalk is open to the public, workers are still completing some work. A dedication ceremony will be held at 2 p.m. on October 6, 2018 featuring former U.S. Sen. George J. Mitchell, who lived in Waterville when he was a young, as he principle speaker at the ceremony.

    Waterville owns 14 acres at Head of Falls, and officials believe that the RiverWalk will be the catalyst for more development on the riverfront, which connects with Kennebec Messalonskee Trails. Features will include interpretive signs along the boardwalk for people to read about the river, native Americans and the log drive which ended in the late 1970s along the Kennebec.

    Mountians in Maine near Waterville, photo by Ramona du Houx

  • Rockland Receives $830,000 Federal Grant to Repair and Update Its Fish Pier

    Rockland Harbor, photo by Ramona du Houx

    The City of Rockland would receive an $830,000 federal grant from the Economic Development Administration (EDA), enough funding to move forward with plans to repair and update its aging Fish Pier.

    “The Rockland Fish Pier is a critical piece of working waterfront infrastructure that’s in great need of repair and updating. I’m grateful that Rockland will receive this federal grant so it can move forward with this long-awaited project,”Congresswoman Chellie Pingree . “The EDA is an important source of investment for Maine, which is why I have been proud to work with Appropriations colleagues from both sides of the aisle to protect its funding from being eliminated as the Trump Administration has proposed the last two years. The jobs this project preserves and creates shows why it’s so important to keep defending it and other programs.”  

    EDA estimates that the project will allow the retention and creation of 86 jobs.

    The $830,000 EDA grant is matched by a $350,000 federal grant from the Northern Border Regional Commission as well as funding from the Maine Department of Transportation and City of Rockland.

    Project Summary Provided by the EDA: 
    This EDA investment supports the construction of components, repairs and upgrades to the City of Rockland's commercial fish pier, to ensure that it remains available as a key resource to the Mid-Coast fishing and lobstering community.  The project includes repairing and resurfacing the pier, replacing fendering piles and camels, stabilizing the storage area, upgrading the electrical system and adjacent dredging to an approximate depth of eight feet at all tides.  The investment will support retention and creation of jobs in the region.

  • Full Plates Full Potential awards summer grants to feed hungry Maine children

    Twenty-one programs and over $53,000 invested

    By Ramona du Houx

    During the school year too many children from low income families rely on school meals being their one meal of the day. Federal and state cuts to programs have made states like Maine food insecure. What do these kids do during the summer months for food?

    In 2014, Full Plates Full Potential got underway. It is Maine’s only statewide child hunger organization. FPFP does it’s work by partnering with other hunger relief organizations, granting funds to schools and nonprofits  providing technical support to grantees and working with chefs, businesses and others to end child hunger. 

    Full Plates Full Potential (FPFP) has just awarded twenty-one statewide summer food service program grants totaling over $53,000. Summer sites will run from the end of June until the end of August and serve free meals to anyone 18 years old and younger. Summer grants range from $500 to over $6,300 and fund critical investments to feed more kids such as: equipment for sites, transportation, enrichment activities, outreach, staffing and food costs.    

    This summer an unprecedented amount of applications and funding requests were received. Thirty one applications were reviewed, requesting over $100,000. There are over 400 summer food service program across the state that served just over 750,000 meals last year.  

    “Summer time is a frightening period for a hungry child,” said Anna Korsen, Program Director for Full Plates Full Potential “these summer sites will potentially serve 43,893 additional meals to children whose bodies and minds need nutritious meals. Additionally, many of our summer sites will pilot best practices that could help many more children in 2019.”

    FPFP collaborated for the third year in a row with Good Shepherd Food Bank to run the summer grant program. Additionally, FPFP partnered with the Horizon Foundation and many FPFP Feed Kids Vendors like Bissell Brothers, IDEXX Laboratories, Big Tree Hospitality, and the Brew Bus to raise critical additional funding.

    “Full Plates Full Potential is so grateful to our partners. Their generosity means we can reach so many more kids and families this summer” said Justin Alfond, a director at Full Plates Full Potential. “Summer sites are playing bigger and bigger roles in our communities. They serve great nutritious meals, and offer fun programing for children allowing kids to have fun.”

    "The grant funding will allow us to take the next step in our summer program, said Wendy Collins, School Nutrition Director at Kittery School Department.. “We purchased a hot oven with the grant -- the oven will allow our program to offer a larger variety of food, kids will be happier and it will increase our participation. I can’t thank Full Plates Full Potential enough for supporting communities address food insecurity."

    Website: www.fullplates.org;

  • Senate Farm Bill the Right Approach For Tackling Maine’s Growing Hunger Issues

    During the markup of the Senate Farm Bill, introduced as the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, on June 13th, anti-hunger advocacy groups including Good Shepherd Food Bank, Preble Street and Maine Equal Justice Partners praised the bill’s bipartisan effort to strengthen the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program, which is critical for hungry Mainers.

     Unlike the highly partisan House Farm Bill, H.R. 2, which failed to pass in the House in early June, the Senate’s bill could help stem Maine’s growing hunger problem. More than 16 percent of Maine households are food insecure, placing the state 7thin the nation overall, and the trend is worsening.

    “Maine should insist on a Farm Bill that strengthens and protects SNAP because it’s the single most effective tool we have for feeding hungry Maine families,” said Clara McConnell, director of public affairs at Good Shepherd Food Bank. “Food banks like ours offer essential food assistance, but cannot substitute for SNAP, which provides a regular source of nutritious food at a scale far greater than what charities do, and in a more accessible way. This is about families being able to put enough food on the table, and kids having enough breakfast in their bellies to learn and grow.”

    The Senate bill strengthens SNAP by testing new tools to further improve program integrity, supporting states like Maine that want to try innovative solutions to helping SNAP participants get and keep a job, and enhancing access and reducing burdensome paperwork for older Mainers and people with disabilities. 

    Advocates expressed support for the bill as drafted by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow and urged US Sen. Susan Collins and US Sen. King to support the bill without any harmful amendments that could weaken SNAP.

    Preble Street’s executive director Mark Swann added, “We encourage Maine’s senators to follow the committee’s lead in protecting SNAP by opposing any amendments that would cut SNAP or make harmful changes that would take away food assistance from struggling families in Maine.”  

    While the Senate bill provides adequate funding and promotes program integrity in SNAP, the advocates expressed a desire to work with Maine’s Senate delegation to improve funding levels for the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), a critical source of food for millions of individuals and families across the country. 

    The organizations applauded the Senate for not following the House’s lead on harsh and unworkable time limits and work requirements for SNAP recipients, a policy which Maine has tested unsuccessfully since 2014. In Maine’s experimentwith work requirements, thousands have lost benefits without finding work, leaving them hungrier and with few or no places to turn.  

    Chris Hastedt from Maine Equal Justice Partners cautioned, “Partisan changes to the SNAP program along the lines of Maine’s failed model wouldn’t alleviate hunger or help people find work. They would only make it harder for parents, people with disabilities, older workers, low-wage workers and people temporarily in between jobs to get enough to eat. The Senate is taking the right approach by providing more work-supporting policies and maintaining benefits for people in need.”

  • Free park entry day, June 17, 2018 for all Maine Residents

    Free park entry day, June 17, 2018 for all Maine Residents! All vehicles bearing Maine license plates will be allowed free entry to Maine State Parks and Historic Sites; From 9:00 A.M. until Closing.

    No rain date will be available.

    Learn more about Maine State Parks at: www.parksandlands.com

    Free park entry includes: Androscoggin Riverlands, Aroostook, Birch Point, Bradbury Mountain, Camden Hills, Cobscook Bay, Colburn House, Colonial Pemaquid, Crescent Beach, Damariscotta Lake, Eagle Island, Ferry Beach, Fort Edgecomb, Fort Kent, Fort Knox, Fort McClary, Fort Point, Fort Popham, Fort Pownall, Fort O'Brien, Grafton Notch, Holbrook Island, Lamoine, Lake St George, Lily Bay, Moose Point, Mt Blue, Owls Head Light, Peaks-Kenny, Popham Beach, Quoddy Head, Range Pond, Rangeley Lake, Reid, Roque Bluffs, Two Lights, Sebago Lake, Shackford Head, Swan Lake, Vaughan Woods, Warren Island, Wolfe's Neck Woods

    *The open admission does not apply to Acadia National Park, the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, Baxter State Park, Peacock Beach, Scarborough Beach State Park, Swan Island, the ME Wildlife Park, the Penobscot River Corridor, or the Penobscot Narrows Observatory in Prospect, though admission to Fort Knox State Historic Site will be free that day.

  • Maine Joins Coalition of 17 States to Defend National Clean Car Rules

    Photo and article by Ramona du Houx
    During the first week in April, Maine Attorney General Janet Mills joined a coalition of 17 states and the District of Columbia in suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to preserve the greenhouse gas emission standards currently in place for model year 2022-2025 vehicles. 
    This 17 state coalition represents approximately 44 percent of the U.S. population and 43 percent of the new car sales market nationally.
    The standards save drivers money at the pump, reduce oil consumption, and curb greenhouse gases.
    "We will not stand quietly by and watch the Trump Administration unwind important federal environmental protections, and these greenhouse gas emission standards for vehicles are critical to curbing the impacts of climate change. Our suit today will ensure EPA does not get away with scrapping these rules when it has no factual or legal basis to do so," said Mills.

    Beginning in 2010, the EPA, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and California Air Resources Board established a single national program of greenhouse gas emissions standards for model year 2012-2025 vehicles. This program allows automakers to design and manufacture to a single target. The federal standards the states are suing to protect, for model year 2022-2025 vehicles, are estimated to reduce carbon pollution equivalent to 134 coal power plants burning for a year and to save drivers $1,650 per vehicle.
    At present, the car industry is on track to meet or exceed these standards. Last year, the EPA affirmed these standards were appropriate based on an extensive record of data. On April 13, 2018, however, the EPA, without evidence to support the decision, arbitrarily reversed course and claimed that the greenhouse gas emissions standards for model years 2022-2025 vehicles should be scrapped.
    The Administration offered no evidence to support this decision and deferred any analysis to a forthcoming rulemaking designed to try to weaken the existing 2022-2025 standards. 
    Today's lawsuit was filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The lawsuit is based on the fact that the EPA acted arbitrarily and capriciously, failed to follow its own Clean Car regulations, and violated the Clean Air Act.
    Joining Maine in today's lawsuit filing were the Attorneys General of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania (also filed by and through its Department of Environmental Protection), Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia. Minnesota filed by and through its Pollution Control Agency and Department of Transportation.
  • Maine DEP Issues Air Quality Alert for Wednesday, May 2, 2018

     

    AUGUSTA, May 01, 2018 

    Ground-level ozone concentrations will be climbing in Maine on Wednesday and are expected to reach unhealthy levels according to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).  Much of the state is expected to reach higher ozone levels due to a combination of transport, extremely warm temperatures along with little vegetation growth to absorb ozone.  Ozone levels were climbing in Pennsylvania, New York & New Jersey on Tuesday.  This regional load of ozone and its precursors is headed to Maine for Wednesday.  Two regions are expected to only reach the Moderate range: Northern Maine is expecting clouds & showers and winds are less conducive for the Downeast Coastal region.  Particle pollution levels are expected to be in the GOOD range statewide.  High levels of ozone could continue into Thursdayespecially in southern regions of Maine.  That forecast will be finalized by 3 PM on Wednesday.

    At elevated ozone levels, children, healthy adults who exert themselves, and individuals suffering from a respiratory disease such as asthma, bronchitis or COPD can experience reduced lung function and irritation.  When this happens, individuals may notice a shortness of breath, coughing, throat irritation, and/or experience an uncomfortable sensation in their chest.

    Some actions you can take to protect your health during periods of unhealthy air quality include:

     

    For more information contact Maine DEP or visit the agency's air quality web site:http://www.maine.gov/dep/air/ozone/ .

  • Health Care advocates sue Gov. LePage to force compliance with Medicaid Expansion Law

    By Ramona du Houx

    Maine Equal Justice Partners, Consumers for Affordable Health Care, Maine Primary Care Association and Penobscot Community Health Care filed suit along with five individuals against the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to compel the agency to begin implementing Medicaid expansion as required by state law.

    The lawsuit lays out the facts about the Medicaid expansion law, which was overwhelmingly passed by voters in November 2017.

     “There are no excuses to deny health care to more than 70,000 Mainers,” said Kathy Phelps, a member of the leadership team for Mainers for Health Care, which advocated for Medicaid expansion at the ballot box. “Some of the individual plaintiffs wanted to be here today but could not because they are in poor health. They are home, waiting to see a doctor, waiting to be well. Lives are on the line. It’s time to respect the vote and implement the law.” 

    The law passed by voters last November required Maine DHHS to submit a plan for implementation to the federal government by April 3, 2018. Because that deadline passed, the plaintiffs say it is clear that DHHS commissioner Ricker Hamilton either failed or refused to take the steps necessary to extend affordable health care to Mainers who earn roughly 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or $16,753. 

    “The LePage administration is breaking the law,” said Jack Comart, an attorney with Maine Equal Justice Partners. “People have a right to coverage starting in July, and the Department of Health and Human Services cannot ignore the law. We are asking the court to order the department to simply follow the law and take immediate action to begin implementing Medicaid expansion.”

     Comart noted that the five individuals in the suit, “come from all over Maine, and they’re struggling to overcome poor health and disabilities. Some of them are working, others are caring for disabled children. They all will be eligible for Medicaid, according to Maine’s new law, on July 2.”

    “The governor’s inaction and the Department of Health and Human Services’ failure to follow the law will directly harm these families and thousands more in every part of Maine.” 

    • The Medicaid expansion law required Maine DHHS to submit a State Plan Amendment to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services by April 3, 90 days after the Jan. 3 effective date.
    • The Medicaid Expansion Act sets no conditions for the submission of the State Plan Amendment.
    • The commissioner of DHHS has failed or refused to submit the State Plan Amendment as required by law.

    “Gov. Paul LePage has claimed that he could not submit a State Plan Amendment without funding from the Legislature,” said James Kilbreth, the lead attorney on the lawsuit and a partner at Drummond Woodsum. “Submitting a State Plan Amendment does not require funding from the Legislature. The administration has a responsibility and obligation to take the necessary steps to implement the law the voters passed.”

    The Legislature does not need to appropriate additional funds for Medicaid Expansion, at this time. There is enough funding already budgeted for the program until at least next May or June of 2019 – this is true whether you use the cost estimates from the administration, the non-partisan state fiscal office or a recent independent study factoring in the experience of the 31 other states that have already expanded. 

    Maine has a revenue surplus of $140.5 million to cover any necessary costs for administration and services through SFY 2019.

    Maine Equal Justice Partners is a civil legal aid organization that represents Maine people with low income in areas of economic security, including access to healthcare.

     

     

     

  • Maine’s Growing Hunger - Farm Bill needs to add to SNAP not take away

     

    By Ramona du Houx

    The federal Farm Bill (H.R. 2) that would increase hunger and hardship in Maine and throughout the nation by cutting the effective anti-hunger Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program.

    Maine’s failed experience with similar policies increased hunger in the state, hurting children. Maine now has the 7th highest rate of food insecurity in the nation, dropping from previous year’s ranking even as other states are making progress in alleviating hunger.  

    The Farm Bill is expected to be marked up on Wednesday, April 16, 2018.

    “Partisan changes to the SNAP program along the lines of Maine’s failed model won’t alleviate hunger or help people find work. They’ll only make it harder for parents, people with disabilities, older workers, low-wage workers and people temporarily in between jobs to get enough to eat. We look forward to working with members of our Congressional delegation to advance proven work-supporting policies and reducing the number of Mainers who are hungry,” said Chris Hastedt, policy director for Maine Equal Justice Partners (MEJP) .

    US Rep. Bruce Poliquin has pushed for including some of the harshest provisions in this bill, such as unrealistic work requirements modeled after Maine’s own failed policies.  

    In a statement last week, Poliquin mischaracterized the real experience of Maine following the institution in 2015 of similar policies under the LePage administration.  Data reveal a starkly different picture of how harmful and ineffective these proposals actually are. 

     MEJP urges Poliquin to take an honest look at Maine’s real experience with these SNAP benefit restrictions. 

    “Maine is absolutely a cautionary tale for the nation because we have already seen that people in our state lost food assistance by the thousands and most didn’t find work,” said Chris Hastedt, policy director for Maine Equal Justice. “Instead, they were left with empty dinner plates and no wages. The promise of how these policies will work and story of what really happened to Maine people are vastly different.”

    MEJP recently published a report, which shows that in the one year period following implementation of this policy, only 4 percent more of the 6,866 people who lost their SNAP benefits for failing to meet the work requirements found jobs (30 percent compared with 34 percent). Even this small gain was likely due to the improving economy. At the end of the year, 66 percent of these individuals remained unemployed, but were also without needed food assistance.

    “Beyond the data, the stories we’ve heard from Mainers who have run up against this complex system tell us that more restrictions in SNAP just add more layers of red tape and bureaucracy. We should be helping to make these programs work better for all of us – not adding hoops to jump through for people who have fallen on hard times," said Robyn Merrill, MEJP’s executive director. 

    The Farm Bill is historically a bipartisan piece of legislation, which addresses hunger and supports farms and rural communities, but the radical changes to SNAP in H.R. 2 threaten to derail bipartisan cooperation and prospects for passage.   

    “Partisan changes to the SNAP program along the lines of Maine’s failed model won’t alleviate hunger or help people find work. They’ll only make it harder for parents, people with disabilities, older workers, low-wage workers and people temporarily in between jobs to get enough to eat. We look forward to working with members of our Congressional delegation to advance proven work-supporting policies and reducing the number of Mainers who are hungry.”

  • Maine Organizations Urged to Apply for USDA Technology Grants to Expand Access to Health Care and Education in Rural Areas

    Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett has announced that USDA is accepting applications for grants to use broadband e-Connectivity to improve access to health care and educational services in rural communities.

    “Under Secretary Perdue’s leadership, USDA is tackling e-Connectivity as a foundational issue for rural communities because it affects everything from business opportunities to adequate health care access,” Hazlett said. “These grants are one of many tools USDA provides to help ensure that people who live and work in rural areas can use broadband to gain access to essential services and economic opportunities.”  USDA Rural Development State Director Timothy P. Hobbs said.

    “This critical funding can help put the tools in the hands of healthcare and educational institutes so they can make a real difference in the lives of rural Maine citizens who struggle with opioid addiction- through telemedicine equipment for treatment, recovery, and adult education. In addition, the grants can be used to help our schools incorporate STEM curricula into the learning experience, preparing Maine’s youth for bright and promising futures.”

    USDA is awarding grants ranging from $50,000 to $500,000 under the Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) program. Grants can finance projects such as those to provide job training, academic instruction or access to specialized medical care.

    Proposals for projects whose primary purpose is to provide opioid prevention, treatment and recovery will receive 10 priority points when applications are scored. USDA is approaching the opioid misuse crisis with a dedicated urgency because it impacts the quality of life, economic opportunity and rural prosperity.

    USDA also will provide priority points for grants that offer access to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) courses.     

    Grants are available to most state and local governmental entities, federally recognized tribes, nonprofit groups, for-profit businesses or a consortia of these.  

    The application deadline is June 4, 2018. Applications can be submitted via paper or electronically. For details on how to apply, see page 14245 of the April 3 Federal Register.

    A recent example of a Maine project is MaineHealth, in Portland, which received a grant in the amount of $398,692. Rural Development funds were used to install telehealth videoconferencing carts at six rural medical clinics in rural Maine.  This project helps to provide healthcare to those in rural communities and prevent the need for lengthy travel for healthcare consultations.

    For more information, please contact Robert Nadeau, Community Programs Director at (207) 990-9121 or Robert.nadeau@me.usda.gov.

       

  • Legislation to amend Pharmacy Board Rules concerning Narcan Distribution goes to Maine Governor to sign

     By Ramona du Houx

     An Act To Clarify the Prescribing and Dispensing of Naloxone Hydrochloride by Pharmacists is headed to Governor LePage’s desk after it passed unanimously in the Senate. Earlier in the week it passed the House with a strong, bipartisan vote of 132-7.

    The bill will allow for people under the age of 21 to have access to the life-saving drug Narcan. The governor has 10 days in which to take action, by either signing, vetoing or letting go into law without his signature.

    “Overdoses can strike anyone at any time and in every opportunity, we should be trying to save every life possible. My colleagues in the legislature are well aware of this,” said Speaker Gideon. “While the hold-up of narcan dispensation has been beyond frustrating, I want to thank them for advancing this piece of legislation. We can no longer ignore the impact of this epidemic, disregard the underlying causes or the lack of access to needed treatment and clearly, we can no longer delay access to life-saving medicine. I urge the governor to take immediate action.”

    In March of 2018, after an unexplained six-month delay, the Board of Pharmacy finally took action on proposed rules related to the original legislation, LD 1594, An Act Regarding the Dispensing of Naloxone Hydrochloride by Pharmacists. However, due to a last-minute request by Governor LePage, the Board amended the proposed rules to raise the age the anti-overdose drug could be dispensed to 21, from 18 as originally written. Gideon immediately began working on legislation to override this action. 

    The Board of Pharmacy’s public comment period on the rule change closes April 15, 2018. A public hearing on the change was held April 5, with many speaking against the over-21 restriction including the Health Equity Alliance, the Maine Medical Association and number of certified drug and rehabilitation experts. In addition, members of the Legislatures Health and Human Services Committee, the Opioid Task Force and Preble Street Resource Center all submitted written comment in favor of lowering the age of dispensation. 

    “This legislation seeks to redress the previous actions, which had no basis in medical research or expert opinion and directly contradicted legislative intent,” said Gideon. “To truly start combatting this epidemic, we need cooperation and leadership from all branches of government, including the Executive Branch. Every aspect of Maine’s economy, community safety and family stability will continue to suffer if we do not make progress on this crisis.”

    BACKGROUND ON PHARMACY DISTRIBUTION OF NALOXONE

    Lawmakers initially approved making naloxone available without a prescription in April 2016 (LD 1547, An Act To Facilitate Access to Naloxone Hydrochloride). At the request of the Board of Pharmacy, the Legislature clarified the language with an amended bill with the intent that dispensation would begin soon after rulemaking. LD 1594, An Act Regarding the Dispensing of Naloxone Hydrochloride by Pharmacists, was passed by the Legislature in May of 2017.

    The Maine Board of Pharmacy voted unanimously August 3, 2017 to approve rules related to LD 1594. For six months, the rules were stuck in uncertainty due a lack of action from the Executive Branch. Speaker Gideon issued a joint letter with Senator Troy Jackson urging the Board to take action on January 27, 2018. In February 2018, the rules were finally published and a period of public comment began that will close April 15, 2018.

  • Talk about Food Safety for Maine Midcoast Farmers

    March 29 from 5:30-7pm

    Knox-Lincoln Extension, 377 Manktown Rd, Waldoboro

    A major reason that farmers commit their lives to producing food is to provide healthy sustenance for their communities. Yet there are a number of ways disease-producing organisms can enter the food stream.

    On Thursday, March 29 from 5:30-7pm, join Jason Lilley at Knox-Lincoln Extension office (377 Manktown Rd, Waldoboro) to learn about on-farm hazards that may lead to food-borne illness as well as the practices that all farmers can implement to minimize risks. Lilley will also discuss the basics of the Food Safety Modernization Act and who must comply, but this program does not meet required FSMA training standards.

    This is the second in a series of free programs for farmers and gardeners presented by Knox-Lincoln Soil & Water Conservation District, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, and Midcoast Farmers Alliance.  FMI about future programs and to register: 596-2040, cathrine@knox-lincoln.org, or www.knox-lincoln.org/beginning-farmer.

    Jason Lilley is the Sustainable Agriculture Professional with UMaine Extension in Cumberland County. His work focuses on farm safety as well as soil health, cover cropping, and nutrient management for vegetable production. He is currently involved in a multi-regional project to research the benefits and food safety risks of manure use on organic vegetable farms.

  • Maine's Rep. Blume’s coastal hazards commission bill due to climate change progresses

    Flooding in Maine at the seacoast town of Lincolnville across RT 1 after the March 2nd storm.

    Maine Rep. Lydia Blume’s bill to create a commission to examine the threats posed by weather and climate-based hazards to Maine’s coastal communities was approved by the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee last Friday and will come before the House for an initial vote this week.

    The bill adapts a model successfully used by New Hampshire to set up a commission consisting of a wide array of stakeholders and experts to assess the coastal risks and hazards brought about by the changing climate. The New Hampshire efforts resulted in a detailed recommendation report to help coastal communities prepare for, and deal with, future conditions.

    “The recent storms along the coast, and particularly the storm this last weekend, have highlighted to me the need for this commission,” said Rep. Blume, D-York. “I hope that my colleagues in the Legislature recognize the timeliness and importance of this bill to our crucial coastline.  This is a matter of public safety and protecting our coastal economy.  The more we are able to do now, the more we can save money and lives in the future.”

    The bill, LD 1095, creates a broad-based working group with representatives from municipalities, state agencies, regional planners, legislators and other coastal stakeholders. It will report back to the Legislature with findings detailing the hazards faced by coastal communities and the plans and resources needed to deal with them.

    “The commission is going to be critical to help us be proactive concerning the kinds of changes that are now so evident,” Blume said. “Its work can provide us with the necessary guidance, coordination, direction and best practices to help all our coastal communities prepare for the hazards they face.”

    Blume is serving her second term in the Maine Legislature and represents the coastal part of York.  She serves on the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee.

  • Rep. Berry’s bill to tackle rising electricity costs draws strong bipartisan vote in Maine

    Testimony from Sen. Keim made compelling case for legislative action

     Rep. Seth Berry outside the State House in Augusta, Maine. Photo and article by Ramona du Houx

    Rep. Seth Berry’s bill to address rising delivery costs in Mainers’ electric bills drew strong support from the Legislature’s Energy Utilities and Technology Committee Thursday. 

    Berry’s bill, An Act to Protect Maine Residents and Businesses from Rising Electricity Costs, would establish a task force that meets in spring and summer of 2018 to examine factors driving up electric bills for both residents and businesses, making proactive recommendations to the next governor and Legislature.

    “As Governor LePage has often mentioned, Maine has some of the highest electricity costs in the nation. We need the significant cost drivers of this issue to be addressed,” said Sen. Lisa Keim, R-Dixfield, the bill’s lead co-sponsor.

    Keim’s testimony was instrumental in highlighting the concerns of many rural Maine residents and business owners who had expressed concerns that rising delivery costs were affecting their budgets.

    “Rising delivery costs have been driving up our electric bills for far too long,” said Berry, D-Bowdoinham. “It is time to get everyone with a stake in this issue together and do something for Maine’s ratepayers. Many people are still working harder for less, and just as many are trying to handle these larger bills with fixed incomes.”  

    Berry, who co-chairs the committee, introduced LD 1700 along with Keim on the heels of the Halloween windstorm of 2017, due to concerns that ratepayers will be responsible for the majority of the repair costs. Central Maine Power has assessed its total storm costs at $69 million and has requested reimbursement by customers for $67 million of that amount, both from monies previously paid and from monies to be paid in future bills.

    More generally, Keim and Berry are concerned about the past several years of major increases to the delivery portion of Maine electricity bills, which pays for the poles, wires, meters, substations and transformers owned by the state’s major electricity carriers.  These “transmission and distribution” increases have been especially pronounced in the areas served by Maine’s two largest power companies, CMP and Emera Maine. From 2007 to 2016, for instance, CMP’s residential rate for transmission increased by 270 percent. 

    On Thursday, 10 of the committee’s 13 members voted to proceed with a robust study of the cost drivers leading to rising electricity delivery costs.  The work would be conducted by a task force with a broad array of members, including AARP, energy-intensive businesses, legislators, and others, with assistance from the Public Advocate and the Public Utilities Commission.  

    Supporting organizations of Berry’s bill include the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine, the Maine Renewable Energy Association, AARP Maine, the Industrial Energy Consumer Group and ReEnergy.

    Berry represents House District 55: Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Swan Island, and most of Richmond. He previously served from 2006-2014, the final two years as House Majority Leader.   

     

  • Maine's landmark Historic Grand Trunk Railroad Depot offered for sale for the first time in 50 years

    By Ramona du Houx

    Maine Preservation is partnering with Yarmouth Village Improvement Society to sell the historic Grand Trunk Railroad Depot in Yarmouth. The statewide nonprofit organization Maine Preservation held an Open House for buyers interested in purchasing the Grand Trunk Railroad Depot on Tuesday, February 27, 2018.

    Located behind Village Green Park on Main Street in Yarmouth, this historic 1906 station retains many of its original features including bead board walls and ceilings, light fixtures and a historic ticket window.

    The property is being offered at $165,000 with a preservation easement through Maine Preservation’s Protect & Sell Program. The Protect & Sell Program matches buyers interested in rehabilitating historic buildings with preservation-minded sellers of unique properties across Maine. A preservation easement is a legal agreement recorded in the property deed to ensure that the historic architectural qualities of a property are maintained. Maine Preservation easements are monitored by the statewide nonprofit and underwritten by an easement stewardship contribution.

    Offers on the property are due on Tuesday, March 6, 2018. Offers will be reviewed on Wednesday, March 7, and a preferred buyer will be notified by noon on Thursday, March 8. Please contact Maine Preservation directly for a disclosure packet. The property may qualify for Maine State and Federal Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits. More information can be found on our website mainepreservation.org.

     

    About Maine Preservation

    Maine Preservation, founded in 1972, is a nonprofit, member-based, statewide historic preservation organization whose mission is to promote and preserve historic places, buildings, downtowns and neighborhoods, strengthening the cultural and economic vitality of Maine communities. Maine Preservation provides technical assistance to help owners and developers use both Maine State and Federal Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits, which have sparked more than $250 million dollars in investment in Maine since 2008.

  • Democrats Stand Firm against Republican Efforts to Cut new Maine Minimum Wage

     

     By Ramona du Houx

    Democratic lawmakers on the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee soundly rejected a rollback of Maine’s minimum wage increase on February 8, 2018. The Republican attempt at a roll back came after a people's referendum increased the minimum wage last month and will continue to do so until it reaches $11 a hour.

    “These efforts to undermine the minimum wage increase will continue to fail because Mainers recognize that people deserve a wage they can live on, and while the cost of living has gone up year after year, for a lot of Maine people, paychecks have not.

    "I refuse to choose winners and losers. We can commit ourselves to ensuring small businesses can succeed without taking money from the paychecks of hardworking families,” said Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development House chair Representative Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford.

    LD 1757 “An Act to Protect Maine’s Economy by Slowing the Rate and Which the State’s Minimum Wage Will Increase and Establishing a Training and Youth Wage” sponsored by Representative Joel Stetkis, R-Canaan, was voted Ought Not to Pass on a party line vote.

    “I don’t know how many more times we have to say this: Democrats will not allow a rollback in Maine’s minimum wage increase, period,” said Rep. Fecteau. “Despite the doomsday predictions Republicans still pedal, 59,000 hard-working Mainers got an overdue raise just last month that went directly into their pockets and the cash registers of our local businesses, strengthening Maine’s economy and our communities.”

    Graphic by Ramona du houx

    LD 1757 as originally drafted would cut the current minimum wage of $10 per hour to $9.50 per hour beginning in June of this year, and reduce the annual increases in Maine’s minimum wage from $1 a year to 50 cents per year and cap the increase at $11 per hour instead of the current expected rate of $12 an hour by 2021. The bill also establishes a lower “training wage” for employees under the age of 18.

    Republicans on the committee voted LD 1757 Ought to Pass as Amended. The amended bill would increase the minimum wage to $10.50 starting January 1, 2020 and increase the minimum wage by 50 cent increments until 2023 to $12 an hour. Starting January 1, 2024, minimum wage would increase with inflation instead of the Consumer Price Index as in current law. The bill would also stipulate that employees under the age of 18 would be paid 80 percent of the minimum wage for the first 200 hours of their work. 

    LD 1757 will be considered by the full House and Senate in the coming weeks.

  • Democrats in Maine Recommit to Implementing Medicaid Expansion despite Gov. LePage

    By Ramona du Houx

    The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee (AFA) met on December 13, 2017 to begin its review of the cost of implementing Medicaid expansion passed by the voters in November. Maine is the first state in the nation to expand access to healthcare under the Affordable Care Act via ballot initiative. The committee also reviewed the latest revenue projection forecast for the state.  

    But Governor LePage issued a statement declaring how the implementation would take place, which is not the normal procedure and could endanger equal opportunity to healthcare.

    The LePage Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services are required by law to begin the process of expanding Medicaid eligibility to Mainers earning less than 138 percent of the federal poverty limit — roughly $17,000 annually.

    The law includes strict deadlines for DHHS to act. However, despite an invitation from AFA committee co-chairs Rep. Drew Gattine (D-Westbrook) and Sen. James Hamper (R-Oxford) to the Department, LePage declined to send representatives from his administration the meeting.

    “Thousands of Mainers cannot afford to wait any longer for the health care they need to be and stay well,” said Rep. Gattine. “And what we did today was to start the critical work necessary to make this law a reality. While I’m disappointed that Governor LePage chose not to send a representative, I can’t say that I’m surprised. Medicaid expansion is now the law of the land and our committee will continue to gather the facts, do our work and appropriate funds when they are necessary.”

    The AFA committee is tasked with determining the state share of the cost of expansion and appropriating funding. Projections by the Legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal and Program Review (OFPR) indicate expansion will inject more than $525 million of federal funding into the state economy every year. OFPR estimated the state’s share of expansion costs at $54.5 million once the federal share drops from 93.5 percent in the first year to 90 percent in 2021. There is no accurate cost projection for the current biennium due to a number of unanswered questions from the DHHS.  

    However, it was made clear to the committee that the state would not need an additional appropriation to fund the state share until May of 2019. In order to determine whether the state will need to make any expansion-related appropriations during the current budget cycle, the committee asked further questions of OFPR and DHHS about the timeline for covering newly eligible Mainers, the additional staffing needs at DHHS to process applications, and projected savings.

    “Today, we began the work necessary to fulfill the voters’ mandate and expand healthcare coverage to 80,000 Mainers,” said Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, the lead Senate Democrat on the AFA Committee. “The law states that by July 2018, the state is required to begin offering Medicaid coverage to those newly eligible Mainers, so there’s a lot to be done. I look forward to the work, but am disappointed that no one from Gov. LePage’s administration accepted our invitation to participate in the work today. Implementation of this law is his responsibility and obligation as the chief executive of our state, and we expect him to fulfill it.”

  • Let's do tax reform right!

    By: U.S. Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Angus King (I-ME)

    (Photo: Sen. King on the right visits Penobscot elder Charles Norman Shay on Indian Island. He honoared Shay with a proclamation thanking him for his service in WWII aa a medic on the beaches of Normandy during D-day)

    Major tax reform is one of the most important tasks of this or any Congress. What we do in the next several months will affect every American, every business and our entire economy for decades to come. Unfortunately, those in charge of the current process seem hell bent to pass something, anything, that can be called tax reform before an arbitrary Christmas deadline, with no real input from Democrats (or Independents), outside experts, states and communities affected, or ordinary citizens.

    But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are a substantial number of Democrats who are prepared to engage in good-faith negotiations involving hearings, expert input, and compromise, to include cutting corporate rates and doing something about off-shore profits to stimulate economic growth. We believe that we can get to 70 votes, and probably more, for a more targeted (and less costly) alternative. The trick is to slow down, open up the process, and make sure we look before we take a thirty-year leap.

    One of our greatest concerns about the current Senate and House bills is the long-term implication of the huge cut in revenues that both of these bills entail — which will only hasten the inevitable day of reckoning on the ballooning deficit and debt. Further, because we’re borrowing to fill the hole created by this lost revenue, these aren’t really tax cuts at all but are simply shifts of costs we’re unwilling to pay to our kids.

    And all this deficit spending is being done in relatively good times, using up whatever cushion we might need for future economic downturns. Any rational business would be paying down debt now, not adding to it.

    There are lots of important ideas out there that have not gotten a hearing in the current closed process, ideas that could really make a difference in economic growth without ballooning the debt or favoring one class of taxpayers over another. For example, our Republican Senate colleague, Ron Johnson, has pointed out that the engine of economic growth is the 80+ percent of American businesses that organize in ways (Subchapter S, limited liability companies and partnerships) where business income is simply passed through and taxed as ordinary income of their owners.

    The current Senate Republican tax plan, by lowering corporate rates for the 20 percent of businesses that organize as Subchapter C corporations, does less for the small businesses that truly drive the economy. So Johnson proposes a simple solution. Instead of disadvantaging small businesses, treat all businesses the same by attributing the income of Subchapter C corporations to their owners and tax that income at personal rates. The details matter in getting this right, but the Johnson concept is worth a serious look.

    Why do tax reform wrong? What’s the rush? All indications are that both the House and Senate bills would disproportionately benefit the largest companies and richest individuals while offering little to small businesses and punishing millions of middle class families. The proposals explode the deficits by at least $1.5 trillion — and the Senate bill would even dramatically increase the ranks of those without health insurance. This is why a strong consensus of economists has emerged that this particular tax plan will do little to promote a stronger American economy.

    Surely we can do better. And we should do better. In 1986, Congress laid the groundwork for bipartisan reform with 36 hearings over ten months. The current Senate Bill was handed to Finance Committee members less than one week before the Committee was forced to debate and vote on its provisions. No hearings with experts, no opportunity for the public to weigh in, no real opportunity for Democratic members to persuade the Republican majority to improve the bill. And, we are currently scheduled to debate the bill on the Senate floor this week under a constrained procedure where a Senator offering an amendment is given one minute — one minute! — to debate the amendment before voting. A city council wouldn’t amend the leash law with a process like this.

    We are former Governors — one Democrat and one Independent — who have worked on tax reform issues with legislators of both parties. We have recently been part of crafting bipartisan Senate legislation to stabilize the health insurance markets and also to better calibrate the regulation of community banks and credit unions. We know there is a path to bipartisan tax reform to spur economic growth and help hardworking individuals and small businesses succeed. If we miss the opportunity to do this right, we (and the entire country) are likely to regret it for years to come.

  • Don't suffer in the cold- list of warming centers across Maine due to storm

    Let's all make an attempt to check on loved ones and neighbors today! Still allot of folks without power who made need some help. TRICK OR TREAT is tonight gotta use caution on dark streets with no power. There could still be lines down in some areas.

    LIST OF WARMING CENTERS ACROSS MAINE

    Androscoggin County: Greene Town Office: OPEN
    Warming Center
    Greene, 220 Main Street
    Open until 4:30pm. Fire Dept is the backup.

    Androscoggin County: Lisbon Town Office: OPEN
    Warming Center
    Lisbon, 300 Lisbon St
    Lisbon Town Office is open with the Community Center as a backup.

    Hancock County: Brooksville Fire Station/Town Office: OPEN
    Warming Center
    Brooksville, 1 Town House Road
    Open 24 hrs.

    Hancock County: Island Community Center: OPEN
    Warming Center
    Stonington, 10 Memorial Lane
    Open from 6:00am until 8:30pm

    Lincoln County: Bristol Mills Fire Station: OPEN
    Warming Center
    Bristol, 1206 Bristol Rd
    Open until 10:00pm

    Lincoln County: New Harbor Fire Department: OPEN
    Warming Center
    New Harbor, 2561 Bristol Rd
    Open until 10:00pm

    Lincoln County: Bristol Fire and Rescue Round Pond Station: OPEN
    Warming Center
    Round Pond, ME-32
    Open until 10:00pm

    Penobscot County: Cross Insurance Center: OPEN
    Warming Center
    Bangor, 515 Main St
    Charging Station

    In Bangor also there will be hot showers at the following locations beginning tomorrow morning. Please bring your own towels and soap:

    James F. Doughty School – beginning at 6:30 am - Tomorrow morning
    Cross Insurance Center – Beginning at 6:30 am - Tomorrow morning

    Penobscot County: Old Town Middle School: OPEN
    Warming Center
    Old Town, 156 Oak St
    Warming/charging center, open until further notice

    Penobscot County: Orono Field House: OPEN
    Emergency Shelter
    Orono, 168 College Avenue
    Will open at 5:00pm as a Red Cross emergency shelter.

    York County: Wells Elementary School: OPEN
    Warming Center
    Wells, 276 Sanford Rd
    Open to Wells residents, Showers available

    Scheduled to Open:
    Penobscot County: Bangor Public Library: WILL OPEN
    Warming Center
    Bangor, 145 Harlow St
    Open from 10:00am until 8:00pm

    York County: Seeds of Hope: WILL OPEN
    Warming Center
    Biddeford, 35 South St
    Open from 9:00am until 1:00pm

    Now Closed:
    Knox County: Hahn Center: CLOSED
    Other
    Friendship, 31 Main Street
    Open from 1:00pm to 5:00pm as a charging station

    Penobscot County: Brewer Public Safety: CLOSED
    Other
    Brewer, 151 Parkway
    Open as charging station until 9:00pm.

    Penobscot County: Etna Community Hall: CLOSED
    Warming Center
    Etna, 17 Shadow Lane
    Hours 2:00pm to 10:00pm

    Waldo County: Troy Howard Middle School: CLOSED
    Warming Center
    Belfast, 173 Lincolnville Avenue
    Closed at 6 PM.

  • The Next fight - Trump Wants to Repeal Obama’s Climate Plan

    President Trump failed again this week to fulfill his promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature health plan. Now he is taking aim at Mr. Obama’s central environmental legacy, the Clean Power Plan.

    The administration has made clear its desire to repeal the Obama energy plan. But what would take its place remains a mystery.

    The Environmental Protection Agency is expected in the coming days to reveal its strategy for reversing the Clean Power Plan, which was intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants across the country. Yet while Mr. Trump has declared the Obama-era plan dead — “Did you see what I did to that? Boom, gone,” he told a cheering crowd in Alabama recently — industry executives say they expect that utilities could still be subject to some restrictions on carbon emissions.

    “I would be surprised if repeal did not lead to replacement,” said Paul Bailey, president of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.

    If the E.P.A. does open the door to a new, weaker set of rules that utilities and others favor, it will most likely touch off a legal battle with environmental groups and pose a bureaucratic challenge to an agency where critical senior positions remain vacant. It could also force the agency’s administrator, Scott Pruitt, who has rejected the scientific consensus that human emissions cause climate change, to implicitly acknowledge that greenhouse gases harm human health and that the E.P.A. has an obligation to regulate them.

    “There’s an internal debate over what the overall approach toward greenhouse gases should be, and it’s hard to formulate policy if you haven’t come to terms with the outcome of the debate,” said David M. Konisky, a professor of public and environmental affairs at Indiana University.

    The parallels between the Clean Power Plan and the Affordable Care Act go only so far. The health care law, which was passed by Congress, offered a tangible benefit to many Americans and was firmly in place when Mr. Trump entered office. The Clean Power Plan, a regulation, not legislation, has not taken effect and is tied up in a federal appeals court.

    But environmental activists and conservative opponents alike say both cases show that demanding a policy be repealed is easier than making it happen. Finding a replacement is even harder.

    “From the perspective of advocacy and political strategy, I think there’s a lot of similarities. Members of Congress campaigned for six or seven years to fully repeal Obamacare, and there were no conversations about replace, or nothing of substance,” said Christine Harbin, vice president of external affairs at Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group. Of the Clean Power Plan, she said, “It may be difficult to fully repeal.”

    The Clean Power Plan aimed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants 32 percent below 2005 levels and required each state to develop carbon-cutting plans. Enacting the regulation was considered vital to helping the United States reach its commitment to reduce emissions under the Paris agreement. Mr. Trump has said he intends to withdraw from that accord.

    The United States Chamber of Commerce, coal companies and most Republican lawmakers strongly opposed the regulation. Mr. Trump signed an executive order in March to eliminate it, fulfilling a campaign promise to end what he denounced as a job-killing regulation.

    Over the past several months, though, some of the very people who advocated killing Mr. Obama’s climate policy have told Mr. Pruitt that his agency should devise a new, albeit weaker, rule to regulate carbon emissions in its place. Leading industry groups — including the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, and utility lobbies like the Edison Electric Institute — have pressed the administration for a replacement.

    “We didn’t always see eye-to-eye with the last administration on how to deal with climate in the regulatory space,” said Ross Eisenberg, vice president of energy policy at the National Association of Manufacturers, which joined 28 states to challenge the Clean Power Plan in federal court. “But we’re comfortable with having a policy, even a regulation, that addresses climate change. It’s about getting the regulation right.”

    In public, industry leaders say their companies already are on a greener trajectory. Behind the scenes, they also worry that simply killing the climate rule would not hold up in court, and would invite even tougher regulations under a future Democratic president. They are advocating a narrow regulation that allows utilities to reduce pollution at individual plants, like substituting fuel or improving the efficiency of furnaces.

    Dan Byers, the senior director for policy at the Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute, said it’s important that the E.P.A.’s repeal opens the door to such a replacement. Without one, he said, the agency would be vulnerable to lawsuits for not regulating carbon dioxide.

    “The uncertainty that would be associated with that is far more risky than having a rule in place which is reasonable, achievable and cost-effective,” he said.

    The E.P.A. declined to answer questions about the repeal process.

    “We don’t comment on rules undergoing interagency review,” Amy Graham, an agency spokeswoman, said in a statement.

    If Mr. Pruitt moves to replace the Clean Power Plan, it could signal that he intends to abandon a larger fight to challenge the essential underpinning of federal climate policy.

    The so-called endangerment finding, adopted after the Supreme Court found in 2007 that greenhouse gases are a pollutant subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act, declares that such emissions may “reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.” Mr. Pruitt has been under pressure from people who reject established climate science to challenge the determination, but a chorus of more pragmatic voices inside the administration and industry have insisted that doing so would be a legal morass with an uncertain outcome.

    Myron Ebell, a climate denier who led the E.P.A. transition team for the Trump administration, said he still hoped to see Mr. Pruitt challenge the endangerment finding in the future. That could happen through a series of debates on climate science that Mr. Pruitt has described as a “red team, blue team” exercise.

    In the meantime, Mr. Ebell said he was confident the Clean Power Plan would crumble and said the failure of Republicans to upend the Affordable Health Care was a lesson for Democrats: Pass legislation.

    “If you want to make something durable, you better get a law passed by Congress,” he said. “What one president can do by pen and by phone another president can undo by pen and by phone.”

  • Anthem Insurance withdraws from Maine’s A.C.A. Individual Exchange Market

    By Ramona du Houx

    Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield announced on September 27, 2017 that they will not sell individual insurance plans on the Affordable Care Act market in Maine in 2018. In the statement from Anthem, they cite a volatile market and changes and uncertainty in the federal government. “It is critical that all Maine people have access to quality, affordable health care. I am extremely disappointed by Anthem’s decision,” said Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives Sara Gideon. “I hope that this is a clear signal to all members of Congress and President Trump that we need stability and predictability, not to throw the entire industry into chaos every few months on political whims. The responsible course of action is to address existing issues in the Affordable Care Act.”

     Existing customers who purchased Anthem plans through the exchange can renew their current plan in 2018, but only off the exchange and without federal financial assistance. This change will not affect Medicare patients or those enrolled in employer-based insurance.

    “Anthem’s tragic decision for Mainers is a direct result of the flawed effort by Republicans in Washington to destroy the Affordable Care Act,” said Rep. Mark Lawrence, Chair of the Insurance and Financial Affairs Committee. “This is what happens when you turn healthcare into a partisan issue, despite the fact that the public wants the ACA improved, not repealed. Moving forward, we must focus on fixing existing issues and engendering stability.”

    “ObamaCare is continuing to implode and cause significant hardships for Maine’s people,” said Governor Paul LePage. 

    However LePage neglected to site the fact that by not accepting the free Medicaid funding from the A.C.A. he has caused hardships in Maine to hospitals, patients and insurance companies like Anthem. By not accepting the federal A.C.A. funding 10,000 people are still without health insurance and costs have sky rocketed for hospital medical treatment because those who use the emergency room for healthcare make insurance rates increase.

    Governor John Baldacci at a press conference for his Dirigo Health Care Act in 2005, photo by Ramona du Houx

    Governor John Baldacci’s Dirigo Health Care Act made sure costs were shared and quality health care became accessible to all Mainers. Dirigo Health became a model for America and many components were used in drafting the A.C.A. 

    States with governors that never accepted the federal Medicaid funding to implement the A.C.A. have put a burden on the entire A.C.A. system thereby making reforms necessary.

    Harvard Pilgrim has announced it will stay in Maine’s A.C.A. marketplace.

     

  • Office of Inspector General’s Report Recommends Changes to Protect Integrity of Organic Imports

    Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-ME), a member of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, released the following statement on a report the Office of Inspector General released today on organic integrity. During appropriations hearings earlier this year, Congresswoman Pingree questioned Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and USDA Inspector General Phyllis Fong about the integrity of organic imports.

    “Integrity is the cornerstone of the organic label. Organic farmers in my district and across the country deserve a fair playing field when it comes to the enforcement of organic standards.  I’m very concerned by the loopholes USDA Office of Inspector General’s found in the verification and inspection process that have allowed non-organic food from other countries to be sold as organic in the U.S. The recommendations in this audit provide a good road map for addressing these concerns and strengthening the integrity of organic imports. I look forward to working with my colleagues on the House Committee on Appropriations to ensure that USDA has the resources it needs to accomplish the recommendations outlined in the report."

    Pingree is a longtime certified organic farmer in Maine.

  • New Maine laws to help working families, small businesses, students, and veterans

    Maine House wraps up work for 2017 on August 2nd

    Measures to invest in education, support small business, increase consumer protections and strengthen environmental stewardship marked the first regular session of the 128th Legislature that wrapped up for the year on August 2. Lawmakers also dealt with a number of issues as a result of the referenda passed in the 2016 election.

    Democratic and Republican lawmakers worked collaboratively to accomplish many of these key goals despite obstruction by Gov. Paul LePage and his allies in the House.

    “We made great strides to help improve the lives of Maine families,” said Speaker of the House Sara Gideon.  “Lawmakers came together to do right by our citizens, even in a time of divided government.  We made smart, targeted investments to grow our economy and increase prosperity for Maine families.  And most importantly, we capitalized on our most important resource - Maine people, investing in lifting children out of poverty and ensuring that they have access to the excellent education, from early childhood through higher ed, that will position them and all of us for a successful future.” 

    Lawmakers considered approximately 1,650 bills this session, with 350 bills becoming law. Democrats, Republicans and unenrolled members came together to override 55 of 128 Gov. LePage vetoes.

    Democrats rejected measures to roll back women’s rights, worker’s rights, and voting rights, while fighting to harness clean, renewable energy and safeguard our environment.

    “While politics as usual in Washington D.C .might mean gridlock, this session we proved that Maine knows how to get things done, “ said Assistant Majority Leader Jared Golden. “From strengthening health care services for first responders and veterans to investing in our kids and communities through better education funding statewide, we worked hard this session and achieved real progress for all Mainers."

    The Legislature will reconvene for the Second Regular Session of the 128th Legislature in January 2018. 

    Key New Laws from the First Regular Session of the 128th Legislature

    Measures sponsored by House Democratic members and unenrolled members who caucus with Democrats: 

    Public Safety

    An Act To Allow Hunters Whose Religion Prohibits Wearing Hunter Orange Clothing To Instead Wear Red

    An Act To Require State Compliance with Federal REAL ID Guidelines

    An Act To Delay the Implementation of Certain Portions of the Marijuana Legalization Act

    An Act to Combat Human Trafficking by Requiring Prevention Training for Commercial Drivers

     

    Education

    An Act To Improve Safety and Traffic Efficiency near School Grounds

    An Act To Revise Certification Statutes for Educational Personnel

    An Act To Protect Students from Identity Theft

    An Act To Provide Youth Mental Health First Aid Training to Secondary School Health Educators

    Resolve, To Establish the Task Force To Identify Special Education Cost Drivers and Innovative Approaches to Services

     

    Economy and Small Business

    An Act To Extend the Legal Hours for Harvesting LobsterAn Act To Support Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Maine's Economic Future

    An Act Regarding Transfers of Liquor between Licensed Manufacturers' Facilities

    An Act To Provide Support for Sustainable Economic Development in Rural Maine

    An Act To Ensure Continued Availability of High-speed Broadband Internet at Maine's Schools and Libraries

    An Act To Improve Vocational Rehabilitation under the Maine Workers' Compensation Act of 1992

     

    Energy / Environment

    An Act To Protect Maine's Clean Water and Taxpayers from Mining Pollution

    An Act To Include 50 Milliliter and Smaller Liquor Bottles in the Laws Governing Returnable Containers

    An Act To Create a Penalty for the Discharge of Septic Waste from Watercraft into the Inland WatersAn Act To Establish Energy Policy in Maine

    An Act To Revise Certification Statutes for Educational Personnel

     

    Health Care and Public Health

    An Act To Require Insurance Coverage for Contraceptive Supplies

    An Act To Incorporate Protections for Living Donors into Maine Law

    An Act To Amend the Laws Governing Forensic Examination Kits

    An Act To Increase Access to Hearing Aids

    An Act To Prohibit Certain Gifts to Health Care Practitioners

    An Act To Provide Youth Mental Health First Aid Training to Secondary School Health Educators

     

    Consumer Protection

    An Act To Promote Fiscal Responsibility in the Purchasing of Debt

    An Act To Protect Maine Consumers from Unexpected Medical Bills

    An Act To Protect Students from Identity Theft

    An Act To Increase Reporting on Wage and Hour Violations

     

    Transportation

    An Act To Authorize the Construction of a Maine Turnpike Connector to Gorham

    An Act To Improve Safety and Traffic Efficiency near School Grounds

     

    Veterans

    An Act Regarding Mental Health Care for Maine Veterans

     

    Opioid

    An Act To Allow Corrections Officers To Administer Naloxone

  • Maine State Sen. Carson's Public Health Nursing Bill holds back LePage's attack on healthcare

    The Maine Legislature on August 2, 2017 successfully rebuked Gov. Paul LePage’s last-ditch effort to block a new law to restore the strength of Maine’s public health nursing program, which protects the state’s people from disease outbreaks and works with communities to provide preventative health services.

    The Senate overrode the governor’s veto with a 29-5 vote, well above the two-thirds threshold needed for the bill to become law over LePage’s objection. The override vote also won two-thirds in the House of Representatives, 101-34.

    The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Brownie Carson, said the veto override would reverse Gov. LePage’s year long effort to dismantle Maine’ public health infrastructure.

    “There is no greater obligation for elected officials than ensuring the health and wellbeing of the residents in this great state, and public health nurses are the vanguard of our public health system,” said Sen. Carson, a Harpswell Democrat. “These dedicated health professionals protect us from disease outbreaks, they work with our families to ensure the health of our children, and they address a dire need for preventative health services at the community level. They work with anyone, regardless of their income or their insurance status. For six years, this administration has attacked our public health infrastructure. This bill is a critical step to reversing the damage.”

    Unlike other health care providers who treat individuals, public health nurses promote and protect the health of entire populations, with a goal of preventing disease and disability.  In Maine, PHNs conduct home visits with young families and pregnant women, providing education and assessment to help new moms and dads raise healthy children. They also assist families with substance-affected babies, and help frail or isolated Mainers in rural parts of the state stay in their homes by providing in-home care.

    But their work goes beyond the household, and PHNs provide crisis response services, such as in 2009 when they established 238 clinics in Maine to provide H1N1 vaccines. In 2011, 59 public health nurses worked throughout the state from offices ranging from Sanford to Calais to Fort Kent. But since 2011, positions in the public health nursing program have been left vacant or eliminated. Today, the program is a shadow of its former self, with just one-third the staff on hand to respond to emergencies and promote wellbeing in Maine. Cuts and understaffing in the state’s corps of public health nurses has jeopardized Maine’s ability to respond to health crises such as disease outbreaks and the drug epidemic.

    This year, the biennial budget includes 48 positions within the Public Health Nursing program. Sen. Carson’s bill, LD 1108, requires the Department of Health and Human Services to promptly fill those positions, removing Gov. LePage’s ability to gut public health services by refusing to hire. The bill will ensure professional public health nurses will stand at the ready to safeguard Maine’s wellbeing against health emergencies, chronic disease and epidemic.

    Today’s shortage leaves the state unprepared to meet the public health needs of Mainers in the best of times, let alone in an emergency. In the meantime, Maine has bucked national trends to become the only state where infant mortality rates are rising, and a drug epidemic is ravaging communities throughout the state.

    Last year, 1,000 drug-affected babies were born in Maine. At the same time, referrals for homes visits by public health nurses are going unfulfilled because of a lack of staffing in the program.

    The bill earned bipartisan support, and the backing of the Maine Public Health Association, Maine Medical Association, AARP Maine and the Primary Care Association. Health care professionals including doctors, nurses and public health experts from Eastern Maine Health, Central Maine Health and several rural, critical-access hospitals also testified in favor of the bill.

    TESTIMONY FROM EXPERTS IN SUPPORT OF LD 1108:

    “We have a public health system for the same reason we have police, and firemen, and the military. These groups all serve to protect us from threats,” said Dr. Dervilla McCann, chief of population health at Central Maine Medical Center. McCann described the 1918 flu pandemic that rocked Maine and killed more people globally in 24 years than AIDS killed in 24 years. “At a time when the state is struggling with an opioid epidemic impacting newborns, it seems extraordinarily ill timed to dismantle the single best tool we have to safeguard at risk children. Similarly, it is foolhardy to leave the citizens of our state in the same state of unreadiness that lead to such tragic loss of life 100 years ago.”

    Peter Michaud, J.D., R.N. from the Maine Medical Association, pushed back against the idea that other health care providers can perform the tasks of public health nurses: “Primary care physicians, nurse practitioners, and the nurses who work with them have their hands full with what they do now, and with the opioid crisis they are being asked to do even more. It makes no sense to add the entire menu of public health nursing to their plates. They don’t have the capacity to handle the additional duties, and they certainly don’t have the capacity to respond to a new outbreak of infectious disease.”

  • Obama's Facebook Statement on the US Senate's Proposed Healthcare Bill

    Former President Barack Obama's Facebook Statement on the proposed healthcare bill going through the US Senate:

    (photo of President Barack Obama in Maine after ACA healthcare legislation was passed and signed into law, photo taken 2010 by Ramona du Houx)

    Our politics are divided. They have been for a long time. And while I know that division makes it difficult to listen to Americans with whom we disagree, that’s what we need to do today.

    I recognize that repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act has become a core tenet of the Republican Party. Still, I hope that our Senators, many of whom I know well, step back and measure what’s really at stake, and consider that the rationale for action, on health care or any other issue, must be something more than simply undoing something that Democrats did.

    We didn’t fight for the Affordable Care Act for more than a year in the public square for any personal or political gain – we fought for it because we knew it would save lives, prevent financial misery, and ultimately set this country we love on a better, healthier course.

    Nor did we fight for it alone. Thousands upon thousands of Americans, including Republicans, threw themselves into that collective effort, not for political reasons, but for intensely personal ones – a sick child, a parent lost to cancer, the memory of medical bills that threatened to derail their dreams.

    And you made a difference. For the first time, more than ninety percent of Americans know the security of health insurance. Health care costs, while still rising, have been rising at the slowest pace in fifty years. Women can’t be charged more for their insurance, young adults can stay on their parents’ plan until they turn 26, contraceptive care and preventive care are now free. Paying more, or being denied insurance altogether due to a preexisting condition – we made that a thing of the past.

    We did these things together. So many of you made that change possible.

    At the same time, I was careful to say again and again that while the Affordable Care Act represented a significant step forward for America, it was not perfect, nor could it be the end of our efforts – and that if Republicans could put together a plan that is demonstrably better than the improvements we made to our health care system, that covers as many people at less cost, I would gladly and publicly support it.

    That remains true. So I still hope that there are enough Republicans in Congress who remember that public service is not about sport or notching a political win, that there’s a reason we all chose to serve in the first place, and that hopefully, it’s to make people’s lives better, not worse.

    But right now, after eight years, the legislation rushed through the House and the Senate without public hearings or debate would do the opposite. It would raise costs, reduce coverage, roll back protections, and ruin Medicaid as we know it. That’s not my opinion, but rather the conclusion of all objective analyses, from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which found that 23 million Americans would lose insurance, to America’s doctors, nurses, and hospitals on the front lines of our health care system.

    The Senate bill, unveiled today, is not a health care bill. It’s a massive transfer of wealth from middle-class and poor families to the richest people in America. It hands enormous tax cuts to the rich and to the drug and insurance industries, paid for by cutting health care for everybody else. Those with private insurance will experience higher premiums and higher deductibles, with lower tax credits to help working families cover the costs, even as their plans might no longer cover pregnancy, mental health care, or expensive prescriptions. Discrimination based on pre-existing conditions could become the norm again. Millions of families will lose coverage entirely.

    Simply put, if there’s a chance you might get sick, get old, or start a family – this bill will do you harm. And small tweaks over the course of the next couple weeks, under the guise of making these bills easier to stomach, cannot change the fundamental meanness at the core of this legislation.

    I hope our Senators ask themselves – what will happen to the Americans grappling with opioid addiction who suddenly lose their coverage? What will happen to pregnant mothers, children with disabilities, poor adults and seniors who need long-term care once they can no longer count on Medicaid? What will happen if you have a medical emergency when insurance companies are once again allowed to exclude the benefits you need, send you unlimited bills, or set unaffordable deductibles? What impossible choices will working parents be forced to make if their child’s cancer treatment costs them more than their life savings?

    To put the American people through that pain – while giving billionaires and corporations a massive tax cut in return – that’s tough to fathom. But it’s what’s at stake right now. So it remains my fervent hope that we step back and try to deliver on what the American people need.

    That might take some time and compromise between Democrats and Republicans. But I believe that’s what people want to see. I believe it would demonstrate the kind of leadership that appeals to Americans across party lines. And I believe that it’s possible – if you are willing to make a difference again. If you’re willing to call your members of Congress. If you are willing to visit their offices. If you are willing to speak out, let them and the country know, in very real terms, what this means for you and your family.

    After all, this debate has always been about something bigger than politics. It’s about the character of our country – who we are, and who we aspire to be. And that’s always worth fighting for.

  • Maine voters overwhelmingly voted for Research and Development bonds

    The official tabulation of votes from the June 13, 2017 Special Referendum Election show that the bond issue was approved overwhemingly by Maine voters.

    The Elections Division has certified the results and Gov. Paul LePage signed the official vote proclamation.

    The certified election results show a total of 63,468 votes in favor of the bond issue, and 39,549 votes in opposition. Voters cast a total of 104,213 ballots in this single-question statewide referendum, with 1,196 blanks.

    Question 1 asked: “Do you favor a $50,000,000 bond issue to provide $45,000,000 in funds for investment in research, development and commercialization in the State to be used for infrastructure, equipment and technology upgrades that enable organizations to gain and hold market share, to increase revenues and to expand employment or preserve jobs for Maine people, to be awarded through a competitive process to Maine-based public and private entities, leveraging other funds in a one-to-one ratio and $5,000,000 in funds to create jobs and economic growth by lending to or investing in small businesses with the potential for significant growth and strong job creation?”

    The funds will support job growth in Maine’s high tech industries, creating good-paying jobs, new products and new services. Mainers will benefit from innovation in biotech, forest products, marine resources and information technologies. New construction projects will create additional jobs for building contractors, tradespeople, equipment suppliers, and professional service providers, increasing economic activity throughout the State.

    The funds will be administered by the Maine Technology Institute (MTI)www.mainetechnology.org and applicants will be selected through an independent, review process to select projects with the greatest potential for return on investment. Applicants are required to match dollar-for-dollar, the amount of the grant award -increasing private sector investments and accountability.

    The Elections Division will post the results online this week at http://maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/results/index.html.

    The legislation will become law 30 days from the date of the official proclamation (July 21, 2017).

  • Holocaust Day of Remembrance at the Klahr Center in Augusta, Maine

    The Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine [HHRC] will host its annual Yom HaShoah: Holocaust Day of Remembrance program at the Michael Klahr Center at 1 p.m. on Sunday, April 30, 2017. 

    This year's program will include a screening of the film “Disobedience: The Sousa Mendes Story,” the incredible true account of Aristides de Sousa Mendes, a Portuguese Consul who defied the orders of his government and granted thousands of visas to “undesirables” during the Holocaust. The program will also include a Q & A with Mona Pearl Treyball, the daughter of Sousa Mendes visa recipient, Sara Tanne. 

    Aristides de Sousa Mendes do Amaral e Abranches was one of the great heroes of the Second World War. As the Portuguese consul stationed in Bordeaux, France, he found himself confronted in June of 1940 with the reality of many thousands of refugees outside the Portuguese consulate attempting to escape the Nazis.

    Though Portugal was officially neutral as a nation, Portuguese diplomats were told to deny safe haven to refugees, including Jews, Russians, and stateless individuals who could not return to their countries of origin.

    Sousa Mendes defied that order and issued thousands of visas over a 12-day period. “I would rather stand with God against Man than with Man against God,” he declared.

     This program is presented in conjunction with the HHRC’s exhibit “Heroism in Unjust Times: Rescuers During the Holocaust,” on view fromWednesday, April 24 - August 11, 2017.

    For more information about Disobedience and Sousa Mendes, visit the Sousa Mendes Foundation at http://sousamendesfoundation.org.

    The program is free to attend, though donations are gratefully accepted. Light refreshments will be provided, and all are welcome and encouraged to join the HHRC on this special day of commemoration and reflection.

    For more information on this year’s Yom HaShoah: Holocaust Day of Remembrance program or to learn about more events hosted by the HHRC, visit hhrcmaine.org, call (207) 621-3530, or email infohhrc@maine.edu.

  • Barry Hobbins nominated to become Maine's Public Advocate

    Governor Paul R. LePage nominated the Hon. Barry J. Hobbins of Saco on April 12, 2017 to serve as the Public Advocate, a position that represents the interests of Maine ratepayers in proceedings before the Maine Public Utilities Commission, including issues regarding electricity and natural gas prices. The Office of the Public Advocate also supports Mainers on matters related to telecommunications, including accessibility to broadband internet.

    Hobbins, a lawyer in private practice for 39 years, has concentrated in telecommunications law, real estate, municipal and administrative law, land use planning, business and corporate law, criminal and family law.

    “Maine's Public Advocate plays a critical role in protecting the interests of consumers and ratepayers before the Public Utilities Commission, the Legislature and elsewhere. Tim Schneider has done an outstanding job leading this office, and will be sorely missed,” said Rep. Berry, D-Bowdoinham.

    “Barry Hobbins has extensive experience as a legislator, legislative leader, and as my predecessor in co-chairing the Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities & Technology.  Having served with Barry for eight years, I have seen firsthand his commitment to public service. I look forward to holding a confirmation hearing soon, and learning more about how Barry hopes to stand up for consumers and ratepayers.”

    A well-known and respected legislator, Hobbins was first elected in 1972 as the youngest member of the 106th Maine Legislature. He also served in the 114th Legislature, then the 122nd through 125th Legislatures. During his time in the State House, he was a member of many Committees, including Business Legislation, Labor and Judiciary, and served as both House Chair and Senate Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology.

    While serving on the EUT committee, he developed a thorough knowledge of energy issues and was in charge of overseeing the Office of the Public Advocate as it related to wholesale electricity markets, interstate electricity transmission and interstate gas transportation. He also became familiar with the workings of the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates interstate communications of radio, television, satellite and cable systems.

    A lifelong resident of Saco, Hobbins is a graduate of Thornton Academy. He earned a B.A. degree from University Maine Orono and his law degree from the Franklin Pierce Law Center, now known as the New Hampshire School of Law.

  • LePage Proposes Bill that would Directly Increase Maine Kids living in Poverty



    By Ramona du Houx

    Governor LePage, Commissioner Mayhew, and Rep. Ken Fredette rolled out the draft idea of a proposed bill that would plunge Maine children, and their families, further into poverty. The governor needs the bill to codify some changes to welfare programs that his administration has already made by executive action. Many of the proposals outlined by LePage have been introduced as bills in the past but died in the legislature.

    Since LePgae's so called reforms have been put in place the number of children living in deep poverty and the infant mortality rate has risen. According to the 2016 Kids Count Data Book, more Maine children live in poverty than before the recession. Now, over 82,000 children in Maine — more than the entire populations of Bangor, Augusta and Biddeford combined - live in poverty.

    The USDA estimates that 15.8 percent of Maine households, or more than 209,000 individuals, are food insecure.
     
    “These so-called ‘reforms’ by the administration have created lasting damage. We’ve driven children and families deeper into poverty, increased childhood hunger, and removed basic health care from struggling families," said Health and Human Services Chair, Dr. Patty Hymanson. 
     
    "I believe that true reform means improving people’s lives, not driving them deeper into poverty. True reform should be based on a vision that would reduce child poverty by creating real opportunities for Maine families. I propose stabilizing families so that they can meet their basic needs, breaking down barriers to work, eliminating the welfare ‘cliff,’ expanding access to education for better paying jobs, making child care and transportation more accessible and affordable and holding government accountable to administer programs that truly reduce poverty."

    Trying to promote the package that would potentially endanger thousands of children LePage has the audacity to call his proposed changes — the Welfare Reform for Increased Security and Employment Act.

    "If we want Maine children to thrive, we need to reduce the number of children living in poverty. That starts with supporting and properly administering effective anti-poverty programs, while creating an economy that works for everyone," said Rita Furlow is senior policy analyst at the Maine Children’s Alliance.

    LePage's Draconian measure will:

    Shorten the lifetime limit for Maine families under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program from five years to three years, also codifying a work requirement for the same program and establishing a $5,000 asset test on certain households that get food stamps. It will also:

    — Place photographs on electronic benefits cards
    — Ban or suspend parents not cooperating with child support services from receiving food assistance
    — Disqualify lottery and gambling winners of $5,000 or more from receiving food assistance
    — Require education programs paid for with TANF money to be for jobs with average or better outlooks
    — Ban repeat felony drug offenders from receiving food assistance
    — Disqualify all adults in a household from receiving TANF if an individual is convicted of welfare-related theft or fraud

    While the Republicans declare they want less government LePage continues to propose more government invasion into the lives of Maine citizens.

  • 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.