Maine should not gut RGGI efficiency fund to balance the budget

By Maine State Senator Phil Bartlett- January 10th, 2011 ·  Editorial

Money from RGGI helps businesses lower their energy costs and become more competitive.

On Dec. 1, 2010, I was honored once again to be sworn in as the representative of the people of Senate District 6 in Augusta. In my time in the Senate, one of the pieces of legislation I am most proud of allowed Maine to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, known as RGGI.

Since 2007, RGGI has helped lower pollution, created clean energy jobs, and helped homeowners and businesses save money on electricity costs.

Unfortunately, an important benefit of this program is now being threatened by proposals to take funds from the program to fill the expected budget gap.

The RGGI program created in 2007 is a regional carbon trading program, often referred to as “cap and trade.” The program seeks to reduce pollution by “capping” the amount of carbon dioxide electrical generators produce while also allowing them to buy pollution credits through a regional auction.

The government raises money by selling pollution credits to polluters, and then uses that money to promote energy efficiency to lower electrical bills for businesses and individual consumers alike.

I’m proud that the RGGI program created in Maine in 2007 was done with strong bi-partisan support, gathering the unanimous support of Republicans in the Maine Senate and all but seven Republicans in the Maine House.

Since then the program has been a major success, raising more than $23 million in Maine, which the state has wisely invested in energy efficiency projects.

It continues to operate today as one of the best examples of recent bipartisan cooperation in Augusta, and it has served as a model across the country and around the world.

Unfortunately, recent comments by a spokesman for the governor indicate that the new administration is considering taking these funds away from energy efficiency projects and instead using them to balance the state budget.

When we enacted the RGGI legislation in Maine, both Republicans and Democrats were insistent that the funds should never be diverted in this way.

We are heading into another difficult budget year.

In 2011, we can expect to once again be faced with difficult choices and few options.

This doesn’t mean we should take money from a successful program that is helping Maine to become more energy independent.

In his inaugural address, Governor LePage emphasized the need to help Maine companies lower their costs of doing business.

The resources generated from RGGI as well as other programs at the Efficiency Maine Trust do exactly that. Indeed, Marden’s has benefited from grants from Efficiency Maine during the governor’s tenure there.

And independent gubernatorial candidate Shawn Moody specifically highlighted Efficiency Maine as a government program that directly helps businesses like his to be more competitive.

I look forward to working with Governor LePage to lower business costs in Maine to help create more jobs.

A good start would be to send a message to the business community that we will protect existing energy efficiency funding so that we can help make Maine more competitive.