Both chambers of the Legislature have rejected a LePage administration proposal to use money from logging on public woodlots to pay for home energy-efficiency programs.
The House voted 89-53 on Friday to defeat an administration bill, L.D. 1838, that was paired with plans to significantly increase the amount of wood harvested on so-called public reserved lands. The Senate voted 21-14 on Thursday to reject the bill.
The state manages roughly 400,000 acres of public lots for timber as well as wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation. Under current law, all the timber revenue is invested back into the state management of those public lands, which include popular recreation spots throughout the state.
The Bureau of Parks and Lands has developed plans to increase the amount of wood harvested on state-owned woodlots from 141,500 cords per year to 180,000 cords annually. Environmental groups as well as a majority of lawmakers on a key committee have raised concerns about those plans. The state can increase timber harvesting without legislative approval but it is unclear how officials will proceed given the failure of the related bill.
L.D. 1838 would have allowed the state to divert some of the additional revenue from timber harvesting to the Efficiency Maine program, which helps homeowners pay to convert their heating systems to natural gas, wood pellets or other efficient systems. Critics contend, however, that while they fully support Efficiency Maine, they do not endorse increasing the program’s budget with timber revenue.
“Maine’s public forests are a trust we hold for our children and grandchildren – not the governor’s ATM machine,” Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, said in a statement. “We need to protect them for wildlife, recreation and timber health. Their management needs to be based on good science and stewardship, not empty gestures and election-year politics.”
LePage blasted “liberal” Democrats for what he said were misplaced priorities, although some Republicans in both chambers joined in defeating the measure.
“Once again, liberal politicians are not looking out for the best interests of Mainers,” LePage said in a statement. “We can both sustainably harvest our public lands and provide resources to help Mainers affordably heat their homes. Instead, Democrats who opposed my bill said they would rather see the timber revenue used on trails and boundary lines in Maine’s public forests.”
The head of LePage’s Energy Office, Patrick Woodcock, said in an email that while he was disappointed by the votes, his office will continue “to expand affordable heating opportunities for Maine families.”
Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at: