NEWPORT — In 2013, during the 126th Legislature, I co-sponsored L.D. 1559, known as the omnibus energy bill, aimed at reducing energy costs for Maine ratepayers and laying the groundwork to get more natural gas to Maine.

The word “bipartisan” is thrown around the halls of the State House a lot, but this bill was a true bipartisan effort in every sense of the word, as it was also co-sponsored by two Democrats: Rep. Barry Hobbins of Saco and then-Sen. John Cleveland of Auburn.

One provision of that legislation centered on providing funding for Efficiency Maine, an organization that administers energy-efficiency programs throughout the state. The draft of the bill by the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee adjusted the cap on this funding stream, with the understanding being that the cap would be roughly $60 million.

As the rule-making phase of this process began, the Public Utilities Commission’s job when deciding what the funding cap would ultimately be was to interpret the statute that it was given. Because of the apparent clerical error made when the bill was written, the language as it related to that cap is limited in scope.

The Energy Committee’s agreed-upon plan was to grant the PUC the authority to set electricity rates to raise funds for energy-efficiency programs, but the total amount could not exceed 4 percent of total retail electricity and transmission and distribution sales in Maine.

The final draft of the bill omitted the first “and,” reading, instead: “could not exceed 4 percent of total retail electricity transmission and distribution sales.” This increased funding, but it did not go as far as the Energy Committee had wanted.

That draft was seen by hundreds of interested parties, including legislators, lawyers, environmental advocates, the state public advocate and ultimately the entire Legislature as it became enacted. Despite the ample opportunity to review the final draft bill, no one caught that error.

During the PUC’s March 17 meeting, the commission properly interpreted the statute as it was written, given the intent demonstrated by the wording of the statute itself. The PUC got it right. However, the unintended result is now that available funding for Efficiency Maine will be decreased by approximately $40 million.

The Legislature and the governor now have an opportunity to fix this error with new legislation, and I believe that if we work together in a bipartisan fashion, we can accomplish this goal.

Let me be perfectly clear: The PUC got this right. The lesson that needs to be learned from this situation is that, especially when it comes to statutes, words matter.

Imagine if this same scenario had played itself out but, instead, the PUC had simply added a word, changing the way that it could interpret a statute. Imagine if that resulted in an additional $50 million in funding for a particular initiative that Republicans supported. Can you imagine the outrage from the Democrats in Augusta?

The job of the independent Public Utilities Commission was not to decipher the intent of the 126th Legislature, but rather to interpret and apply the statute as it was written, which is exactly what they did.

Now, legislators from both sides of the aisle need to focus on a solution. If it’s a quick fix that the Democrats and environmental lobbyists seek, I recommend that everyone take a breath and stop criticizing members of the PUC for doing their job by simply interpreting the statute that was before them. If Democrats’ only plan is to use this issue to drum up more faux outrage for political gain, the quick solution they seek could be a long way off.