April 30, 2013

LePage: Health law to send U.S. 'into a spiral'

Speaking to a crowd of business leaders, he also criticizes President Obama and Maine's wind-energy industry.

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

"I think the country is partly in a spiral now, but I think this president ... is going to ruin the American Dream as we know it," Gov. Paul LePage said Monday in Washington D.C.

AP

While the Maine law did lower costs for some Mainers, other consumers who live in rural areas or are older have seen their rates increase.

LePage said he is urging businesses in Maine with more than 50 employees to pay a financial penalty beginning next year if they decide not to offer health insurance to their employees, as required under Obamacare. If all businesses across the country opted to pay the penalty, he said, the president's health care plan would "fall on its own weight."

"In one year it would falter," LePage said.

On the issue of economic development, LePage said his administration has focused on reducing red tape and expediting the permitting process for businesses. He received loud applause from the group when he talked about the Republican-controlled Legislature's 2011 bill to reduce income taxes in Maine.

But he said Maine continues to struggle to attract and retain businesses because of high energy costs, which he blamed on wind energy.

"We in Maine have the 10th-highest energy costs in the United States of America and the reason for that is that we have wind (power)," LePage said. "And so what I have been doing is I have been inviting all Mainers to come to Augusta to our Capitol to break wind together," he said, repeating a frequent joke. "Because it is the only way we are going to get rid of wind in our state."

LePage is a longtime critic of wind power because of the federal subsidies that the industry receives, often portraying the industry as a special-interest lobbying force capitalizing on taxpayers. Instead, he has pushed to expand natural gas infrastructure.

The governor has also sought to allow larger hydropower facilities -- in excess of 100 megawatts -- to qualify as renewable energy sources under a state policy requiring electric suppliers to obtain a certain percentage of their energy from renewables.

That effort, which would open Maine's renewable portfolio standard to large Canadian utilities, has failed in the past and appears unlikely to pass the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

Supporters of Maine's wind power industry strongly dispute the governor's repeated statements blaming wind energy for the state's high energy costs.

An independent study by London Economics International found that while the renewable energy mandate adds about one-half of 1 percent to ratepayer bills, it encourages expansion of an industry that has pumped more than $1 billion into Maine's economy in recent years.

"The reality is that the costs of the renewables policy on wind are far outweighed by the benefits," said Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association, a trade group. "Wind has definitely been a topic that the governor likes to talk about. We welcome a fact-based, evidence-based discussion."

Kevin Miller can be contacted at (207) 317-6256 or at:

kmiller@mainetoday.com

On Twitter: @KevinMillerDC

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