February 13

Maine Voices: Bill favoring wind industry threatens to muzzle Maine citizens, regulators

The public needs to speak out against L.D. 1750 or risk losing its voice on a key environmental issue.

By Richard McDonald

KENNEBUNK — I’ve lived in Maine for 20 years. I know it well. I appreciate what a great place it is to live, work and raise a family.

about the author

Richard McDonald of Kennebunk is a former member and board member of Friends of Maine's Mountains, a nonprofit that has opposed wind projects and advocates on behalf of natural resources, reliable energy and affordable power.

I’ve always maintained that we’re fortunate to live where the public had a say in how things worked and played out. Corporations didn’t constantly work to undermine our regulatory process, deny citizens their rights and threaten our environment.

But that was all before the corporate insurgency, carried out by industrial wind, led by then-Gov. John Baldacci, former Public Utilities Commission Chairman Curt Adams and their out-of-state wind cronies. Since wind’s arrival in 2008, the climate in Augusta has been dramatically altered.

Big money washes through the halls, pushed by legions of lobbyists who dismiss citizens as impediments to corporate enrichment and political expediency. Gone are the days of independent thinking and considered debate, especially regarding Maine’s energy policy. Political leadership shuns the difficult but practical choices, avoiding policies that promote low-cost, reliable energy and economic sustainability.

Today in Augusta, it’s all about big wind and big money. Just listen to our political elite and their lobbyist allies: Wind will save the day! Wind is free! Wind will cure our economy! Challenge their proclamations and you’re immediately tagged a climate denier, a NIMBY, a reactionary or, at a minimum, a wingnut.

No question, the 2008 assault by big wind was a turning point for Maine and its legislative process – threatening citizens’ rights, our environment, our sense of fairness and the need for transparency.

But the assault isn’t over.

Not since the 2008 Wind Energy Act has there been a better symbol of climate change in Augusta than Senate President Justin Alfond’s hastily ginned-up bill, L.D. 1750, An Act to Amend the Maine Administrative Procedure Act and Clarify Wind Energy Laws.

Wind developers, particularly First Wind, stung by recent Department of Environmental Protection denials of two major projects, are furious and feverishly pushing through L.D. 1750, with Sen. Alfond, D-Portland, and his “emergency legislation” designation as their willing handmaiden.

This hastily prepared assault was crafted by the industry with the clear intention of hijacking the public process, restraining regulators and punishing opposition. It’s a mirror image of how the industry secured their highly favorable 2008 Wind Act – conceived behind closed doors, rushed through as an emergency bill with the ink from the industry’s pen still glistening.

So, L.D. 1750’s arrival at the end of a short legislative session is not a coincidence. The timing serves to stifle public debate and allows Alfond and his cronies to push through their fix with minimal public scrutiny.

More troubling than its timing is the impact that L.D. 1750 will have on our environmental regulators and citizens’ rights. It seriously restrains rule-making and redefines allowable evidence and testimony.

The bill requires that all agencies (mainly the DEP) may only consider the “testimony of qualified experts, data gathered by objective and reliable means, and testimony and other evidence supported by independent confirmation of reliability.”

What does this all mean? Simply put, regulators and citizens will be confronted with more rigorous roadblocks and a labyrinth of new lawyering if L.D. 1750 becomes law.

The bill clearly undermines a citizen’s right to present testimony regarding the impacts of wind projects, especially their damage to scenic views. Citizens won’t be allowed to offer evidence or testimony unless they’re an expert. If you don’t have a degree in scenic views, you’re out of luck.

If you’re still baffled by what this all means, try questioning Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee members about L.D. 1750. They most likely won’t respond because the fix is in and they’ve been ordered by Sen. Alfond and wind lobbyists to vote “ought to pass.”

How can Mainers withstand this assault, thrust into combat with wind developers armed with well-oiled lawyers and laws tilted in their favor? How can they afford to fight corporate interests and elected officials chomping at the bit to deny them their rights and override their interests? It won’t be easy or affordable.

Unfortunately, that’s how the process works these days in Augusta – big wind, big money controlling the State House, Sen. Alfond and his faithful followers working overtime to grease the skids and keep the windmills churning.

So fight back and send a message to your elected representatives, Sen. Alfond and his cohorts on the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. Tell them to abandon L.D. 1750 and reaffirm our belief that Maine is not for sale.

— Special to the Press Herald

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