AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage is headed back to Washington, D.C., this week to meet with President Trump as part of a group discussion of energy issues.

LePage’s office confirmed Monday that the Trump administration invited LePage and several other governors to participate in an energy-themed event Wednesday but declined to provide additional details. The event is part of “Energy Week” at the White House, the latest in a string of weekly themes intended to highlight the Trump administration’s focus on policy issues – such as technology, infrastructure and energy – at a time when many of the headlines coming from Washington are about health care or investigations into Russian attempts to meddle in the 2016 election.

LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett deferred questions about Wednesday’s energy event to the White House, which did not immediately respond to a request for additional information. According to news reports, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts as well as other local or tribal leaders are expected to participate in the meeting.

This will be at least the fourth trip by LePage to Washington since February and at least his third event with Trump. In addition to a group governors’ dinner with the president, LePage appeared with Trump during a signing ceremony for an executive order directing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review more than two dozen national monuments, including Maine’s Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument.

The repeated trips to Washington fueled speculation that LePage was angling for a job in the Trump administration or gearing up for a Senate run against U.S. Sen. Angus King, although the governor dismissed such rumors as “wishful thinking” among his opponents.

Unlike previous governors, LePage’s office does not publicize the governor’s schedule and rarely announces beforehand his travels to Washington or other locations on official business.

LePage has made energy costs a key platform of his administration as he repeatedly suggests that high energy prices are squelching economic development in Maine. He has pushed the federal government to loosen regulations on smaller hydropower projects but has been an active opponent of policies aimed at encouraging development of other types of renewable energy in Maine, especially wind and solar power. Critics contend that LePage’s positions on renewable energy are suppressing job growth in that sector of Maine’s economy.

The meeting comes at a busy time both for LePage and the president.

In Washington, Senate Republican leaders are hoping to hold a vote on their proposal to repeal Obamacare and replace it with an alternative health care law, although the proposal appeared on Monday to lack the necessary Republican votes for passage.

Back in Maine, lawmakers are under pressure to send a roughly $7 billion budget to LePage before forcing a partial shutdown of state government beginning Saturday. Legislative leaders continued to negotiate on the contentious budget on Monday but had yet to strike a deal.

LePage is widely expected to veto the budget bill, but speculation around the State House on Monday focused on how quickly he will act. Governors have 10 days – not including Sundays – to sign or veto bills, meaning LePage could trigger a government shutdown during one of the peak tourism weeks in Maine if he exercises that authority. But he could immediately reject the bill or individual lines within the budget, thereby giving lawmakers time to attempt to override his veto before the new fiscal year begins on July 1.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

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Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

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