U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden have unveiled their list of requests for congressional earmarks, the member-requested federal funding initiatives that are returning to Congress after a decadelong ban.

Under new rules designed to avoid corruption and abuse, each House member is allowed to request 10 earmarks to benefit nonprofits and governmental entities – but not private firms – in their districts. Members had to post their list of requests – only a fraction of which will be granted by the House’s budget appropriators – by Wednesday evening.

The lists from Maine’s members include requests that would revive what had been southern Maine’s only inpatient detoxification program; improve or replace water and sewer infrastructure in several Maine towns; renovate landmark buildings in Portland, Lewiston, Bridgton and Gardiner; and help fire departments, community college workforce training programs, and efforts to deal with climate change and right whale protection.

Pingree’s 10 earmark requests for the upcoming fiscal year:

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree

4-H Foundation, Orono: $450,000 to purchase Bridgton’s Magic Lantern Theater and to continue operating it as a theater and pub while adding an innovation lab to engage area students in STEM and arts education activities.

University of Maine, Orono: $989,546 to create a Maine Climate Coordination Center to serve as the hub for the state’s efforts to implement the state’s climate change action plan, which aims to make the state carbon-neutral by 2045.

Department of Marine Resources, Augusta: $200,000 for an outreach and education program to engage lobster fishermen in right whale protection planning.

Town of Vinalhaven: $1,192,000 to upgrade water and sewer infrastructure to prevent flooding.

Milestone Recovery, Portland: $690,000 to sustain the 1st Congressional District’s only inpatient medical substance abuse detoxification program and create an intensive outpatient program. (Milestone suspended its detox program on March 20 because of staffing shortages.)

Harry E. Davis Partnership for Children’s Oral Health, Yarmouth: $648,000 to launch a network of community-based dentistry programs that would provide preventive care to children at schools and day cares.

City of Augusta, $263,320 to create a pilot program to help people reintegrate into their community and job market after completing substance abuse treatment.

York County Shelter Programs, Alfred: $325,000 to purchase and renovate a Sanford property to house a multifaceted resource center for homeless people and other vulnerable residents.

Committee to Restore the Abyssinian Meeting House, Portland: $1 million to finish the restoration of the historic African-American church and Underground Railroad depot as a museum and community education site.

Eastern Trails Management District, Saco: $700,000 for the engineering design of an 11-mile multiuse recreation trail and transportation corridor connecting North Berwick, Wells, and Kennebunk.

Golden’s 10 earmark requests:

U.S. Rep. Jared Golden

East Millinocket Rural Ambulance Service: $300,000 to purchase two four-wheel-drive ambulances for a department serving 500 square miles of northern Maine.

Southern Maine Community College, York: $995,447 to create a mobile welding instruction lab to provide classes to students across the state via Maine’s seven community colleges.

Northern Maine Community College, Presque Isle: $1 million to expand the college’s mechanized logging training program.

Town of Stonington: $525,000 to expand the municipal wastewater treatment system via the purchase of a waterfront parcel that will also expand working waterfront access.

City of Auburn: $1 million to build a new firefighter training facility to serve firefighters across the state.

Town of Livermore Falls: $1 million to replace the aging wastewater treatment facility serving Livermore Falls and Jay.

City of Lewiston: $1 million for the removal of asbestos and the replacement of the roof of the historic Bates Mill Number 5 building.

Town of Madison: $1 million to construct and operate an anaerobic digester at the former UPM paper mill, which would be used to turn organic feed stock into biogas.

Town of Rumford: $1 million to help replace the town’s 1924 fire station, which is structurally compromised.

Johnson Hall Capital Campaign, Gardiner: $350,000 toward the final phase of the ongoing rehabilitation of Maine’s oldest opera house still in use as a theater.

The requests – which the rules limited to certain parts of the federal budget – will be next reviewed by members of the various House Appropriations subcommittees, who will select finalists. Pingree chairs the House subcommittee that controls the purse strings for the Environmental Protection Agency and most Interior Department agencies and will have considerable influence over the selection process for requests drawing from those budget areas.

The Senate has yet to reintroduce earmarks – now rebranded as “community funding requests” – so Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King have not made their own proposals.

Mark B. Harkins, a former appropriations staffer and lobbyist who is now a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Government Affairs Institute, said he’s fascinated by the Democratic House leadership’s decision to limit each member to 10 requests, which in political terms provides them less flexibility than in the past.

“One big advantage of earmarks was to be able to assist your more vulnerable members by obtaining these special interest projects,” Harkins said. “If you look at Rep Golden, that’s a seat that leadership really wants to make sure has the most things so he can say, ‘Hey, look at all the great things I’m doing in D.C.’ But instead he’s limited to just 10 requests, the same number as Pingree, who can’t lose her seat without four scandals at the same time.”

“It’s an odd use of power,” he added.

Earmarks were banned in 2011 after a series of corruption scandals, including members of Congress enriching themselves. But in a rare display of bipartisan agreement, House Republicans voted earlier this year to support the majority Democrats’ plan to revive them with a series of safeguards, including excluding for-profit participants and requirements to show broad community support for any project.

Under the House’s rules, applicants could not seek multiyear funding, and their projects couldn’t personally benefit a member of Congress and the member’s family. Proposals must be consistent with the mission of the agency the funding comes from, and only projects pertaining to certain agencies or budgetary line items – “accounts” in appropriations-speak – have been chosen to be part of the process for the inaugural program.

As subcommittee chair, Pingree was able to choose which three “accounts” would be eligible from among those she presides over. She picked the U.S. Forest Service’s State and Private Forestry funding stream (for forest sector improvements); the EPA’s State and Tribal Assistance Grants program (which funds water and wastewater infrastructure projects); and the Land and Water Conservation Fund’s program for acquiring conservation lands.

Pingree and Golden both support the reformed earmarks as good policy, given that they require members to publicly declare which projects they submitted. Proponents say it empowers rank-and-file members and claws the power of the purse back from the executive branch.

Only a small fraction of requested earmarks will receive final funding, and decisions on which ones will move forward in the various budget bills won’t be made until at least July, when House leaders hope to pass the relevant appropriations bills. Funding would not become a reality until the bills are reconciled with the Senate, approved, and signed by President Biden, an event that, at the earliest, would occur in the fall.


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