The rising price of gas, heating oil and electricity, along with nearly everything else, is hitting Maine residents hard, destroying home budgets and forcing families to make difficult choices.

Lawmakers are right to give their full attention to the high cost of energy as it goes careening upward following the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Few problems reach as many people or stress families in the same way.

It’s clear where this has to go. A lot of people need relief now, so they can afford to use their car and heat their home, and still have something left for other necessities, many of which are also rising in price.

But we also can’t find ourselves back in this spot, so reliant on cheap fossil fuels that we live at the whims of governments in places like Russia and Saudi Arabia, and every errand and tick up on the thermostat enriches them while polluting the planet.

To that end, Maine Democrats on Wednesday released the beginnings of a promising plan. The package of bills would help more eligible residents apply for federal home heating assistance, a program that has been hampered by backlogs.

It would also create tax rebate and relief programs for some households, and create a group to explore long-term solutions to energy costs.


The Public Utilities Commission has already approved a one-time, $90 credit for utility customers, and Gov. Janet Mills has also proposed as part of her supplemental budget sending $750 checks to about 800,000 residents.

Checks at that scale may not be the best way to spend that money. But some sort of direct relief is a good way for legislators to target help toward the people who need it most, as is the improved heating assistance program.

Republicans, who have been pushing a tax cut in lieu of the direct checks, are also now advocating for the 30 cents-a-gallon state gas tax to be suspended for the rest of the year.

A gas-tax holiday wouldn’t help much, saving the average driver about $20 a month while putting a $173 million hole in the state transportation budget, which already struggles to meet its obligations.

And for those hoping that increasing U.S. oil production can save us from high gas prices, don’t hold your breath. Oil companies, which are making record profits after steep losses in 2020, have shown no interest in pumping out more oil. Even if they did, there are limitations on how fast they could do so, and how much that would affect prices in what is truly a global market.

And even if increased production helped lower prices a little, do we really want to tether ourselves more tightly to the unstable market of polluting fossil fuels?


Instead, state and federal leaders during this crisis should be focused on getting relief directly to the people who need it most.

At the same time, they should approve more aggressive incentives for energy efficiency, through weatherization and the use of heat pumps and electric vehicles.

And there has never been a better time for Congress to pass climate legislation to spur investment in the technologies that will bring clean energy to our homes and businesses in the scale necessary.

Ultimately, the only way to keep Americans from feeling the pinch of the unstable, unsustainable market in fossil fuels is to get us off them.

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