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Maine's mining bill and more

In this week's Phoenix, out tomorrow, Lance Tapley talks to state senator Justin Alfond about several troubling pieces of legislation still up for debate in Augusta (there are just two weeks left until the end of the legislative session).

One of those is LD 1853, An Act To Improve Environmental Oversight and Streamline Permitting for Mining in Maine, which would change the state's mining laws, making them more lenient. There was public testimony about the bill in Augusta on Friday.

Last week, we got some additional info about the bill from Portland state representative Denise Harlow, who sits on the Environment and Natural Resources committee that is considering the bill. Here were some of her thoughts:

"Essentially, this bill lifts many of the environmental restrictions on mining from 1991. It would make it much easier for companies to mine in Maine and will most likely be used to ask the commissioner to rewrite the rules and this process will take 1-2 years. The bill is far from finished, and we have spent countless hours working on it since it came to the committee less than 2 weeks ago. But, keeping in mind that the original bill from 1991 is over 80 pages long and detailed, the question remains whether or not we should even be looking at this issue so late in the session, as many of the rules surrounding bills are lifted when they are presented this late in the session. This happens regardless of which party is in charge. Our senate chair Tom Saviello has allowed wide latitude for comment from anyone who wants to do so, but the reality is that many experts are not able to get time off from work to travel to Maine to testify on this important change with short notice. It is my opinion that we should, at the very least, look at this issue longer before asking the commissioner to rewrite the rules. After all, this rewrite is going to cost money, and we have no assurances that there will even be an application after the rules are completed. This bill should not be a priority, given the real emergencies that are currently happening in our state."

In Tapley's TJI, Alfond also blasts Governor LePage's second supplemental budget (LD 1903) and LePage's proposal to lower Maine's highest income-tax rate (which Engage Maine, a progressive advocacy organization, says would result in a "revenue death spiral").

In an email last week, Alfond he elaborated on what he describes as misplaced priorities:

"More than a year ago when we all took office -- legislators and the governor alike -- we all agreed that job creation had to be our #1 priority. And for the last year, while Democratic lawmakers have continued to get Maine people back to work and put more money in to the pockets of working and middle class Mainers, the GOP majority has spent the last year distracting us with their ideological agenda: attempting to roll back child labor laws, minimum wage, environmental standards, and women's choice issues; attempting to repeal voters rights laws; they've focused on corporate giveaways to out of state businesses through loosening insurance regulation and last but not least there's an over all tenor of disdain for the Maine worker by putting big business first. The governor has been quoted as blaming unemployed workers for not working, accused them of taking advantage of unemployment insurance, etc. Worse, in 2011 alone, there's been a net loss of 1300 jobs in both the private and public sector. While the economy is in an uptick across the country, Maine ranked in the bottom five for job growth nationwide." [Emphasis his.]

Read Tapley's piece for more insight into this soon-to-be-complete legislative session.

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