Daily Brief: Is large-scale mining right for Maine and how free are we?

Greetings from Augusta, where a busy week for the Legislature is about to launch. The pace in the State House will quicken from here on out as the river of bills swells and budget deliberations intensify. 

The Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee will hold hearings and work sessions on a handful of perennial bills — meaning bills that come up virtually every session — around school funding. Changes to the way charter schools are paid for are on the docket for public hearing, as well as a bill that would appropriate funds for the restoration of the historic Wood Island Life Saving Station in Kittery. The Education Committee is also likely to vote on some bills that would require the state to pay more for education and teacher retirement costs. Both of those bills would have to be reconciled with the funding levels called for in Gov. Paul LePage’s biennial budget proposal. 

The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee will be deliberating several bills related to the Maine Clean Election Fund and the State and Local Government Committee is expected to make a recommendation on An Act to Recognize the Labrador Retriever as the Official State Dog

More and more Mainers are signing up to receive the State & Capitol Daily Brief in their email inbox every day. Do you want to be one of them? Sign up here. — Christopher Cousins

Metallic mineral mining in Maine?

Proponents of metallic mineral mining in Maine worked for more than a year to usher new mining rules to enactment, only to have them scuttled last year when the Legislature upended them around concerns that they didn’t do enough to protect the environment. The votes to kill the bill were over the objections of Aroostook County representatives who said mining could be an economic shot in the arm. LePage vetoed the effort to kill the bill and the Legislature passed another measure to continue the debate.

The mining rules would apply to the whole state, though much of the debate has centered around stated interest by Canadian timber company JD Irving, Ltd. in mining for copper and zinc on a 500-acre site it owns on Bald Mountain in Aroostook County.

That brings us to this week when the Environment and Natural Resources Committee is scheduled to hear public testimony on LD 146 on Wednesday beginning at 9 a.m.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine, which opposed the mining bills last year, is calling LD 146 “deja vu all over again” and stepping into the forefront of the opposition. NRCM’s chief beef is that the proposed rules don’t do enough to protect groundwater or natural habitats.

Judging by the crowds this issue drew over the past two years when the measure was under consideration by the Board of Environmental Protection, there will be standing room only in the committee room. — Christopher Cousins

How ‘free’ is Maine?

“It’s a free country” is a refrain we started hearing in elementary school, but what does it really mean? That’s a question too complex to answer in the Daily Brief, so we’ll just refer you to a new study by the John Locke Foundation which finds Maine the 19th most free state. The North Carolina-based think tank weighed fiscal policy, taxes and budget issues, as well as education, health care and regulatory policies.

There was no mention of whether neighboring New Hampshire’s state motto of “Live Free or Die” entered the calculus, but New Hampshire ranked ninth. Maine and New Hampshire ranked well ahead of the rest of the New England states. Florida, Arizona and Indiana ranked as the freest states while New York, New Jersey and California were at the bottom of the list.

Maine ranked 38th on both health care and fiscal policy freedom, but its overall ranking was helped a lot by being eighth in educational freedom and 10th in regulatory freedom.

This is just another in a long line of studies which have gauged these issues, but don’t be surprised if you see these rankings used in arguments for and against legislation this year in Augusta. The John Locke Foundation, founded in 1990 to work for “truth, for freedom, and for the future of North Carolina,” is named after a 17th-century English philosopher whose writings inspired the likes of Thomas Jefferson. — Christopher Cousins

How to save your pennies

Gov. LePage and Anne Head, commissioner of the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation, announced today that this is “America Saves Week” and “Military Saves Week.”

This might seem like a dry topic, but there is little else more important than helping debt-ridden Americans into the black. In a press release, LePage touted his pending proposal to cut taxes on military pension benefits and Head announced that the state’s Office of Securities would refund driver’s license renewal fees for active-duty military personnel.

Safe investing and saving resources are available here or here or by calling 1-877-624-8551. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

Fish stories

Hours I spent ice fishing Saturday and Sunday: 13

Fishing derbies participated in: 2

Baitfish bought: 18

Traps set by the boy and I: 8

Flags: 3 (when the wind blew hard)

Fish caught (by myself or anyone else in either of the derbies): 0

Good times anyway: 2

Stories I heard about fish being caught all around me: Approximately 15

Suspected liars: Approximately 15

— Christopher Cousins



Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.