Wind energy permitting controversy blows back through Augusta

Good morning from Augusta, where controversy will blow through the halls of the State House on Tuesday as several bills regarding the state’s contentious wind energy permitting laws will open for public testimony.

Maine’s landmark wind energy act has riled activists and some residents of the Unorganized Territory since its passage in 2008. Critics of the act say it made permitting and construction of wind turbines too easy and ran roughshod over residents of Maine’s sparse interior who may not want the turbines near their homes.

Bills related to the act can be counted on to elicit strong and emotional appeals from UT residents and other wind energy critics, but lawmakers have so far been reticent to adopt any substantial changes to the act.

On Tuesday, the Legislature’s Conservation Committee will hear two wind-related bills. One, by House Democratic Whip Sara Gideon of Freeport, would give the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry the right to add or remove land from the expedited wind permitting area. Advocates including the Friends of Maine’s Mountains, an anti-wind group, oppose the bill.

Another bill, by Rep. Larry Dunphy, R-Embden, seeks to slow down the fast-track of wind energy development established in 2008, and ensure more viable participation in the process by residents of the UT who oppose wind development in their communities. Anti-wind groups are supporting Dunphy’s bill. Similar measures were killed last year in the Senate

Elsewhere, lawmakers on the Education Committee will consider several bills to turn back unpopular or controversial standardized testing policies or teacher/school evaluations. One bill would eliminate the governor’s school grading system. Another would do away with new education standards that require students to demonstrate proficiency in core subject areas before graduating. Another bill would delay for two years the use of standardized tests to evaluate teachers.

Down in Portland, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England is marking  #EqualPayDay in Monument Square by highlighting a study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research that indicates the wage gap won’t close in Maine until 2057.

The U.S. Department of Labor says that on average, women make 78 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts in the same occupational groups. In Maine, the figure is 81 cents per dollar, according to the American Association of University Women. — Mario Moretto.

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Maine’s food stamp cuts, in context

Check out this New York Times story on the role of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, in an improving economy.

The piece highlights Maine, which decided to reimpose a three-month time limit on food stamps for able-bodied adults who don’t have children, unless they work part time, enroll in job training or volunteer. It’s a policy that’s seen roughly 9,500 low-income Mainers losing the benefit.

The NYT’s Jess Bidgood, in Brunswick, writes that while the requirement dates back to 1996, Maine — like many other states — obtained a waiver in 2009, during the recession, that allowed poor Mainers to stay on food stamps longer. Maine still qualifies, but Republican Gov. Paul LePage opted to turn back the waiver, as you’ll doubtless recall. That’s where Bidgood gives us an idea of where Maine fits in, nationally:

“Maine is one of eight states that qualified for waivers in 2015 but decided to use them only in parts of the state or not at all. And, as the economy improves, more states will cease to qualify for the waivers, even if they want them. The Agriculture Department estimates that 23 states will cease to qualify for statewide waivers in the 2016 fiscal year.”

We’ve written about the policy change, and the outcry from advocacy groups for the poor, but the NYT piece is a good one to keep in your bookmarks if ever you need a good refresher that puts Maine’s food stamp shift in context. — Mario Moretto.

Emily Cain raises $135,000 in first month of 2016 campaign

Emily Cain, a former Democratic state senator who’s announced she’ll seek her party’s nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican, in 2016, has raised $135,000 in the first month of her campaign.

Cain, who ran unsuccessfully against Poliquin last year, released the outlines of her upcoming financial report on Monday, after the Poliquin revealed he had broken the previous record for fundraising by a freshman lawmaker.

Where Poliquin touted the overwhelming amount of money he’d raised, Cain emphasized that Maine residents represented roughly 80 percent of her donor base, and that small donations of less than $250 made up more than 95 percent of her total haul.

“I’m honored and humbled by the strong support and enthusiastic response we’ve already received from people all across Maine,” Cain said in a release. — Mario Moretto.

Reading list

They’re not just toys anymore

lego screen grab

From now on, I want all my economic data presented and explained with Legos. Thanks, Brookings. — Mario Moretto, BDN.

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House. Mario left the BDN in 2015.