EPA chief to discuss clean water rule in Maine today

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy will be at Smiling Hill Farm in Westbrook today for a discussion with farmers about a proposed water rule that’s drawing criticism from farming interests.

McCarthy is coming to Maine at the invitation of U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent who has supported the rule, which would expand the EPA’s authority to regulate bodies of water that feed navigable rivers or lakes under the Clean Water Act.

However, King and Senate colleagues have questioned how the rule would affect farmers, sending a letter to McCarthy and another Obama administration official earlier this month that asked the government to “provide clearer and concise implementation guidance to ensure that the rule is effectively and consistently interpreted.”

The rule is currently under a court-ordered stay after 18 states sued the federal government over it. The Obama administration says it won’t add economic burden to the agriculture industry, but the American Farm Bureau Federation disagrees, saying the rule “creates confusion and risk” by providing “unlimited authority to regulate” low spots “where rainwater collects.”

King and McCarthy are scheduled to speak to the media ahead of the 9:30 a.m. roundtable at the Westbrook farm today. — Michael Shepherd

Legislative panels at work this week

Some low-key work of the Maine Legislature will go on this week before the State House goes mostly quiet through Christmas, a calm that will end by the January session.

The week’s headlining event may be on Thursday, when the Government Oversight Committee is set to take a vote related to its investigation of Gov. Paul LePage’s threat to withhold funding from Good Will-Hinckley after it hired House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick. The school pulled the offer afterward.

Rep. Chuck Kruger, D-Thomaston, the committee’s co-chairman, has already predicted an end to the probe, telling the Portland Press Herald that he doesn’t expect the committee to recommend any further action against LePage. But the committee is set to hear about other issues of import, including staffing levels at the embattled Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta.

A commission set up to study Maine’s timber revenue fund will meet on Tuesday. That’s the pot of money that could fund a proposal from LePage to pay for energy upgrades for low-income residents. The commission is charged with making a recommendation to the Legislature regarding the fund by this month.

On Monday, another commission studying the Fund for a Healthy Maine — funded by 1998 tobacco settlement money — will meet. Republicans have questioned how much of that money is being spent on health programs. The Government Oversight Committee will consider a request for another review on Thursday. — Michael Shepherd

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About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.