It was a very busy session for the Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities, and Technology (EUT) – having about 25 pieces of legislation that needed public hearings, work sessions, and votes. The Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) had a smaller workload, but it was still busy given the complexity of some issues. There were about 12 pieces of legislation to work through. Let’s highlight some of the work in each committee.
The Energy committee, as previously mentioned, had 25 bills to work through. It also had several presentations on important topics from various state agencies, such as the Governor’s Energy Office, the Public Advocate, the Public Utilities Commission, just to name a few. The committee also had several important confirmation hearings such as confirming Maine’s new Public Advocate, and the first president of the new Maine Connectivity Authority.
On the public policy front, there was significant debate in the committee around broadband, net energy billing, utility regulation and accountability − something we have heard about a great deal during the past three years − and how we can continue to move our state toward a clean energy economy by modernizing the grid to accommodate new renewables while protecting existing resources. These were just a few of the highly debated topic areas in the committee. There were some positive outcomes − such as the defeat of LD 1634, An Act To Create The Maine Generation Authority. Although the committee made some improvements to legislation this session around broadband and utility regulation, it was not perfect. Some concerns still exist about the impact some of these costs will have on ratepayers. Overall, from our perspective, the business community made out relatively well this session.
It is important to make a quick note about the process of the committee’s work this session. Due to the ongoing COVID pandemic protocols, all public hearings and work sessions were conducted via Zoom, and not being in person made it more challenging to have an impact. The EUT committee also had many bills to work, with a lot of issues carried over from the first session and many new bills introduced in the second session. In its final week, the committee had 15 work sessions on complex energy matters that it needed to complete. Some of these policy discussions warranted two or three work sessions, but instead, were pared down to one two- or three-hour work sessions before a vote. Committee members needed to push through as much work as they could towards the end, so they did not have the chance to get majority support on any issue. Therefore, many bills had three reports coming out of the committee, because there was just not enough time for opposing views to find common areas of agreement and reach a compromise. In the future, hopefully, the committee can allot more time in committee to solve these complex issues and bring diverse stakeholders together.
Switching gears, the ENR committee had less work and was able to complete it on time. Committee members were more able to find common ground and make improvements to legislation before they left committee and reached the floor of the House or Senate. The ENR committee was very efficient with its time this session, and despite a couple of issues on the process front where amendments were being circulated just hours before a work session, the committee worked well.
One issue worthy of highlighting was the subject of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances – known as PFAS or “forever chemicals.” PFAS bills saw the most debate and were the most emotionally charged conversations in this committee. Forever chemicals are something we have heard a great deal about in the past 12-18 months as more information about them emerges. This is a tough issue because you hear the difficult stories of folks impacted by forever chemicals who have been suffered significant financial loss or have serious health issues.
From the Maine State Chamber’s point of view, it is important for us to be engaged in this discussion at all levels of policymaking and for all different industries. As we learn more about PFAS and there is more of a push on the policy front to get them under control, it is important that Maine businesses be engaged because it will have an enormous impact on the way Maine businesses can compete and still be involved in a global economy. The Maine State Chamber feels it is important to try to follow the science, to hear from the federal government about this issue, and to work with other states, especially those in the New England region. A regional approach is necessary to get the issue under control so we can protect the people of Maine from being exposed to forever chemicals, while still allowing businesses to compete and manufacture their products. The Maine State Chamber fully expects there to be more legislation in the future legislative sessions dealing with PFAS, and we stand ready to engage in those discussions.
To conclude, there were numerous issues discussed in the ENR and EUT arenas this session. At a high level, the business community made out well, in large part, because our membership took the time to engage legislators on these issues. The Maine State Chamber appreciates all our members who engaged on the policy front this session. While not every outcome was perfect, given the landscape in January and the weighty issues we faced, it could have been much worse.
For more information about energy and environmental legislation, please contact Ben Lucas by calling (207) 623-4568, ext. 111, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.