2017 Legislative Preview


The 2017 Legislative Preview is also available to download in PDF format.

state houseGSThe first session of the 128th Legislature is up and running. There are some new faces and more than a few returning ones. The committees look a little different. Given the closely divided Legislature and the Governor’s enthusiasm for vetoing bills, we don’t anticipate too many strides forward. However, there are several key issues that have strong bipartisan support and which have a reasonable chance at achieving success this session.

We’ll need lots of help from our activists and supporters to be successful.

Our priorities include:

  • Advancing solar power and repairing any damage done by the Public Utilities Commission
  • Approving a clear approach for spending the Bureau of Parks and Lands’ timber harvesting revenue within its mission
  • Advocating for a strong Maine Mining Act and implementing regulations
  • Funding efforts to replace stream crossings that are barriers to fish and wildlife movement
  • Supporting efforts to promote entrepreneurship in rural Maine
  • Creating a pilot project to ban soft plastic worms on two waterbodies
  • Protecting our native brook trout  populations

In addition to these legislative priorities, we will be highly engaged in a variety of other issues central to our mission. As a member of the Maine Environmental Priorities Coalition, we will work closely with our partners to push forward legislation that will protect and conserve Maine’s wildlife and habitat and defend against efforts to weaken it. A clean environment, healthy people and wildlife, vibrant communities, and a strong and growing economy all go hand-in-hand. We need to maintain our forward-thinking, science-based approach to natural resource stewardship.

We welcome your participation in our efforts, and we thank you for all you have done and will do to help protect Maine’s waters, land, and wildlife.

Andrew Beahm, Acting Executive Director Jennifer Burns Gray, Staff Attorney and Advocate

Conservation Funding

In order to successfully protect and conserve Maine’s wildlife and habitat, we need to ensure that much-needed state programs and services continue to be funded. Our ability and willingness to invest in conservation today will impact Maine’s forests, rivers, and seashores, as well as the economic and recreational opportunities they provide, for generations to come.

Stream Crossings

Good-IconA proposed $10 million bond would help fund stream culvert improvements to our road infrastructure. This will improve public safety by protecting roadways during extreme flood events, and it will benefit Maine’s wildlife by reconnecting habitat. Stream connectivity is critically important to maintaining healthy fish and wildlife populations, but many of our existing culverts block their passage. With good stream connectivity, fish are free to move upstream or downstream, and improvements for fish support the health of other wildlife
in the ecosystem.

The Legislature will have the opportunity to send a bond package to the voters, including new funds for municipalities to install correctly sized and designed culverts. Investments like these benefit our environment and our economy.

Maine’s Water, Land, and Wildlife

Maine’s extraordinary environment forms the backdrop for who we are and what we value as individuals and as a state. Our jobs, health, recreation activities, and identity as Maine people all have their roots in our beautiful environment. When we work together to protect our natural resources, Maine people and businesses can thrive. Maine’s land use regulations are designed to protect our water, land, and wildlife, and to steer development to the most appropriate places. These core protections support good jobs, healthy people, and thriving wildlife populations.

Mining

No-Good-iconOpen-pit mining in Maine could result in arsenic, lead, and other toxic chemical contamination of our lakes, rivers, and soils. Open-pit mining leaves large toxic acid ponds, which run a very real risk of draining through ground and surface waters. In addition to human health, the acidity threatens water quality and aquatic life like brook trout, as well as other wildlife habitat in the area. We’re proposing language to strengthen the Mining Act and we’ll be opposing the Board of Environmental Protection’s rules that fall short of the high standards Maine deserves.

Brook Trout

Good-IconMaine is home to 97% of the intact wild brook trout lake and pond habitat in the eastern U.S. Brook trout are important to Maine and the nation’s ecological and sporting heritage, and are also a valuable recreational and economic state resource. This population is at risk; the quality and abundance of the fishery has declined, and brook trout are very sensitive to competition from other fish species. We expect a number of bills addressing brook trout protections.

Soft Plastic Worms

Good-IconSoft plastic worms used as fishing lures often find their way to the bottoms or our lakes and into the bellies of our trout. Potentially toxic, they threaten brook trout with mortality (the fish ingest them and starve to death) and may affect our water quality. Raised as an issue years ago, the Legislature is likely to see legislation proposing to ban the use of soft plastic worms on two brook trout waters as a pilot project. We encourage our fishing friends to consider alternatives that are less harmful to brookies and lakes.

Renewable Energy

Climate change presents one of the biggest threats to wildlife and habitat in Maine. Increasingly, warmer and shorter winters affect many of our iconic species, such as moose, lynx, and our state bird, the Black-capped Chickadee. Research from National Audubon has found that 314 bird species are likely to lose 50% of their range by 2080, including 50 birds in Maine. Warmer stream temperatures threaten Maine’s native brook trout and endangered Atlantic salmon, and sea level rise will erode our state’s coastal habitats, affecting endangered birds like the Piping Plover and Least Tern.

Solar

Good-IconFollowing last session’s very narrow loss on a veto override for the comprehensive solar bill, we expect there to be multiple solar bills this session. Particularly given the likelihood that the Public Utilities Commission will make significant harmful changes to its net metering program, the Legislature needs to act to send a clear message that this is a very important industry with strong rural jobs, and that net metering helps make solar accessible for many Mainers. It should also go further and reduce barriers to solar. This will help improve the health of both our economy and our environment.

Maine’s North Woods

Maine’s northern forest is the single largest undeveloped forestland in the eastern United States. Its woods, waters, and wildlife create outstanding recreational experiences for Maine people and visitors, bringing good jobs and new opportunities for economic growth. Maine’s Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry houses the state’s core programs that benefit and conserve the North Woods.

Bureau of Parks and Lands

Good-IconThe Commission to Study the Public Reserved Lands Management Fund, created to consider how the money generated by the increase in timber harvesting on public lands should be spent, submitted multiple recommendations to the Legislature last session. Unfortunately, despite strong support, the recommendations got sidelined by unrelated politics. We expect all of the recommendations to be back, including advising against diverting the timber harvesting revenue as the Governor has demanded. One of the key suggestions is that the unmet needs within public lands be prioritized and that much of the available revenue be spent on these priorities. This is the first time in the bureau’s history that there is funding to improve recreational opportunities and wildlife habitat, which can also help Maine’s rural economy.

Robust Rural Economy

Maine’s environment and economy go hand-in-hand. In order to have the bandwidth to focus on important conservation efforts, rural communities in particular need to have viable economies. Sometimes supporting local economic development means permanently protecting economic drivers such as snowmobile trails or favorite brook trout fishing holes. Other times this can mean making sure local entrepreneurs have access to networks and tools to help them succeed. Maine Audubon is committed to both the environment and our economy, and we will be looking for opportunities to partner in both areas to help keep Maine strong and vibrant well into the future.


Maine’s Environmental Priorities Coalition

Maine Audubon partners with 33 environmental, conservation, and public health organizations representing over 100,000 members to protect the good health, good jobs, and quality of life that our environment provides. (Learn more at maineepc.org)

Acadia Center
Appalachian Mountain Club
Atlantic Salmon Federation
Bicycle Coalition of Maine
Conservation Law Foundation
Environmental Health Strategy Ctr.
Environment Maine
Friends of Casco Bay
Islesboro Island Trust
Maine Association of Conservation Commissions
Maine Audubon
Maine Center for Economic Policy
Maine Conservation Alliance
Maine Council of Churches
Maine Council of Trout Unlimited
Maine Interfaith Power & Light
Maine Lakes Society
Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association
Maine People’s Alliance
Maine Rivers
Maine Wilderness Guides Org.
Midcoast Conservancy
Natural Resources Council of Maine
Physicians for Social Responsibility,
Maine Chapter
RESTORE: The North Woods
Sierra Club, Maine Chapter
Southern Maine Conserv. Collab
The Ocean Conservancy
The Trust for Public Land
The Wilderness Society
Toxics Action Center
Upstream
350 Maine