Due to concerns related to the coronavirus, the Maine Legislature adjourned on March 17, weeks ahead of schedule. Though we’re disappointed that a lot of important environmental policy was left on the table, we fully support this difficult decision, made in the best interests of Maine lawmakers and Maine people.
The Legislature may reconvene to finish its work later this year, but that remains to be seen at this time. Here is where some of Maine Audubon’s priority issues stand now:
Revitalizing Land for Maine’s Future. The $60 million LMF bond, LD 911, was voted along party lines in the Appropriations Committee. The next action is on the Senate floor. Since 1987, LMF has conserved more than 600,000 acres of land in Maine, expanding public access to the outdoors in all sixteen of the state’s counties. LMF has protected working farms, forests, and waterfronts; trails for snowmobilers, hikers, bikers, and ATV enthusiasts; access to rivers, ponds, lakes, and the ocean; critical wildlife areas; community parks; town forests; beaches; and mountaintop vistas. It’s a hugely popular program, one supported by Governor Mills, but it has suffered in recent years from a lack of funding. It is critical that this program receive new funding in order to continue its mission.
Municipal Recycling Reform. LD 2104 was voted by the Environment and Natural Resources Committee on party lines and will have final review by the committee before it is ready for the House floor if the legislature reconvenes this session. This bill is designed to help Maine reach its goal, set in 1989, of recycling 50% of its waste. By shifting the burden from municipalities to companies, producers would have greater responsibility for funding recycling and disposal of waste materials.
Compensating for Environmental Impacts. LD 1777 will add rivers, streams, and brooks to the list of areas that may be restored or preserved under Maine’s existing in-lieu-fee program. This bill has been signed by the Governor and will become law!
Thoughtfully Siting Solar. LD 2127 would balance agricultural production, solar development, and natural resource protection by allowing Maine farmers to invest in dual-use solar projects that don’t impact Maine’s most vulnerable wildlife habitat. This bill has not been reported out of committee. Though this bill has been stalled, Maine Audubon continues to work on solar energy project siting. In partnership with solar developers, municipal planners, and environmental and agricultural organizations, we created a suite of resources to guide individuals, municipalities, and decision-makers toward realizing the benefits of solar, while siting projects with wildlife and habitat in mind. Check out our new webpage, Thoughtfully Sited Solar, where we’ll continue to roll out new resources.
Though progress on our top issues was limited, we applaud lawmakers for enacting important legislation related to the coronavirus, approving $1 million for the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to expand coronavirus testing at the state lab and to hire more epidemiologists and nurses to respond to the pandemic. They also established an $11 million fund specific to the virus. Please be sure to thank your legislators.
When lawmakers return to the State House to work on our environmental priorities, we’ll be there and will let you know how you can get involved. In the meantime, be sure to stay in touch with Maine Audubon as we navigate this new territory, together.