Maine Audubon in Augusta: Mid-Session Updates from the Legislature

We have lots of updates from a busy session in the Maine Legislature! Let’s dive right in after some notices on a few upcoming events:

  • This Thursday, May 18, is Conservation Lobby Day in Augusta. Members and supporters from conservation organizations across the state will join in Augusta to advance clean energy and climate action, further environmental justice, and protect our environment and communities. We’d love to have you join us! If you’re interested, email us and we’ll get you more information.
  • Dr. Katherine Allen from the University of Maine School of Earth and Climate Sciences and the Climate Change Institute will be joining us on Thursday May 25 at noon to discuss Climate Change in the Gulf of Maine (register here for this free event)


URGENT ACTION: OFFSHORE WIND HEARING THIS WEEK

The bill to boost responsible offshore wind development in the Gulf of Maine, LD 1895, has been scheduled for its public hearing at 1:00 pm on Thursday, May 18 in Augusta. We need to show legislators that Maine people are ready for offshore wind to propel us toward our clean, renewable energy goals, as well as support legislation that includes high standards for labor, equity, and the environment. We’ll be there with stickers and t-shirts for you to wear to show your support. Email us if you’d like to join us at the hearing.

SUCCESS! UPDATING THE MAINE ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT

On May 8, Governor Mills signed LD 57 into law! Securing a spot on the list for each of the eight species – Bank Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Bicknell’s Thrush, Blackpoll Warbler, Saltmarsh Sparrow, Tricolored Bat, Ashton’s Cuckoo Bumble Bee, and Marginated Tiger Beetle – is a critical milestone in their recovery.

The last update was in 2015 – and frankly, eight years is too long to wait to add species that are desperately in need of attention. Thankfully, the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and its legislative committee agreed and passed an amendment that will require reviewing those species on the list and new candidates for listing every four years moving forward. Read more about the bill from Maine Public and listen to Maine Calling on Tuesday, May 16 at 10 am to hear Maine Audubon staff discuss the newly-listed species.

SUCCESS AND PROGRESS! BILLS TO PROTECT MAINE LAKES

Maine Audubon has been working on multiple bills to address invasive aquatic species and negative impacts from high-powered wake boats.

Last month, Gov. Mills signed LD 10, a bill to add several invasive plant species to our state’s invasive aquatic species list. Today, our team is attending a Work Session in the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee for bills that would bolster the Lake and River Protection Fund, which almost single-handedly supports Maine’s work to prevent and control the spread of invasives in our waterways.

A new, potential hazard has appeared on Maine’s water bodies: wake boats. These powerful boats are equipped with ballast tanks and other mechanical systems designed to enhance the size of the boat’s wake. If used irresponsibly, they can easily disturb sediment, cause shorelines to erode, and impact critical loon nesting habitat. The Maine State Legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee saw a few bills related to regulating these boats this session. This committee will ultimately decide whether or not to prohibit these boats from operating in shallow waters and close to shore at a Work Session on May 17. Additionally, the committee has asked Maine Audubon to join a stakeholder group to address the issue in further detail this summer. Click here to add your name to this petition in support of safe wakes in Maine!

SUCCESS! STORMWATER AND SEA LEVEL RISE

Governor Mills signed two additional Maine Audubon-supported bills in May. LD 276, An Act to Assist Municipalities in Preventing Damage from Storm Water, would allow funding to flow to repairs to private roads that threaten public natural resources, helping to reduce erosion and direct the flow of rainwater so that pollutants and other excessive nutrients do not end up in Maine’s waterways. Read our testimony here.

We also helped pass LD 392, Resolve, Regarding Legislative Review of Portions of Chapter 305: Natural Resources Protection Act – Permit by Rule, a Major Substantive Rule of the Department of Environmental Protection. The bill formally adopts rules to provide additional tools to homeowners, municipalities, and other property owners that seek to make their part of the Maine coast more resilient through beach nourishment and related projects, such as planting native sand dune vegetation. Maine Audubon supported the development of these rules, and is pleased to see them become official. Read our testimony here.

POST-HEARING REPORT: PROTECTING LOONS FROM LEAD POISONING

At the public hearing on May 8, anglers, Maine Guides, lead scientists, veterinarians, environmental organizations, and others emphasized that after ten years since the last bill to protect loons from lead was passed, the time is right to revisit this issue to further protect the health and safety of this iconic species. Maine Audubon delivered our supportive testimony and petition signed by more than 1,000 people in support of LD 958, which would prohibit the sale and use of small-sized painted lead jigs, which is one of the leading causes of loon mortality in the state. Painting jigs does nothing to make the lead safer and we told legislators exactly that at the bill’s public hearing.

More than 40 people submitted supportive testimony and we are pleased with the direction that this bill is headed. We look forward to answering any final questions and concerns about LD 958 at its Work Session this Wednesday, May 17 when the committee will likely vote on the bill. You can read our post-hearing press release on LD 958 here.

POST-HEARING REPORT: PROTECTING ENDANGERED SPECIES HABITAT

Maine Audubon has been a strong supporter of LD 1246, An Act to Include Endangered and Threatened Species Habitat in the Definition of “Significant Wildlife Habitat” Under the Natural Resources Protection Act. The bill will expand the circumstances in which the Department of Environmental Protection consults with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife on strategies to avoid and minimize potential impacts to endangered and threatened species habitat from development. LD 1246 is perhaps the most significant measure to protect the habitat of Maine’s most vulnerable species considered by the legislature in decades.

There was a public hearing on the bill in late April and there was a strong showing from Maine Audubon members and supporters. The Environment and Natural Resources Committee voted unanimously in support of the bill, giving it an excellent chance of passing through the legislature before the end of the session.

UPDATE: TRIBAL SOVEREIGNTY

The bill to recognize the inherent sovereignty of the Wabanaki Nations has not yet been printed. As a member of the Wabanaki Alliance coalition, our Advocacy Team has been lobbying legislators about this bill all session. Given that the first session of the 131st Legislature will likely end at the start of July, we are working diligently to ensure policy makers understand why it is time to ensure that the Wabanaki Nations are treated like all other federally-recognized tribes across the country. For updates on legislation related to tribal rights and more, check out the Wabanaki Alliance’s bill tracker. Stay tuned for ways to take action on this bill as it progresses!

HARMFUL BILLS WE HELPED STOP: PLASTIC POLLUTION

Maine passed landmark bans on single-use plastic bags last year, but two bills attempted to reverse that progress this session. Both LD 425 and LD 572 proposed to weaken or repeal Maine’s nation-leading plastic bag policy, which is a vital strategy (among many other strategies) to reduce plastic pollution. Maine Audubon and our members and supporters came out strongly opposed to these bills, and we’re proud to say that both bills died in committee. We’re happy to have stopped these bills and pledge to remain vigilant against future threats.

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We are grateful for your support of Maine Audubon, including our work to enact strong environmental policy. You can count on us to keep you informed and share opportunities to continue engaging with bills – good and bad – as the session comes to an end and summer in Maine begins!