Metal Mining

Societal problems with significant technical content come to the Legislature regardless of our capacity to solve them. Interestingly, the legislative process can deal more effectively with a problem about which we know next-to-nothing than one we think we understand.

Only two of the one hundred eighty six legislators even had an awareness about the threat to our electrical transmission infrastructure from solar storms. Through the willingness of experts in the field to talk with the Legislature’s Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology, the issue has been addressed through legislative action requiring the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to open an inquiry into the matter and solicit information and comments from industry and the public. The Legislature’s website has text and details for LD 131 which became Public Law Chapter 45 Resolves. The PUC is now accepting public comment on docket 2013-00415.

In contrast to the issue of electromagnetic pulse risk from solar storms or nuclear weapons, the Maine Legislature has never been able to deal with environmental and health risk from metal mining at any time from its beginning (late 1870′s) to the present day. Since 1918 there have been only two operating metal mines: the Callahan open pit mine in Brooksville (1968-1972) and the Kerramerican (formerly Black Hawk) underground mine in Blue Hill (1971-1977).

A history of Maine’s mining regulations, compiled by Bowker Associates’ Environmental Risk Manager, Lindsay Newland Bowker, can be found at:

A significant pattern within this history is the absence of technical expertise being applied to the formation of enacted regulations. Mining regulations have always been primarily a political matter.

In 2012, the Legislature, under Republican leadership, enacted LD1853 which scheduled the replacement of mining regulations in effect since 1991 with a new set drafted by an out-of-state contractor to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). In 2013, the Legislature, under Democratic leadership, considered four bills (that all failed) to substantially revise or repeal the action from the prior year. The draft rules, available on the DEP website ( mineral.html) will be subject to a public hearing at the Augusta Civic Center on October 17.

Neither the current draft regulations, nor the 1991 regulations, nor the proposed LD1302 regulations (defeated by one vote in the Senate this spring) were written to address the particularities of high risk sulphide mineral deposit mining contemplated at Bald Mountain in Aroostook County.

Meanwhile, at the Callahan “superfund” site, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and DEP are overseeing a decade-long remediation process to remove or bury the immediate threats to human exposure of toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), to stabilize the mine tailings, and to refill the flooded pit with some waste rock. There is not now, nor is there expected to be, any work to remediate the contaminated groundwater, and therefore the mine site will forever be unsuitable for residential use.

A just-released report from Dartmouth College suggests that there remains an unknown source of heavy metal contamination from the site.

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Solution Illusion

The Maine Legislature convened August 29th by order of the Governor to consider five bond issues related to infrastructure for transportation, higher education, and armories. Both political parties’ leaders and the Governor agreed on the bond package (which passed easily and will go to the voters this November), so the matter could have been finished, including time for a few speeches, in two hours. The almost nine hour duration of the special session was due primarily to consideration of one other bill.

A week earlier, the Legislature learned that the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) was planning to penalize Riverview Psychiatric Center hospital in Augusta twenty million dollars due to serious problems discovered at an earlier inspection. The deadline for correcting the problems was less than a week away from the day the Legislature convened in special session. In response to this emergency, the Legislature considered and passed LD1515 to be able to move the most violent of mental health patients to the state prison in Warren.

Why was there a several month delay, after the hospital was notified, before the legislature learned of the twenty million dollar problem? How are management and other problems at the hospital related to the 50% staffing cuts in the last four years? How can patients receive adequate mental health treatment in prison? What does imprisoning patients say about society’s regard for the civil rights of the mentally ill?

Legislators, faced with a choice of doing nothing, sending patients to prison, or doing something else that might be helpful but with no time to process, negotiated throughout the day to protect the civil rights of patients who are not criminally responsible or are incompetent to stand trial, and to set up an oversight committee to keep informed about the mental health services rendered by the prison.

Exempting some of the patients from being able to be imprisoned means that probably fewer than half of the roughly half-dozen violent patients will be moved. The legislative oversight committee was not given subpoena power so their ability to get information from the executive branch (which has been hostile to the Legislature) is minimal. Within hours of the Legislature adjournment, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announced that CMS had already approved reinstating the twenty million dollars.

Other than moving several hospital patients to prison, nothing was done for the hospital which is in dire need of improvement. Fourteen full time positions at an enlarged prison unit were funded with one and a half million taxpayer dollars taken from further staffing cuts within DHHS. And, we have now chosen to imprison mentally ill people.

Not only is the policy problematic, the process was an utter failure as the Legislature succumbed to manipulation. The apparently falsified “emergency” was used successfully to redirect DHHS monies to the Department of Corrections.

Some problem solutions, like this one, are simply illusions. I regret my ill-informed vote in favor.

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Elected Offices

Citizen involvement in government is essential for a functioning democracy. Such involvement can include voting in national, statewide, county, and town elections. I have often encouraged citizens to become involved, as well, in issues of importance by testifying before legislative committees. Another form of involvement is running for public office.

Elected offices, other than national and state level, include School Boards, Planning Boards, Budget & Advisory Committees, Town Treasurers, Town Clerks, Town Tax Collectors, Selectmen, County Treasurer, Register of Deeds, Register of Probate, Sheriff, and County Commissioners. Each office has a specific term so not every office is voted upon in every election. If the current office holder (the incumbent) chooses to run again, a challenger can compete for the office seat. If not, the seat is considered “open” and whoever is elected will be new.

Now is the time to consider offering public service by running for public office. General elections are held every two years, so in November 2014 (a little more than fourteen months from now) voters will mark their ballots to fill the available positions at county and state levels. Thinking about it now will give you time to learn about the position and how best to achieve an election victory.

The position of County Commissioner is determined by voters within each of the three Commissioner districts within Hancock County. These districts are defined in state statute (2013 Public Law Chapter 270). Although the terms of all three offices are four years, they are staggered so that two of the district Commissioners (District Numbers 1 & 3) have terms that expire next in 2016 and one (District Number 2) that expires in 2014. The District Number 2 Commissioner will be determined in the 2014 election by voters from Brooklin, Brooksville, Bucksport, Castine, Dedham, Deer Isle, Orland, Penobscot, Sedgwick, Stonington and Verona Island.

Also, county level positions to be filled in 2014 (by all county voters) are Treasurer, Register of Deeds, Register of Probate and Sheriff.

Many people are reluctant to consider running for public office primarily because they do not understand what the job entails. As for any new endeavor, there is a period of learning but it can be helped considerably by accessing resources and talking with others familiar with public service. One place to start is the Maine Municipal Association’s web page for people thinking of running for office and for newly elected officials:
The Secretary of State is responsible for overseeing elections and there is a wealth of information, including a guide for candidates, available at:

Attending meetings, beginning now, related to the office of your interest will help you become more familiar with what the job is like. I am happy to help facilitate and further your interest in public service.

Even if you choose not to run, or you are not successful in winning the position, the experience will better prepare you to affect public policy. So, think about it!

Contact me by phone or email: 326-0899


East-West Corridor

The recent tragedy in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in which a crude oil laden freight train derailed, leaked, and exploded in the center of the city killing dozens of people has brought sobering awareness to dangers of transporting fossil fuels. The train was bound for St. John, New Brunswick, on a route traversing Maine through Jackman, Greenville, Brownville Junction, Danforth, and Vanceboro. I am told there were 135 trains per week on this east-west transportation line at one time as contrasted with three trains per week in recent times. Although the train route may not be the same as the unknown route of the proposed East-West (E/W) highway, both seek to connect the ports of St. John and Halifax to central Canada from the Maine-New Brunswick border to the Maine-Quebec border through the north central region of our state.

Controversial aspects of the E/W highway include concerns about its potential use. Will it be a roadway only or will it include a pipeline? Will it threaten the environment? Will it create jobs or other economic benefit? Will tar-sands be transported along the route?

During the 2011-12 Republican controlled legislative term, a contentious resolve (125LD1671) was passed and signed into law (Chapter 147) to allow public taxpayer monies to be used for a feasibility study of a private E/W highway. During the first regular session of the Democratic controlled 2013-14 legislative term, another contentious resolve (126LD985) was passed and became law (Chapter 41) that repealed the previous law.

There are several procedural problems with these recent public policy changes. Most obviously, a simple back-and-forth passing and repealing of controversial legislation creates the problem of loss of credibility and confidence in government, and perceived inconsistency and instability that may impact future planning or investments. Secondly, attention is focused on the partisanship of the issue rather than fostering collaboration in forming public policy. Thirdly, it interferes with our investigations into the issues using rational, fact based, historical based, perspectives.

The aspect of the E/W controversy that has gone virtually unrecognized, is the absence of a legal foundation regarding private control of public use thoroughfares. It has never been possible for a private entity to control transportation infrastructure without a formalized public acceptance of that control through some legal arrangement such as a public charter. The Public-Private Partnership (PPP) written for the E/W highway went far beyond historic bounds which affirm the public interest in transportation.

Regardless of the merits of an E/W highway or corridor, the use of a PPP that prevents the public any access to details of the process or project is problematic whether public funds are used or not. The error committed during the 2011-2012 legislative term was not simply passing a law that would be unpopular fourteen months later, but passing a law that flew in the face of centuries of legal precedent. Unfortunately, this defect in the legislation was not discussed when it was enacted, and barely mentioned when it was repealed.

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Marketing Lobster

Raising the boat-price of lobster has been a goal since the 2008 price collapse. The price-per-pound has decreased over the last five years to its lowest level in twenty years, not adjusted for inflation. Taking inflation into account (consumer price index), last year’s lobster price is the lowest on record with the exception of 1939.

During the 2011-2012 legislative term, a proposal to pump three million taxpayer dollars into Maine seafood marketing failed, both as an appropriation from general funds and as a bond proposal. During the just completed first regular session of the 2013-2014 term, a new proposal changed the source of funds: rather than taxpayers, the lobster industry would pay the lobster marketing costs.

The Governor signed LD 486 (Public Law 309) that increases fees on lobsterman, dealers, and processors to fund the activities of a new Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative which replaces the former Lobster Promotion Council.

Unlike the Lobster Promotion Council which was funded at an annual level of less than four hundred thousand dollars, the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative will ramp up to over two million dollars per year.

Although the marketing effort may have positive results, there are reasons for continued concern. Is the industry suffering? Is there any reason to expect that marketing will effect the boat-price? Who pays and who benefits?

The depressed boat-price, down thirty nine percent in the last five years, has been more than compensated by the increased landings, up ninety seven percent. These are averages, so certainly some lobstermen are doing poorly as others are doing well. The industry is at risk should the unexplained huge landings revert to their historic levels.

The simplistic supply and demand economic model is used to argue that we ought to market lobster to increase the demand which will increase the price. The same model can be used to explain the continued depressed price due to the harvest glut. An understanding of the industry throws the model into question as the Committee on Marine Resources heard during public testimony last spring. The President of one Maine lobster processor explained that Maine lobster is handled by five thousand harvesters, a few hundred dealers, about forty processors, five brokers (for the processed lobster), fifteen hundred wholesalers, and ten thousand retailers. He said that the lobstermen would benefit “last” and “least” from further lobster marketing efforts. Meanwhile, the Commissioner of the Department of Marine Resources claims not to know the identity of the five brokers.

After much discussion and debate, the Committee voted unanimously, twice, to have fifty percent of the cost of the marketing effort be paid by the lobstermen, and fifty percent by the dealers and processors. The Department, under pressure from the Governor, refused to bring forward the numbers to implement the Committee’s desire. A contentious vote, both in the Committee and on the House floor, changed the bill to require the lobstermen to pay sixty nine percent of the marketing costs.

Contact me by phone or email: 326-0899