Maine Legislature Restores Efficiency Maine Funding; Overrides LePage Veto
by Edmund Bridge for MABEP
On June 23rd, the Maine Legislature unanimously overrode Gov. Paul LePage's veto of L.D. 1215, thereby restoring about $38 million per year in funding for Efficiency Maine programs. MABEP's members played a critical role in this success by getting in contact with their legislators.
In a surprise decision handed down on March 16th, the Maine Public Utilities Commission on a 2-to-1 vote slashed funding for Efficiency Maine programs from $60 million to just $22 million a year.
The case before the commission started late last year when the PUC began its rulemaking on provisions of the Omnibus Energy Act enacted in 2013, an act that MABEP played a key role in getting passed. MABEP and others including Natural Resources Council of Maine, the Industrial Energy Consumer Group and the state's Public Advocate, filed comments in the rulemaking case, as did a bipartisan group of lawmakers who had helped pass the Omnibus act over LePage's veto. But the commission's majority--Mark Vannoy and Carlisle McLean, both appointed by LePage--ruled contrary to the comments of the legislators' stated intent.
PUC Chairman Mark Vannoy said he supported the new funding cap because it was based on a clear reading of the 2013 law, which bases the organization's funding on 4% of "total retail electricity transmission and distribution sales." Efficiency Maine advocates have said the law should have been written as "total retail electricity AND transmission and distribution sales."
One advocate likened the ruling to saying that the words "peanut butter jelly sandwich" mean "peanut butter sandwich" because it doesn't read "peanut butter AND jelly sandwich."
Governor LePage wanted to extract concessions before agreeing to a 'fix' of the law. Specifically, he wanted the legislature to grant him the authority to appoint the director of Efficiency Maine. Readers may remember that the Omnibus Energy act was held hostage two years ago until the governor got legislators to negate the state's contract with Statoil, an offshore wind developer. Statoil withdrew from the state, taking it with many millions of dollars in potential investment in Maine.
The governor's move to make the director of Efficiency Maine a political appointee is precisely why MABEP and other advocates of the Efficiency Maine Trust urged legislators in 2009 to ensure its independence from political influence when former Governor Baldacci wanted the same appointment authority.
LD 1215, sponsored by members of both political parties, simply inserted the missing "and" into the law. It was given a near unanimous vote in committee and later on the House and Senate floors.
Another bill, LD 1221, sponsored by the House Republican leader, would have inserted the missing "and" but also would have given the governor appointment authority over the director of Efficiency Maine. It would also have elevated the Governor's Energy Office to a cabinet-level position, a change which MABEP did not oppose. It was voted out of committee on a party-line vote after removing the "and" section. The bill was adopted in different versions by the House and the Senate, thus causing the bill to die "between the bodies."
The ultimate enactment of LD 1215 was a clear victory for MABEP and other advocates for robust program funding at Efficiency Maine.