LePage’s wind energy commission is picked, but he won’t say who’s on it

Good morning from Augusta. Gov. Paul LePage’s administration is seeking public comment on wind energy development after a controversial executive order on that issue earlier this year, but LePage and his staff aren’t saying who is on an advisory panel after disclosing in a lawsuit that it was formed in May.

It’s a continuation of LePage’s broad and contested executive order looking to block new wind permits in Maine. In January, the Republican governor issued a broad executive order seeking to block new wind permits in areas except for eastern Aroostook County and setting up a new Maine Wind Energy Advisory Commission to study the economic impact of wind turbines. The governor also exempted that commission from Maine public records law.

It was followed by two lawsuits from the Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental group, and the Maine Renewable Energy Association, which represents wind energy producers. Both argue that the order should be tossed for violating separation-of-power provisions because state law provides for expedited wind energy permitting in much of rural Maine.

LePage issued a statement in January saying the state “cannot afford to damage our natural assets in ways that would deter visitors from returning to Maine.” On Thursday, his office issued a statement seeking public comments, saying the environmental impact of turbines is “likely irreversible.”

It’s unclear who is on the commission, although we know the chairman and it has already been appointed. On Monday, the Bangor Daily News asked the administration if the commission was finalized and if the public comments would be made public. LePage’s energy adviser, Steven McGrath, responded to say that the names of members would be released when the first meeting is scheduled — likely in August or September.

The governor’s executive order said that it would include members from the governor’s energy office, the departments of economic development and environmental protection, the Public Utilities Commission, the Legislature, municipal officials, business owners and industry groups.

However, McGrath disclosed in the Maine Renewable Energy Association lawsuit that he is chairing the commission and that outgoing Economic Development Commissioner George Gervais appointed 14 members of the commission in April and a 15th member in May.

McGrath didn’t respond to further questions about the commission on Monday. Wind energy opponents are mobilizing to send comments to the administration, and Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association, said questions around the makeup of the panel make it difficult for him to tell members how to respond.

“To me, if it’s really just a group of people who are known to hate wind, it’s not worth everybody’s time and effort to put together a very detailed set of comments,” he said.

Ranked-choice suspense builds

We will probably have ranked-choice voting counts today. On Monday afternoon, election results from the last two outstanding polling places — Trenton and Appleton — arrived in Augusta, where election workers are prepping ballots in two Democratic primaries — the seven-person gubernatorial race and a three-person 2nd Congressional District contest — that will be decided by ranked-choice voting.

It’s likely that new unofficial results will be announced today when someone hits a few keys on a laptop to put in motion the reallocation of ranked votes from eliminated candidates. The Bangor Daily News will be at the state office complex on Augusta’s east side whenever this happens.

Today in A-town

The House and Senate return to Augusta today. It’s the second special session of the 128th Legislature. Legislative leaders have said they intend to be working for three days, but you know by now how things go at the State House: This could take anywhere from three hours to three weeks or more.

Lawmakers are still negotiating some of the bigger items to be decided this week. Democrats and Republicans have agreed on two budget bills already, but leaders from both parties and were negotiating for much of Monday afternoon, when the budget-writing committee was supposed to meet publicly to discuss some of the dozens of other bills awaiting funding.

They never came out from behind closed doors, but the committee’s chairmen, Sen. James Hamper, R-Oxford, and Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, said the parties agreed in principle on several more minor items. They were vague on details, but Hamper said one of these agreements was on a bill to extend guide licenses. Both said negotiations are still happening around a $100 million transportation bond and a $75 million university system bond.

On the agenda today are lots of bills. They include the two budget bills you’ve been reading so much about recently, along with several other highish-profile bills, such as extending the Pine Tree Development Zone program. There is also a potential minefield of bills on the unfinished business calendars. On the Senate calendar are bills to ban conversion therapy in Maine and one involving water testing at public schools.

Headed to the Senate will be a handful of bills favored by LePage that were indefinitely postponed by Democrats in the House in April during a late-night revenge spree. They include a bill to lower the legal age to buy tobacco back to 18 after it was raised to 21 last year, a bill to ban mandatory union fees and a bill that would more strictly enforce immigration laws.

The Legislature intends to send most or all of the spending bills to LePage today to give him time to veto or line-item veto, but that requires multiple votes in both chambers and potentially a lot of added time for amendments. Rep. Henry Bear of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians says he will try again to introduce an order allowing tribal gaming, but there is little chance it will advance. We’ll keep you posted.

Reading list

  • The court battle to expand Medicaid in Maine took two new turns. On Friday, Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy ruled that appealing her earlier decision on expansion does not allow the LePage administration to further delay submitting an expansion plan to the federal government. On Monday, lawyers for the Department of Health and Human Services asked the Maine Supreme Judicial Court for an expedited hearing to overturn Murphy’s rulings.
  • Legal wrangling over citizenship checks in Maine also heated up Monday. The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol on Monday again rebuffed an American Civil Liberties Union request for records related to increased citizenship checks at Maine bus stops. On May 1, the ACLU sued the federal agency to act on a Jan. 18 request it had submitted under the Freedom of Information Act. That request sought all records since Jan. 1 related to the federal agency’s citizenship checkpoints across the state, based on reports in Maine and nationally that border agents were asking riders if they were U.S. citizens as they boarded buses.Meanwhile, Concord Coach Lines said a Maine employee who was recorded telling passengers that they must be U.S. citizens to ride the company’s buses was wrong.
  • The former owner of a halal market in Portland and his brother were sentenced Monday for welfare fraud. Ali Ratib Daham, 41, of Westbrook was sentenced to three years in federal prison and his brother Abdulkareem Daham, 23, will serve two years in prison for their roles in a scheme to trade $1.4 million in federal supplemental food benefits for cash. A federal prosecutor called the case “one of the largest, if not the largest, fraud cases involving [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] benefits in [Maine].”
  • A new Maine resident whose harrowing immigration tale captured national attention has written a book. “Call Me American: A Memoir” by Abdi Nor Iftin comes out today. Iftin fled war-torn Somalia as a child and defied odds to gain entry to the United States from a refugee camp in Kenya through an immigration lottery. He settled in Maine and has become a respected voice for new Americans. His story, “Abdi and the Golden Ticket,” first aired on “This American Life” in 2015 and was repeated this past week amid controversy over President Donald Trump’s immigration policies. He started writing the book before Trump was elected, but told the BDN that “I wish I could speak face to face to Trump. I’d say, ‘Do you even know how much I love America? … I could easily have been turned into a Somalian soldier, but I taught myself English, and I had a dream, and I became an American. … I’d say, ‘I’m here, man, not to disrupt anything. I’m here to make America great again.’”
  • University of Maine’s leader is moving out. President Susan Hunter, the flagship university’s first female president, ascended from an adjunct faculty member to president of the institution during her 30-year career. Now that she is leaving the position behind, she sat down with the Bangor Daily News to discuss how it’s changed under her tenure. Hunter retires on July 1.

What’s the oldest thing in your car?

I’m not talking about a penny from the 1960s. I mean, what’s the thing that’s been in your car the longest.

As the driver of a 12-year-old car that I’ve piloted for 11 years and 160,000 miles, I obviously have an advantage over most people. While cleaning it out to trade it in, I came across a few surprises. I thought the oldest things were some Goldfish crackers in the compartment on one of the doors, but my son with the 80 percent success rate of getting them into his mouth is only 7 years old.

Between some papers in the glove box was George Harrison’s final album on CD, which I thought was long gone. I wish I could listen but it’s too scratched up now to work. Thankfully there’s YouTube.

The real treasure was in the center console, buried under about 20 pens and several dead AA batteries: My press pass from LePage’s first inauguration on Jan. 5, 2011.

Beat that. Here’s your soundtrack.Christopher Cousins

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins, Michael Shepherd and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but email us directly at ccousins@bangordailynews.com, mshepherd@bangordailynews.com or rlong@bangordailynews.com.

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.