A Blow to Wind Power
Kennebec Journal, Augusta
The world is changing quickly, and it's hard for us to catch up with those changes. Nowhere was that more evident than in the overwhelming vote recently by the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission to reject construction of a large wind-power project in the western mountains.
In a dramatic and unexpected reversal of its staff's recommendation, commissioners voted six to one to order the staff to draw up a denial for the project. Unless something unexpected happens, that denial will spell the end of a ten-year effort by a Falmouth-based developer and his national utility partners to construct thirty wind turbines and associated transmission lines in the remote, high-altitude region.
It was the remoteness of the site, its proximity to the Appalachian Trail, and the existence of rare and endangered species that drove many environmentalists to protest the project. From the Maine Audubon Society to local residents to the National Park Service, the objections to the proposed rezoning of the mountaintops on Redington Pond Range and Black Nubble Mountain were detailed and vociferous.
From their point of view, the decision by regulators was the proper one.
But from our point of view, it's a decision mired in the worldview of the 1980s. That was a simpler time, it seems, when what we worried about was preserving land and species — not the global climate.
Yet as we have moved deeper into the twenty-first century, the dangers of global warming have become more real. The latest long-term climate predictions for northern New England depict a rapidly warming region. Global warming is caused by our overwhelming reliance on fossil fuel-based energy sources. The Redington windpower project offered a chance to stem our dependence on fossil fuel consumption and slow that inexorable trend.
That was precisely the point made by the one conservation organization to support the wind-power project publicly. The Conservation Law Foundation said that the risks of global warming were potentially far more destructive to the area proposed for the project than the project itself would be. They said that the habitat and species lost would, ultimately, be more dramatic under the suffocating blanket of global warming than under the turbines, asphalt, and transmission lines of the ninety-megawatt proposal. They said that while the mountaintops being considered for the project were precious, they would be considerably less precious after global warming was done with them.
Yet despite ample evidence of the perils of global warming to the very mountains they were trying to protect, commissioners did not agree. The one dissenting vote came from Commissioner Stephen Wight of Newry. Wight got it just right when he said, "We need to figure out how to be part of the solution and not just complain about it."
In this shortsighted decision, Maine has lost an opportunity to protect its precious resources over the long term.
Portland Press Herald
Real Trouble for Real I.D.
The state of Maine may or may not be able to fend off the federal law requiring states to create a new driver's license for nationwide identity purposes by itself. Not opposing it, however, will let the idea take hold without much debate over its potential pitfalls.
And pitfalls there are, as pointed out recently by a news conference and nearly unanimous vote in the legislature on a nonbinding resolution opposing the idea of a state-generated national I.D. card. The resolution calls on Congress to repeal the federal Real I.D. Act, which was passed in 2005 to take effect with licenses issued in 2008.
While Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff said at the time that there was no intent to create a national identification database, creating fifty state ones is hardly a privacy-protecting move, either. That's why Maine is not alone in this effort. Members of the National Conference of State Legislatures voted at a meeting in August to oppose the legislation, which is expected to cost Maine taxpayers $185 million over its first five years.
Maine secretary of state Matthew Dunlap has pointed out that this is six times the total annual budget of the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Nationwide, the cost is estimated to be $11 billion, almost all of it to be paid by the states.
Under the law, Maine would have to obey national standards for issuing driver's licenses, which would be imprinted with a special machine-readable "zone" on the cards containing personal data on the holder. Illegal immigrants would be barred from receiving them.
Privacy advocates, including the Maine Civil Liberties Union and the libertarian Cato Institute, say such data could be a bonanza for identity thieves if the cards were lost or stolen. Even worse, the data could potentially be read at a distance by I.D. thieves using their own machines to lift the information without ever getting their hands on the cards.
That's why Maine's House voted 137-4 to oppose the Real I.D. Act, while the Senate was unanimous, 34-0.
While the state so far has only called on Congress to overturn the law, it has another arrow in its quiver. Lawmakers plan to offer a bill directing Dunlap not to spend any money to create the new licenses.
While that could put Maine on a collision course with the feds, other states have joined the effort to lobby for repeal. They deserve to win this fight.
Kennebec Journal, Augusta
Bangor's new smoking ban
Bangor has made national headlines with its newly passed ban on smoking in cars when children younger than eighteen are passengers; bans have been adopted in only two other states. Rush Limbaugh doesn't like it; he made fun of the Bangor ban as the latest silly incarnation of the "nanny state." But we think the virtues of the ban are a no-brainer.
Smoking is bad for you. It's bad for your lungs, your heart, and your skin and makes you into a nasty smelling, addicted person. It also shortens your life. That's not news; despite the efforts of the tobacco industry to convince us otherwise, the dangers of smoking are well known, if not universally appreciated.
We now know, too, that smoking is bad for those around you; a nonsmoker's health can be damaged by secondhand smoke. That's why we have smoking bans in many public places across the country. Smokers in many places must leave buildings in order to indulge their habit; in some cases, even public areas that are outside — such as playgrounds and parks — have smoking bans.
And children are particularly vulnerable when exposed to secondhand smoke. Health officials describe such exposure as akin to allowing kids to be exposed to open vats of benzene. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, despite our nation's anti-smoking efforts over the last twenty years, the one population that has experienced the least exposure reduction to secondhand smoke is kids age four to eleven. And where do they get a big whammy of exposure to that smoke? You guessed it, in cars.
So it was just a matter of time before somebody got around to suggesting that perhaps it was a good idea to go after those who smoke in cars when kids are also present. To the argument that adults have the right to smoke on their own property — their car — we have this response: We agree — but that right stops where the rights of a child to avoid a health hazard begin.
Bangor councilors exhibited serious commitment when they amended the ordinance to make it stronger than originally proposed — the ban that was passed makes it a primary offense, rather than a secondary one. Which means that police can pull over smokers for the offense of smoking in a car or truck with a child in it; making it a secondary offense would have limited police to citing smokers only if they were pulled over for another reason.
Especially gratifying was the attitude of Bangor councilor Patricia Blanchette, a smoker. "Let's step up to the plate and lead; our children are worth the fight," she said in support of the ban.
That's one city down; which one's next?
Bangor Daily News
The failed experiment with term limits
When Maine joined the term-limits fad in 1993, its advocates saw it as a silver bullet that would expand democracy, force the retirement of political hacks, and (not incidentally) get rid of the longtime Democratic Speaker of the House John Martin of Eagle Lake. It accomplished none of those goals.
Instead of improving democracy, it restricted the right to vote for candidates of one's choice. In clearing the decks, it brought in a flood of newcomers with a torrent of bills that older hands would have remembered as failures. By removing experienced legislative leaders, it put Maine's government out of balance by ceding power to the executive branch.
It increased the influence of lobbyists, a popular perch for those who have been termed out. And it kept rural Maine from using the seniority system to offset urban centers' advantage in numbers. If Congress had term limits, a small state like Maine would never have had its long succession of effective senior senators.
As for John Martin, he turned up in the Senate and is still going strong, although he will be termed out again next year.
The time has come to get rid of term limits, and a bipartisan group of legislators proposes to give us all a chance to do just that. Their bill would send a referendum to Maine voters asking, "Do you favor repealing term limits for legislators?" Ideally, the measure should go on the 2008 general election ballot with its expected heavy turnout. True enough, a 70 percent majority approved term limits in 1993, but only 25 percent of the electorate went to the polls. Many of them were persuaded by a three hundred thousand dollar propaganda campaign financed by the late Elizabeth Noyce, a generous and goodhearted philanthropist who had been mistakenly persuaded that term limits meant better government.
Instead, the legislature has lost sterling legislators like former Senators Jill Goldthwait, I-Bar Harbor; Mary Cathcart, D-Orono; and Betty Lou Mitchell, R-Etna; and former Representative Mike Saxl, D-Portland.
The new bill's sponsor, Senator Ethan Strimling, D-Portland, rightly called term limits antidemocratic from the start. He said, "People are not given the choice to elect who they want in their districts. That's wrong." Co-sponsor Senator Kevin Raye, R-Perry, brushes aside the two-term limit for the governor: "I do not believe that rationale extends to a member of a 186-member legislative branch, particularly in a part-time citizen legislature. I believe voters should have the option of voting for the candidate of their choice and the option of voting to repeal term limits."
There should be no repetition of the halfhearted attempts in past years to lengthen the current statutory limits of four consecutive two-year terms for members of the House and Senate. If it's broke, don't try to fix it. Just throw it away.