The Maine Viewpoint
PORTLAND PRESS HERALDClearing Up Wood Boilers
Turning from fossil fuels to a renewable resource to heat your home is a good idea, but simultaneously adding to air pollution isn't all that beneficial. That's why it's good the state is considering imposing emissions standards on "backyard boilers."
The wood-fired furnaces, which produce heat and domestic hot water, reportedly can save their owners thousands of dollars in fuel oil and electricity costs, sometimes recovering their purchase price in just a year or two. Therefore, it's easy to see why these devices are becoming ever-more-popular home improvements in Maine and other cold-weather parts of the country. They generally sit in people's side or back yards and are tied into existing heating and plumbing systems by underground pipes.
But they not only heat homes. They can also get the temperature rising under the collars of their users' neighbors, who are becoming increasingly steamed about smoke that wafts freely across property lines and into adjacent yards and even homes, bringing unwanted smells and particulate pollutants with it. The Department of Environmental Protection has seen complaints about them rise from two in 2004 to more than fifty in each succeeding year.
So it has proposed a set of rules governing their emissions, stack heights, and property-line setbacks. The rules would also prohibit burning garbage, tires, or similar items in the boilers and prevent anyone from "creating a nuisance" with one.
Nobody wants to bar people from saving money or conserving fossil fuels. But neighbors have a right to breathe unpolluted air, too, and that's why some sort of rules to enforce that right are necessary.
TIMES RECORD, BRUNSWICKA Maine Image Plan
When it comes to business, Maine has an image problem. The state consistently ranks in the bottom tier of states in national analyses of business climate. For example, Forbes magazine last month pegged Maine forty-eighth out of the fifty states in its most recent business climate ranking.
But does comparing Maine's economic conditions to those in Washington state or Massachusetts provide a valid context for assessing the state's business climate? Isn't that like comparing apples to Apple computers? Maple syrup to microchips?
A more appropriate measure of Maine's economic vitality would compare the state's current business climate to what people who live and work here would like it to be. Shifting the discussion from chamber of commerce lobbyists and public policy wonks to homes and storefronts would yield an evaluation more reflective of the quality-of-life factors that balance overall community values with business concerns.
Relying on residents and business owners to establish an optimum standard of living - based on circumstances unique to this state - would provide a much more focused, specific business barometer, one that Governor John Baldacci and the legislature could then use as a blueprint to hone a targeted, intentional plan that makes state government an agent for positive economic change.
Right now, lawmakers don't have to read Forbes to know that many working people and small business owners perceive state government to be an impediment to a healthier economy. During the most recent legislative session, shellfish harvesters voiced no confidence in the Department of Marine Resources; small business owners from barbers to real estate agents expressed opposition to the Taxation Committee's scattershot proposal to expand the sales tax to selected services; and employers and employees who share health insurance premium costs squinted to find the real savings promised to them when Baldacci unveiled the Dirigo Health program during his first term.
Those are just a few examples of the grassroots perception that state government harbors a hostile attitude toward business. To change that perception, the state's political leaders must improve the way they do business. A systematic overhaul of state government - based on a realistic set of priorities and revenue projections - would send the message that Baldacci and the legislature understand the constraints that business owners and the private sector workforce face every day.
For too long, Maine state government has tried to be all things to all people - functioning in the manner of an over-ambitious retail enterprise that expands too rapidly and beyond its core market. It's time for Baldacci and the legislature to adopt a business plan based on an acknowledgment that resources - i.e., tax dollars - in a sparsely populated state tucked into the far northeastern corner of the country will always be limited, so state government's mission must be streamlined to reflect that reality. A genuine commitment to achieve economies of scale in state government would demonstrate that lawmakers mean business when they talk about improving the state's business climate.
MOUNT DESERT ISLANDERThe Cost of Doing Business
Bar Harbor already has a sliding schedule of fines designed to penalize those who initiate building projects without first obtaining the necessary permits and permissions. In most cases, those fines provide an incentive for people to comply with the law.
But recently some developers are going ahead despite the fines, apparently choosing to pay the penalty rather than delay construction. The oft-repeated phrase is "it's a cost of doing business." Joking references about it being easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission often are made. For the average citizen, the law itself seems the joke.
Higher penalties would serve as a strong financial incentive for developers to do it right the first time. Currently, breaking the law apparently is worth the risk. Sadly, until the cost of doing business the right way is less expensive than taking shortcuts, there is no real incentive to follow the rules.
MAINE SUNDAY TELEGRAMAn Invisible Epidemic of Hunger
The "two Maines" convention would not persist if there weren't some substance to the observation. Because of their proximity to markets to the south and stronger transportation links, Maine's southern counties have traditionally had stronger economies than the rest of the state.
But if we allow this convention to define our view of the state, we risk missing something important in one region or the other, like the invisible epidemic of hunger in Maine. Recently our sister publications in Augusta and Waterville - the Kennebec Journal and the Morning Sentinel - published an ambitious series of editorials drawing attention to something many of us would rather not think about: each day, there are Mainers, including many children, who go hungry.
The first half of this decade saw a 3.3 percent increase in the number of Maine households experiencing hunger. No other state saw such an increase, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Anecdotal evidence strongly supports the existence of this alarming trend. Food-stamp use was up 50 percent in Maine from 2002-2005. The number of food pantries in Maine has grown from 430 to 600 over the past five years. The number of kids qualifying for free or reduced-priced school lunch is also growing.
Our first reactions to such revelations are noble and worthwhile. We don't want people to be hungry. We don't want them to starve. Some of us will donate time to a soup kitchen. Others will donate food or money to a pantry. These are important actions to take, and the more Mainers who undertake them, the better.
But it will likely take more. It will take the expenditure of scarce public resources to arrest the problem. Maine has done a good job signing people up for food stamps, but it may have to do better. More schools may have to find the money to offer not just a hot lunch, but breakfast, as some do now.
This is where hunger becomes less of a universal call for action and more of a controversial topic. Are we willing to have our hard-earned tax dollars spent on food for our neighbors?
This is the test that Maine faces. This is the challenge to its people. Ending hunger will take something from all of us.