As an elected official, I am always pleased when the actions we take in the Legislature have a direct, positive impact on those we serve. This has happened on many occasions since I have been in office. Reducing taxes and burdensome regulations in the 125th Legislature and protecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners in the current one stand out as recent examples.
Unfortunately, the Legislature missed an opportunity to help Mainers during this legislative session, and I think that is unfortunate.
We were unable to pass a bill to allow Mainers to access more efficient and affordable ways to heat their homes. I thought this proposal would have been much better received following this past winter when many Maine families struggled to pay their heating bills.
The proposed legislation called for allowing the State of Maine to increase the timber harvest on public lands. The money generated from the increased timber sales would have gone to Efficiency Maine in order to allow Mainers to invest in alternative heating systems such as heat pumps and pellet stoves.
This was an innovative idea that made sense on a number of levels. In addition to providing Mainers with a chance to save money on their heating bills, it also had the potential to help the economy. Jobs could have been created with the cutting and delivery of the lumber, others in the manufacturing of furniture and other products. There was also the opportunity to increase the amount of firewood available to Mainers.
The bill was defeated in the Senate, mostly along party lines. Democrats who objected to it said they would have rather seen the revenue from the increased harvest go to trails and maintaining property boundaries in the woods. While those may be worthwhile endeavors, I don’t believe they are as an important a priority as keeping our citizens warm in the wintertime. Furthermore, Efficiency Maine already has a budget of $19 million for the maintenance of trails that comes directly from the timber harvest
It seems to me that this new money from one of Maine’s most abundant and sustainable resources would have been better spent helping Maine people stay warm during our cold winters.
I hope that a future Legislature will have the wisdom to take another look at this proposal.
Senator Gary Plummer (R-Cumberland) serves on the Maine Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.