Fishery Management Council Spares Cashes Ledge But Puts Other Ocean Habitat at Risk

Apr 24, 2015 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

Cashes ledge, a spectacular underwater mountain range in the Gulf of Maine, has for now been spared by the New England Fishery Management Council, which met this week to vote on whether to open this biodiversity hotspot to the most destructive forms of commercial fishing. But, while the Cashes Ledge Closed Area survived the Council vote intact, that fate is not shared by other important ecological areas found within the Gulf of Maine.

Kelp Forest and Cod at Cashes Ledge; 70-miles off the coast of MaineIn addition to maintaining current protections for Cashes Ledge, the Council voted to add a new area of ocean habitat in the Eastern Gulf of Maine. That’s the good news. The bad news, however, adds up to laundry list of poor decision making that puts the health of our ocean, fisheries, and fishing economy at risk, as the Council also voted to:

  • allow damaging trawls to invade an area of the Western Gulf of Maine that has been closed to commercial fishing for more than 20 years,
  • significantly reduce the size and scope of a new protected area in the Downeast Maine area,
  • permit surf clam dredges, the most damaging fishing gear, in a newly created Great South Channel “protected area,”
  • allow gear modification techniques to serve as habitat “protection” measures, even though those techniques have been panned by the Council’s own technical experts.

The Council also entertained a new proposal put forward by the scallop industry for a protected area for Georges Bank that will – unsurprisingly – permit scallop and clam dredging in a protected area that has been closed for more than 20 years.

CLF has been at the forefront of fighting to keep Cashes Ledge and other protected ocean habitat closed to most commercial fishing practices in order to restore depleted groundfish stocks, including the Atlantic cod population, which is currently at historic lows. During a 60-day comment period, CLF and other environmental organizations collected close to 160,000 comments from the public calling on the Council to keep Cashes Ledge closed to commercial fishing and to increase protected areas across New England waters.

While the initial outcome for Cashes is positive, the Council continues to play a dangerous shell game with our precious ocean resources, ignoring its own scientists’ advice and elevating minimal short-term gains for industry over long-term benefits for the resource (and, ultimately, the fishing community). The current vote is yet another example of one step forward and two steps back for the Council, as it once again spurned the kind of long-term protection and sustainability for New England’s precious marine resources that could lead to economic prosperity for our fishing community.

Fishery management councils across the United States have successfully balanced the protection of ocean habitat with the economic interests of our fishing communities. New England’s fishery council should be the nation’s leader in that effort, but instead they have a long history of making bad management decisions that are depleting our fish stocks and bankrupting our fishing industry.

Our oceans belong to the people and we cannot allow an industry-driven Council to take hostage of vital marine resources decisions. Of the nearly 160,000 people who weighed in on this issue, an overwhelming 96% of them want an increase in protected areas, not a decrease.

If you were among those thousands who weighed in, thank you. Your voice has and can make a difference in this fight. The reality is, even though Cashes has received a reprieve for now, the final vote on the Council’s risky proposal isn’t until June. CLF will continue to ensure that your voice is heard and work to turn back the tide on a legacy of poor management by the New England Fishery Management Council.

A Single Word Could Restore Maine Energy Efficiency Funding

Apr 8, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

A recent decision by the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) severely limits energy efficiency funding in the state. If the decision stands, Efficiency Maine Trust – the public entity that runs energy efficiency programs – would see its near-term budget cut from about $60 million to $22 million. This drastic cut in energy efficiency funding would essentially eliminate the cornerstone of sound energy policy in Maine. Fixing this mistake is vital to the state’s energy future.

The fix is easy (the entire fiasco boils down to the single word “and”), but the backstory is more complicated.

The Backstory

Energy efficiency works 

shutterstock_129267746 lightbulbThe more energy consumers use, the more energy must be generated. Whether that energy comes from coal, natural gas, or renewable sources, the cost to generate that energy goes beyond the dollar figure on your utility bills. Part of that cost is sunk into the generation facilities themselves, and part is in the poles and wires needed to bring that energy into our homes and businesses.

Energy efficiency has the power to reduce the overall demand for electricity by encouraging technological advancements that produce the same service while using less energy. Less overall energy use means less transmission and distribution build out, less energy generation, and, ultimately, a lower energy bill for consumers.

Energy efficiency saves ratepayers money, improves the environment, stimulates commerce, and creates jobs. Since 2011, Efficiency Maine has saved ratepayers almost $1 billion in lifetime energy savings while creating thousands of jobs. Over their lifetime, the projects Efficiency Maine helped install in 2014 alone will save more than 1 billion kilowatt hours of energy consumption – the equivalent of more than 22 million gallons of oil. This translates to nearly $200 million in ratepayer savings. Every dollar Efficiency Maine invests provides at least three dollars in return.

All this raises a pressing question: Why would the PUC slash funding for energy efficiency?

How we got here

In 2013, the Maine Legislature passed the bipartisan Omnibus Energy Act. One piece of this legislation mandates that Maine, through Efficiency Maine, fund and pursue all maximum achievable cost-effective energy efficiency.

Let’s be clear – that is the law.

A single phrase of this voluminous statute determines how much annual funding Efficiency Maine receives to meet (or not) the law’s mandate. This funding, which is included in electricity rates, is capped at “4% of total retail electricity transmission and distribution sales in the State.”

The current fiasco all boils down to what “total retail electricity transmission and distribution sales” actually means. If you find that phrase confusing, you’re not alone. For those working in the electric industry, “retail electricity” sales mean sales of electricity generation. And “transmission and distribution” sales mean sales of the transmission and distribution of electricity. But mashing them together creates a phrase not used anywhere in Maine law, or in any other law in the country.

The problem stems from a missing “and.” The phrase as originally drafted by the legislature was: “total retail electricity and transmission and distribution sales.” That phrase means something. So what happened to the “and”? No one knows. But somewhere along the line, without any discussion, debate, or request, it disappeared from the final version of the bill – after a legislative committee approved a version containing this critical conjunction.

A matter of interpretation?

So, what does the PUC have to do with this? The 2013 Omnibus Energy Act directs the PUC to make a rule that interprets this phrase and thus the amount of energy efficiency funding. In making this rule, the PUC must follow what the legislature intended when it wrote the law. If what the law says is clear, the PUC need look no further than the text. But if the law is not clear, the PUC looks to the bill’s legislative history to determine what the legislature intended the law to mean.

As it turns out, the only people who have found that confusing phrase absolutely clear are two out of three PUC Commissioners. They read the language to include sales from only transmitting and distributing electricity, not sales from generating the electricity. That reading translates to a huge difference in how much money goes toward Maine’s energy efficiency initiatives – a $38 million difference.

Even as written – in other words without the “and” – the PUC got this wrong. The only thing that’s clear about the phrase is how unclear it is. That means the PUC must look to the legislative history to see what the legislature intended. And no one – not even the legislators who drafted the bill – disputes that the legislature intended much greater funding for energy efficiency by including sales from both electricity generation and electricity transmission and distribution.

The Future

Frustrated yet? There’s more.

The Maine Legislature now has the opportunity to fix the PUC’s decision. Doing so would save Maine ratepayer dollars. Unfortunately, as the Portland Press Herald reported recently, prospects for an easy legislative fix look dim.

Remember, the 2013 Omnibus Energy Act, which mandates energy efficiency measures, passed with bipartisan support. Legislators have introduced an amendment to the Energy Act that simply reinserts the word “and” – as the legislature originally intended.

But other lawmakers are trying to block this version. In an op-ed in the Portland Press Herald, House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette (R-Newport) admitted that the Energy Act was intended to increase the funding cap to “roughly $60 million” instead of the roughly $22 million under the PUC’s interpretation. Nonetheless, he claims that the PUC correctly interpreted the law it was given, mistake and all.

What Representative Fredette and other lawmakers are now arguing is this:

  1. Yes, the Energy Act meant to increase energy efficiency funding.
  2. Yes, the PUC interpreted it to severely limit this funding.
  3. Yes, we the legislature should fix this.
  4. But NO, we are not going to simply insert a single word in order to do what a bipartisan legislature intended in the first place when it passed the law.

 

Why not? Governor Paul LePage. He is almost guaranteed to veto a fix of the bill because he does not want to invest more in energy efficiency. The legislature might not garner the two-thirds vote needed to override that veto, let alone pass the amended version in the first place.

What’s the alternative? A bill that compromises further on sound energy policy in Maine. To be clear, the original Omnibus Energy Act was itself the result of bipartisan compromise – which was meant to vastly increase energy efficiency funding. Now, because of one word, the governor and Republican legislators want another bite at the apple.

Tell your legislators to pass the clean fix of the bill and restore Maine energy efficiency funding! You can find your legislator’s contact information here. Help restore adequate funding for energy efficiency in Maine!

Smart Moves for Maine’s Electricity Grid

Mar 10, 2015 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

Several years ago, Maine took a small but significant and unprecedented step toward modernizing its electric grid. Rather than implement a traditional “poles and wires” transmission build out to address growing electricity needs in the Boothbay Harbor region, the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approved an innovative pilot project.

GridSolar's Boothbay Pilot program is finding innovative ways to meet electricity demand without an expensive transmission rebuild.

GridSolar’s Boothbay Pilot program is finding innovative ways to meet electricity demand without an expensive transmission rebuild.

The Boothbay Pilot relies on so-called non-transmission alternatives, or NTAs, to reduce electric load in the region by 2 megawatts (MW). Using these alternatives eliminated the need for an $18 million transmission rebuild, while also improving energy efficiency, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and saving ratepayers approximately $3 million per year. A smart move. Now, the PUC has the opportunity to take many of the pilot’s concepts statewide.

Non-transmission alternatives are, as the name implies, alternatives to the traditional way of distributing electricity. For most of Maine’s power grid, state-regulated transmission and distribution utilities, such as Central Maine Power, transmit bulk electricity from a generation source – for example, natural gas, oil, or hydro – through power lines, substations, and distribution lines to your home. To ensure reliable and constant energy flow the power grid must be continually maintained and at times rebuilt or upgraded to meet demand.

Instead of expending ratepayer dollars on expensive transmission solutions, electric power needs can be met by various NTAs, including energy efficiency, passive electric power generation closer to the consumer (like solar panels or wind turbines), and active devices that can be switched on when needed to reduce load on the grid. These alternatives create a more efficient grid and reduce total power needed.

For the Boothbay regional Pilot program, GridSolar developed just such an NTA solution. In a case before the PUC, GridSolar has petitioned to become the state’s lead developer of smart grid technologies – a new entity allowed under the Maine Smart Grid Policy Act. While PUC staff recently recommended that the Commissioners deny GridSolar’s petition – in favor of putting the coordinator’s role out to bid for proposals – their report nonetheless recognizes the value in having an incentivized actor forwarding non-transmission alternatives to utilities’ business-as-usual transmission projects.

CLF is an intervening party to this case and has advocated for the PUC to create just such a statewide NTA Coordinator. Designating this role is another small but critical step toward a more efficient and modern energy future for Maine. Another smart move on which we should all agree.

What just happened on Goose Rocks Beach? Maine puts public trust doctrine on trial.

Jan 9, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Last month, Maine’s State Supreme Court issued a new decision regarding the public’s right to use Goose Rocks Beach in Kennebunkport. In Maine, under an arcane legal doctrine, the people who own the land adjacent to a beach also own the beach itself down to the low water mark, subject to limited public rights under the public trust doctrine. (For more information on this doctrine, see my prior blog.) In the ongoing Goose Rocks Beach case, prior to last month’s ruling, the State Supreme Court had issued a decision in favor of homeowners, who want to limit the public’s use of what they consider to be their beach property. The Court found that the public – despite extensive evidence provided by the Town of Kennebunkport – had failed to prove it had an easement to use the beach for recreation. With its decision last month, the Court has granted the Town a second chance to prove a prescriptive easement (in other words, that the public’s historic use of Goose Rocks Beach gives it the right to keep using the beach). The caveat? The Town must offer evidence of how the public uses each of the 101 privately owned parcels of beach, rather than simply having witnesses testify that they use the entire beach for recreation, as they did in the first trial.

photo credit: jvdalton via photopin cc

The latest Maine State Supreme Court decision leaves the future of public access at Goose Rocks Beach in limbo. photo credit: jvdalton via photopin cc

That first trial was long and costly, and the trial judge implied that he did not need such specific evidence; he understood that if a witness testified to using the entire beach for recreation, then that necessarily included the 101 parcels at issue.

And, remember that arcane public trust doctrine? The State Supreme Court has continued to rule that the public trust doctrine issue was not properly tried during the first trial, because the State Attorney General’s Office did not file a claim against the property owners who had originally filed suit against the Town.

Confused yet? I know I am – especially about this last part of their ruling. I reviewed parts of the trial record and listened to the arguments before the State Supreme Court. The public trust doctrine was raised in numerous pleadings. In addition, every attorney who appeared before the State Supreme Court stated that the public trust doctrine issue had been tried and decided. In fact, the trial judge issued an order finding facts and deciding the scope of the public trust doctrine. Nonetheless the Court has sent the case back to the trial court with instructions to “conduct proceedings and issue a decision on the remaining pending causes of action, … , as well as any public trust doctrine claim.”

So our State Supreme Court has sent the case back to the trial court for a second, nearly identical, and potentially very expensive trial – this time linked to those 101 specific parcels of beach and with the mandate to retry the public trust doctrine. I understand the Court’s reluctance to find that private landowners who let the public use their beach for recreation give up some property rights in the form of a prescriptive easement, because of the precedent it could set for all private landowners. But the fact is the public’s use of beaches is very different from their use of private inland parcels. Inland, a generous landowner may open her land for public recreation, with a presumption that she has granted permission for the public to recreate on her land without creating an easement. In contrast, no private landowner in Maine has EVER owned the intertidal zone absolutely. It has ALWAYS been open for public use under the public trust doctrine.

I hope the parties to the Goose Rocks case take the procedural steps needed to bring the public trust doctrine question back to the State Supreme Court later this year. The Court should find that the public trust doctrine includes the public’s right to engage in customary recreation – for sunbathing and walking, for example, but not for building bonfires or hosting weddings without landowner permission.

Study Commission Nears Final Recommendations to Counter Ocean Acidification

Dec 11, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Richard Nelson

Richard Nelson, Lobsterman in Friendship, Maine

The sixteen member commission empowered by the Maine legislature to conduct a brief, six month investigation into the effects of coastal and ocean acidification on fish and shellfish commercially harvested in Maine nears the end of its term and recommends further study and other measures to immediately begin to address the impacts of ocean acidification.

As noted in prior blogs here and here, offshore ocean acidification occurs when carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels, gets deposited in the ocean, and mixes with water to form carbonic acid. Near shore coastal acidification occurs when runoff from storms carries nitrogen, acidic fresh water, and other pollutants to the ocean. The nitrogen and other nutrient rich pollutants cause algal blooms, which die and release carbon dioxide into the ocean. Both forms of acidification dissolve shells of larval shellfish and possibly stunt growth of lobsters and crabs by causing them to form extra hard outer shells.

The study commission did an impressive job. Its members were appointed by the legislature and by the Commissioner of Maine’s Department of Marine Resources. They worked with a practically non-existent budget and largely volunteered their time away from their jobs as lobstermen, shellfish harvesters, shellfish farmers, marine researchers, scientists and more. During meetings and on various subcommittees, the members generously shared their expertise and commitment to working together.

The result of their efforts will be seen soon, when the Commission releases its final report. The near final draft contains a complete listing of all research regarding the effects of ocean acidification on Maine marine life and recommends actions we can take to prevent ocean acidification from destroying our commercial shellfisheries, including lobsters which account for 80% of commercial landings in Maine. The report also appends proposed new legislation that would establish a long term study commission to coordinate further research into the many areas where we lack data and further measures to combat ocean acidification.

Here are some things that we all can do to protect our shellfish from ocean acidification:

  • Reduce carbon emissions- drive less, switch from oil to cleaner heat sources, explore ways to be more energy efficient
  • Reduce or eliminate use of lawn fertilizers or time their spread to eliminate runoff of fertilizers into coastal marine waters
  • Do not dump pet waste or other waste down sewers
  • Support legislation that reduces carbon emissions on a national and local level
  • Support the proposed law to establish a more permanent ocean acidification study commission

For more information about the study, read these stories from Portland Press Herold and MPBN.

Dedication and Talent Obvious Among Commission Members Studying Ocean Acidification

Aug 7, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Did you know that climate change has made the Gulf of Maine 500% less productive at producing marine life? How much of that reduced productivity is a result of ocean acidification is a question that might be answered by Maine’s Ocean Acidification Study Commission, which met for the first time on August 1. The Commission, the second in the nation of its kind, is tasked with understanding the science behind ocean acidification, determining what we still need to learn to fully understand the problem, and recommending potential solutions.

Oysters-OA-Blog

Rep. Mick Devin shucks oysters during the first Maine Study Commission meeting, highlighting research done on ocean acidification at the University of Maine’s Darling Center.

The Commission is composed of an impressive array of legislators, fishermen and scientists, most of whom are volunteering their time. At the August 1 meeting, which was open to the public, Commission members asked tough and detailed questions to a team of scientists who shared their knowledge about this problem. Here are some of the facts that I learned at the meeting:

  • Ocean acidification is like acid rain, in that carbon dioxide combines with water to form carbonic acid. Its impacts differ, however, because the ocean can absorb more carbonic acid than freshwater lakes (which were most affected by acid rain). The acid nonetheless eats away at the shells of mollusks like clams and oysters and affects crustaceans like lobsters by impacting the calcium carbonate that they use to make shells. Scientists are still studying and discovering exactly how harmful ocean acidification is to shellfish.
  • The major cause of ocean acidification is carbon from fossil fuel emissions. We must find local, regional, and national ways to reduce the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere from sources like power plants and cars.
  • We must also reduce coastal sources of acidification, such as stormwater runoff and insufficient sewage treatment. This can be done mostly by passing laws and taking actions that drastically reduce the amount of nutrients that flow into the ocean from these controllable sources.
  • We have to find ways to help marine life adapt to the changes already caused by ocean acidification and those further changes that we cannot stop. Scientists are looking at whether we can recycle mollusk shells and add them to bays to act like an antacid, the ability of plants like seaweed and sea grass to absorb carbon, and ocean planning to perhaps start seaweed farms (which could reduce carbon) near shellfish farms (which are harmed by carbon).
  • Some shellfish farmers in Maine have already begun storing sea water to use during times when stormwater runoff makes the water unsafe for developing oysters.

In a state where 75% of our fisheries income is derived from shellfish, the Commission has a large task in front of it. The sincerity, expertise and dedication of the Commission members inspired confidence that they will find ways to help reduce the causes of acidification and lessen its impacts on our fisheries. CLF is especially grateful to Representative Mick Devin for introducing the legislation and working so hard to bring scientists and others to the first meeting. Senator Chris Johnson and Representative Wayne Perry also played active roles at the meeting, asking thoughtful questions and helping to shape the work ahead.

The Commission has set up working committees and will meet three more times as a whole. After that, they will write a report to be presented to the state legislature by December 5. If you want to learn more about the Commission, or attend any of their meetings, check out their website.

CLF will assist the Commission using our legal and policy expertise. On a state and regional level, we will continue to work for clean energy sources to replace fossil fuels, and for laws and permits that reduce or eliminate sources of nutrient pollution to our ocean.

Breaking News: NESCOE Suspends Votes on Tariff Proposals

Aug 1, 2014 by  | Bio |  9 Comment »

The New England States Committee on Electricity (“NESCOE”), an entity created to carry out the policy directives of the New England governors, had been hurtling down the track towards forcing electric customers to pay for a massive, new natural gas pipeline as well as new transmission projects to import large-scale Canadian hydropower. This morning at the monthly meeting of the voting participants in the New England Power Pool (“NEPOOL”), NESCOE signaled that the train is going to slow down.

In a surprising and welcome move, NESCOE announced at the meeting that it is delaying action on both the gas and electric proposals that it has been pursuing–proposals that have the potential to put billions of customer dollars at risk. NESCOE formally requested that all of the votes that had been scheduled for the proposals be taken off the calendar to allow for a delay of  “at least a month.”

For months now, CLF has been calling upon NESCOE and the New England Governors to bring these flawed proposals and the reasoning behind them out into the open. Until now, the formulation of and negotiations around these proposals have been conducted almost completely behind closed doors.  With this delay, NESCOE and the officials who direct its actions have a real opportunity to address procedural and substantive concerns — raised by CLF and other stakeholders —  by embracing a transparent, open process that includes a meaningful assessment of alternatives, including: efficiency, better utilization of existing infrastructure, and more renewable distributed generation. After all, the initial studies for NESCOE indicated that under a “low demand” scenario there would be no need for additional infrastructure at all.

This time around, CLF urges the Governors to require NESCOE to include an evaluation of the cost-effectiveness of all alternatives, as well as an assessment of which solutions are actually consistent with achieving the long-range energy and climate objectives of the New England states.

The NESCOE announcement also followed a compelling argument by CLF at the last Transmission Committee meeting on July 22, regarding the need for these proposals to be properly vetted through ISO-NE’s “Major Initiatives” process. These proposals carry with them the power to shape New England’s energy system for the next 40-50 years, so an open, public process is imperative. CLF will continue to provide the public with up-to-date information as it becomes available.

Maine is Ground Zero for Determining the Role of Natural Gas in New England’s Energy Future

Jun 10, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

One of the greatest energy and climate challenges facing Maine and the nation is making sure we get right the role of natural gas in our energy – and climate – future.

Right now, Maine is ground zero for this challenge. The Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has opened a proceeding that could result in Maine electric customers paying up to $1.5 billion and three to four times their fair share of an interstate natural gas pipeline. Advocates for the plan say that those costs to Maine customers would ultimately be recovered through future savings on energy bills. Such a financing scheme for new infrastructure would mark an unprecedented and risky entry into the private energy markets by Maine and the other New England states. At the same time, even though natural gas is considered cleaner than coal and oil, it still releases significant greenhouse gas emissions, making the PUC’s proposal one that will have long-term impacts on our efforts to address climate change and to reform the energy markets.

CLF has taken the lead in this case to ensure a transparent, fair, and thorough assessment of this speculative gambit to manipulate private gas markets, as it represents a significant financial risk to electric customers. What’s more, we believe that a new interstate natural gas pipeline will overbuild our capacity and will result in an over-commitment to and over-reliance on natural gas, a fossil fuel with a history of price volatility that presents a reliability risk to our electrical system.

Most significantly, state and regional goals of reducing our emissions of greenhouse gasses by 80% by 2050 will be thrown out the window if this strategy is approved by the PUC, along with any hope of mitigating the harmful effects of climate change. CLF will argue that before any new pipeline capacity is added, we must maximize efficient use of our existing pipeline system, make market changes that allow for more efficient and flexible use of existing gas supplies, fully utilize existing LNG and gas storage capabilities, and expand pipelines incrementally and only if and when market-driven need calls for it.

While Maine is ground zero on this issue today, similar proposals to expand natural gas infrastructure are cropping up across New England. CLF will be vigilant in ensuring that New England does not rely on natural gas as the sole answer to our energy supply issues, but rather as a bridge to a cleaner-energy future for the entire region.

Act Now to Support Maine Farms and Food!

Apr 8, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The Maine legislature is considering a bill that would help Maine farms bring more of their food to our tables. “An Act To Support School Nutrition and Expand the Local Foods Economy” (LD 1431) supports Maine in producing and consuming more of its own food. Under a two-pronged approach, the bill gives crucial start-up capital to emerging food hubs that meet certain criteria and incentivizes public schools to source Maine-grown or -harvested foods. It’s a win-win for Maine. (You can read more about this bill in my previous blog post.)

Please act now! The Maine legislature will vote on this bill any day.
Please show your support for Maine farmers and fresh local food by calling members of Maine’s Appropriations Committee, Senate President Justin Alfond, and House Speaker Mark Eves, asking them to fund this bill. Then, call your legislator, asking him or her to vote in favor of LD 1431. If you cannot call, please send an e-mail urging support. You can find your legislator here.

How Does This Bill Help Maine?
In Maine, we import the majority of the food we eat. But our state boasts the second highest concentration of Farm-to-School programs and direct-to-consumer farms and food businesses in the country (just a hair behind Vermont). Why, then, are we importing so much of our food? The answer lies partly with geography, partly with the marketplace, and partly with policy.

Let’s look at the easy one first—geography. If Mainers want large quantities of oranges, pineapples, or avocados, they must either move much farther south or import those foods from away. Unless we adopt a diet rooted more strongly in locality and seasonality, we are stuck hauling in food from out of state.

The marketplace is a little more complicated. Because of economies of scale, shipping in food from away can sometimes be cheaper for grocers, restaurants, institutional markets, and, ultimately, consumers. But the price of food does not always reflect its true cost. Several negative aspects of industrial-scale food production are not factored into the price of the end product. The producers of that food, in other words, do not absorb all the actual production costs.

Who does? We do. For example, concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) increase the incidence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, cause air-quality problems for neighboring communities, contaminate watersheds with concentrated animal waste, and shift the social structure and economy of farming regions. Eventually, we will all pay the price if the true cost of production is not factored into our food.

As for policy, it can either hinder or help local food production. For example, subsidies in the federal farm bill have historically favored industrial-scale farms, making it harder for smaller, diversified farms to compete. CLF’s new regional food policy report offers many suggestions for eliminating policy barriers and filling in policy gaps.

LD 1431 is an example of sound policy that would help Maine’s farms, food businesses, and consumers. How can food hubs help Maine? A food hub is a business that collects, distributes, or markets food products from mostly local or regional producers and strengthens their ability to satisfy wholesale, retail, and institutional demand. Food hubs value and work closely with producers to ensure they receive a premium price for their products. Food hubs maintain a triple bottom line, focusing on economic, social, and environmental goals. These businesses offer a way to work with farmers and fishermen to get their products into the hands of more Mainers. Existing food hubs in Maine like Crown O’ Maine and Northern Girl are already doing just that. A national food hub conference a few weeks ago brought together food hub operators from around the country who have added tremendous value to their states by bringing fresh, locally sourced food to in-state communities that otherwise would not have access to those tasty and healthful products.

What’s the Status of the Bill?
Initially, new appropriations to the Departments of Education and Agriculture would have funded implementation of LD 1431. Unfortunately, those dollars have been cut from the amended bill. Funding to the Department of Education for public schools to receive local foods training and to source local food must now come from federal grants. The good news is that, in the near term, there are sufficient funds within Maine’s Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry to give food hubs grants and loans as directed by the bill.

Last week, the House and Senate unanimously passed this amended version of LD 1431. Now it sits with the Appropriations Committee. Because all funding was stripped from the bill, its price tag is under $5,000, mostly covering rulemaking costs. This paltry sum threatens a bill that would bring more fresh, local food to your table.

Please call your legislator to urge support for this important bill.
With your help, we can support Maine farmers, boost Maine’s economy, foster greater public health, and bring Maine-grown and -harvested foods to more Maine tables.

If you have questions about this bill, please contact Ben Tettlebaum at btettlebaum@clf.org.

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