Faces of Ocean Planning: Rebecca Clark Uchenna of the Island Institute

Feb 8, 2016 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

At the Island Institute, Rebecca Clark Uchenna works to ensure coastal and island communities in Maine are represented in the Northeast Regional Ocean Plan

At the Island Institute, Rebecca Clark Uchenna works to ensure coastal and island communities in Maine are represented in the Northeast Regional Ocean Plan

“Island life” is pretty unique. For some islanders, day-to-day life means relying on ferries to the mainland to go to work or buy groceries and other household goods. For many others, livelihoods depend on occupations deeply rooted in the sea – from fishing, to owning marine-oriented businesses, to preserving local maritime history and culture.

Each island community is different, but they all share one thing in common: the vitality and productivity of the surrounding ocean is essential to ensuring that their island community continues to thrive. In that regard, their stake in an ocean management plan is very high.

Rebecca Clark Uchenna is part of the Marine Programs Team at the Island Institute, which helps sustain island and coastal communities in Maine. By understanding the complex challenges, needs, and priorities associated with island life, the Island Institute is helping to sustain these communities.

Giving Islanders a Voice in Ocean Planning

Rebecca’s focus is on the regional ocean planning process currently underway in the Northeast. She and the Island Institute have worked tirelessly to lend voice to Maine’s many island communities – which are sizable drivers of the state’s economy – to ensure their needs are heard and incorporated into the region’s first Northeast Regional Ocean Plan (a draft of which will be made public this spring).

Regional ocean planning is a data-driven process that seeks to include all interested parties in order to develop management protocols that take into account the goals of the many different ocean users in the Northeast – with the intended outcome, ultimately, to stop conflict before it starts.

According to Rebecca, a development project like an offshore wind farm or underwater cable may seem innocuous or even harmless to most stakeholders. But because many island and coastal communities rely so heavily upon ocean access for their livelihoods, they must be involved early in the planning process to identify community values and needs. Conversations need to happen between the company, government agencies, and the communities so that all involved understand the impacts and mitigation options of a proposed project.

The cascading consequences of not having these conversations could be devastating to small island communities. If an ill-advised development project affects islanders’ ability to fish in a particular ocean area, that could lead to job losses. Fewer jobs may lead to people moving away to areas with more available work. As families leave, the local school may close because there aren’t enough children left to attend. More departing families could follow and the entire island community could be at risk of disappearing.

This is why, Rebecca says, it’s vitally important that those living in these island and coastal communities are able to voice their concerns while a project is still just a concept. A successful ocean management plan would accurately recognize and depict island life, with processes in place for ensuring continued communication between island communities and outside interests.

Making Sure Fishermen Are Engaged and Heard

A lobster boat in Casco Bay. Finding a balance between fishing and other interests can happen only when all voices are brought to the table.

A lobster boat in Casco Bay. Finding a balance between fishing and other interests can happen only when all voices are brought to the table.

Rebecca notes that a major part of ensuring coastal communities and islands are able to thrive is taking into account fishermen’s priorities. But, she says, it can be a big sacrifice for a working fisherman to leave their boat and lose a day’s pay to attend a meeting of the Northeast Regional Planning Body – the organization charged with creating the regional ocean plan – and stakeholder meetings.

It’s her job to give voice to fishing communities and make sure their concerns are heard through an effort to facilitate robust inclusion of fishermen in the ocean plan.

While the Northeast Regional Planning Body is incorporating language on how they see fishermen’s interests fitting into the plan, these recommendations are largely through the lens of scientists and agency officials – so Rebecca’s role in articulating the fishing community’s point of view is essential to ensuring the recommendations make sense for all involved parties.

Balancing Wide-Ranging Interests

Rebecca’s role (and the Island Institute’s mission in general) in representing these stakeholder groups shows the complexities of what it really means to bring all voices to the table through the ocean planning process. It is difficult work bringing together wide-ranging interests – but it will be worth it when New England has a plan that ensures an efficiently managed, healthy ocean and healthy coastal economies to show for it.

Read more about the Northeast Regional Ocean Plan here.

Right Whales and Cashes Ledge: How to Make a Good Thing Last

Feb 5, 2016 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Right whale critical habitat

Photo via GARFO GIS Datasets.

In late January, North Atlantic right whales scored a big win when the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) expanded the critical habitat for the endangered whale from 4,500 square nautical miles to 28,000 square nautical miles.

The original area included only a portion of Cape Cod Bay and an area east of Nantucket near the Great South Channel. This major expansion adds almost all of the Gulf of Maine, east to Georges Bank, and south all the way to Cape Canaveral, Florida. The Gulf of Maine expansion includes Cashes Ledge – an area known for its rich biodiversity and abundance of fish and marine mammals and a place that CLF has been fighting to permanently protect for years.

This is great news for the North Atlantic right whale – the world’s most endangered large whale – and for those of us who care about saving it. Expanding the whale’s critical habitat means that federal agencies are thinking more systemically about what the right whale needs not just to survive but to once again thrive – designating not only places where the whales congregate to forage, but also the places that are critical for mating and calving.

This expansion is also a terrific example of ocean use planning in action. Before announcing the final decision, NOAA, through its National Marine Fisheries Service, called for public dialogue and input about the proposed expansion. It also allowed for new information to guide and influence its decisions around how to manage and permit other activities (like clean energy projects or industrial exploration) in the expanded areas going forward.

Critical Habitat is Good; Permanent Protection is Better – and Necessary

Right whale calf and mother

Right calf and mother. ©Brian Skerry

According to NOAA, calling an area “critical habitat” means that it contains physical or biological features essential to the conservation of a particular species – and those features may require special management considerations or protection.

Federal agencies looking to issue permits or companies seeking permits have to work with NOAA to avoid or reduce impacts from their activities on critical habitats. But, a critical habitat designation isn’t as protective as it sounds. It’s more like a “caution” sign than a stop sign. The designation doesn’t establish a refuge for the right whale or its food sources. And it doesn’t specifically put the area off limits or dictate that certain activities cannot occur.

For endangered species, functional critical habitat is the key to survival. We understand this concept well on land. One ongoing success story is China’s giant panda. People around the world are working to secure permanent protections for its habitats to ensure survival of the species. The Nature Conservancy, for example, has worked with the Chinese government to protect 27,000 acres of Pingwu County for the benefit of just 10 giant pandas.

Today, approximately 1,800 giant pandas remain worldwide. In comparison, just over 500 individual North Atlantic right whales are struggling to survive. Yet we have failed to permanently protect even one acre of the habitat it needs to recover.

Considering that we know where some of the areas so critical to the North Atlantic right whale are, we need to ask why we’ve been successful in protecting lands critical for terrestrial species, but we haven’t given this same level of protection – or attention – to marine species. Cashes Ledge, a small area in the Gulf of Maine, is uniformly recognized as a scientific marine treasure, and already closed to most fishing. Permanently protecting this area would have little negative impact – yet the positive impact protection might have on the North Atlantic right whale could mean the difference between the species’ survival or its extinction.

Conservation Law Foundation believes that it is time to embrace the familiar land-based conservation principles and apply them, based on the best available scientific information, to permanently protect some of the most impressive and ecologically important ocean habitats and resources in the North Atlantic.

Dramatically expanding the critical habitat area for North Atlantic right whales was without question a good thing – and so was including Cashes Ledge in that designated area.

Let’s now take a good thing and make it even better by permanently protecting Cashes Ledge. Otherwise, this designation will just be a good thing that wasn’t quite good enough.

 

A Model for the Future: Maine Looks at Alternate Ways to Boost Solar Power Adoption

Dec 10, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

With leaders from around the world gathered in Paris for the international climate summit, CLF advocates are commenting on how what happens in Paris will impact what needs to happen here in New England to cut carbon, boost renewables, and protect our communities. Read the entire blog series.

Strategic investments in renewable energy sources will reduce our reliance on climate-changing fossil fuels.

Investments in renewable energy sources such as solar will reduce our reliance on climate-changing fossil fuels.

The world’s focus today is on how we can de-carbonize our power supply in ways that are good for people, our planet, and our global economy. There’s no question that solar power will play a key role in our transition to a clean-energy-fueled power grid here in the U.S. – but how to best adapt that grid to absorb dramatic growth in the number of solar-powered homes and businesses remains an open question.

Solar Adoption Growing Across New England
Here in New England, the costs for installing solar panels on rooftops and in sun-drenched fields have plummeted as interest in, and incentives for, their installation have soared. CLF helped to push the net metering policies in New England that have played such a big role in the growth of solar energy generation and with good reason – net metering allows home- and business owners to get credit from their local power company for any extra power their solar panels produce.

But as solar use grows, the business model that currently supports net metering could start to break down. If more people are generating their own electricity from the sun – and, in turn, buying less electricity from the grid – then the cost to upkeep and maintain power lines and transmission stations will fall on a smaller number of people who still rely on the grid for 100 percent of their electricity needs. In the long run, that might not be the fairest or most sustainable way of allocating those costs.

Studying the Alternatives
In New England, this potential issue has started to raise concern among a number of state legislatures. Right now, many states are dealing with the issue partly by limiting how much net-metered power is allowed on the grid. But that’s hardly the ideal solution, as it means that, sooner rather than later, those net metering caps will be met – capping the growth potential of the solar market, too. (Vermont, in fact, has already met its net metering cap for this year, and is already on track to meet it next year, too).

Legislators in Maine have decided to get ahead of this potential deterrent to more solar power in the state. In its last session, the legislature passed a resolve directing the state Public Utilities Commission to develop an alternative to net metering, one that would build a long-term business model to promote more solar installations for homes and businesses, while more fairly allocating both the costs and benefits.

The Commission began its efforts in late August by inviting a wide range of stakeholders, including CLF, to participate in a series of meetings to design this alternate model. In January, the Commission will present a report to the legislature with their recommended alternate model based on the input and comments from the stakeholder meetings.

Now is the Time to Scale Up, Not Back
Especially as we anticipate news from Paris about an international climate agreement, we know that limiting solar power in Maine or any other New England state is not an acceptable option. As CLF works with solar companies, the Office of the Public Advocate (who works on behalf of all electricity customers), and other clean energy advocates, we believe we will be able to craft a proposal that the Public Utilities Commission and, ultimately, the legislature will support and that will lead to the continued growth of solar generation in Maine. In the short term, we’ll continue to work to grow the solar market by increasing net metering caps across New England, while ensuring a fair and sustainable transition to a clean-energy economy in the years to come.

Follow CLF President Brad Campbell’s on-the-ground updates from the Paris Climate Summit on Twitter and the Huffington Post.

Local Food Innovation: A Win for Maine

Nov 25, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Innovation C.1

Arundel-based farmers and Legal Services Food Hub participants Frinklepod Farm pitch their business idea to the judges.

This past weekend, ten teams competed to win the first ever Maine Farm, Fish, and Food Innovation Challenge. What’s an “Innovation Challenge”? Think Top Chef for startup businesses aimed at expanding the sustainable distribution, processing, marketing, and aggregation of Maine foods.

Thirty-six participants representing 10 teams participated in the weekend event at Bowdoin College. Over the two supercharged days, a diverse group of creative teams workshopped their businesses over and over and over. On day two, each team got five minutes to make their pitch to a panel of expert judges.

This high-energy weekend had three big goals. First, to transform Maine into the sustainable food production engine for New England… and beyond. Second, to incentivize new businesses that bring more value to local farmers and fishermen. And, finally, to craft food business models that open new ways of getting our food from farm and sea to plate, while baking in social and environmental values.

Sounds great! How does CLF fit in?

CLF’s work in helping build a more sustainable and just food system throughout Maine and New England led to our involvement in the weekend event, for which we served on the planning committee. The Innovation Challenge involved a strong collaboration of several individuals and organizations. Long-time Maine entrepreneur Bill Seretta led the planning committee. Tom Settlemire – local legend, Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust board member, and biology and biochemistry professor at Bowdoin – co-chaired. In addition to CLF, representatives from Coastal Enterprises Inc., Drummond & Drummond, Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, the University of Southern Maine, and Bowdoin College filled out the planning committee.

We also helped the Innovation Challenge teams by providing assistance through our Legal Services Food Hub as they workshopped their ideas. The Hub provides pro bono legal assistance to lower income farmers, food entrepreneurs, and food-related organizations, and offers educational workshops and trainings about legal issues in the food system. Two of the teams that competed in the Challenge are receiving legal assistance through the Hub. Both The Farming Artists and Frinklepod Farm did a fantastic job pitching their farm businesses.

Innovation C.2

Long-time Maine entrepreneur Bill Serretta, who helped plan the Innovation Challenge, addresses the weekend crowd.

Our participation in this event highlights the valuable ripple effect of CLF’s Legal Services Food Hub. The Hub is seeding positive, sustainable growth for individual local farmers and food entrepreneurs, and finding creative ways to leverage this work to benefit our expanding regionally based food system.

Wins for innovation – and local Maine food

So, who won the Innovation Challenge? The judges faced a difficult task in deciding between so many creative ideas, from the company that’s using seaweed to craft completely new products, to the college students who developed an app that helps small farmers track data about their livestock. Before announcing the winners, Senator Angus King congratulated all the teams, and Barton Seaver, chef-extraordinaire and Director of Harvard’s Sustainable Seafood and Health Initiative, gave a thought-provoking presentation about fisheries and our food system.

In the end, the Maine Farm & Sea Cooperative and Forq Food Lab won the day. Both teams will receive $5,000 plus six hours of legal services. The Farm and Sea Cooperative is a broad coalition of Maine producers, fishermen, and citizens. It’s the nation’s first farm-to-institution food service cooperative working to bring control over our food system back to local communities. Forq Food Lab is striving to become Maine’s premier collaborative commercial kitchen for new and existing food businesses. It will provide shared equipment, serve as a business mentor, cater, and distribute its members’ innovative food products.

The New Beet Market and Frinklepod Farm tied for second place and will each receive $1,750 plus eight hours of consulting services.  Two student teams, AgriGatr, from Hampshire College, and the Darling Sea Farm, from the Darling Center, received Honorable Mention.

All ten teams showed great promise. CLF is proud to be helping more and more of these innovative food entrepreneurs grow our sustainable local food system. If these talented food system entrepreneurs succeed, all of us will be winners.

Can a Portland Food Policy Council Help Lead New England’s Food System?

Oct 28, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Portland's first-ever forums on local food brought together mayoral and city council candidates to talk about food issues in the city.

Portland’s first-ever forums on local food brought together mayoral and city council candidates to talk about food issues in the city.

For the first time in Portland’s history candidates for mayor and city council gathered over the last two nights to discuss all things food. Why? Because food touches everyone. The food system is the path food travels from field to fork and back again into production. It is a cycle that encompasses critical social and environmental issues – from hunger to healthy soils. Over the last decade Portland has become a center for creative and innovative food businesses. So it was particularly timely when candidates who will run the largest city in the state came together to debate vital issues about Portland’s rapidly growing locally based food system. With Portland being an economic driver of new food businesses in Maine, and the state once having been the breadbasket of New England, the question lingering in the air was: Can Portland become a leader in our region’s food system?

Conservation Law Foundation partnered with the University of Maine School of Law to host the forums, along with a diverse group of food businesses and organizations from around the state. Beforehand, CLF circulated a food policy survey to the 11 candidates. The survey served as a springboard for candidates to discuss city government’s role in addressing a wide range of issues: from food insecurity to zoning ordinances; from food production to wild foraging; from underutilized fish species to composting. The audience was treated to true grassroots civic engagement.

The resounding need that rose to the top of the list is for the city to implement a robust Food Policy Council. A Food Policy Council would serve as an advisory body to the city on everything related to the food system. With three legs – government; the private sector; and the community – the Council would provide a venue where all voices are heard and welcomed around the table.

A report just released by Harvard University’s Maine Food Cluster Project underscores the need for just such government collaboration to grow New England’s food system. A quasi-governmental Food Policy Council would leverage Portland’s food economy to become the economic engine for Maine and beyond. By bringing all parts of the food system under one coordinated body, it would also bridge the gap between issues that are often addressed in isolation, such as hunger on the one hand and growing our farm, fish, and food-based businesses on the other.

Fortunately, this effort already has a solid foundation. In 2012, Mayor Michael Brennan, who running for re-election, helped launched the Mayor’s Initiative for a Healthy and Sustainable Food System. The Initiative has brought over $100,000 into Portland to address a variety of food-related issues, set a goal for Portland’s school system to source 50% of its food from local farms, and expanded the city’s community gardens, among many other achievements.

Now is time for the Initiative to evolve into a fully formed Portland Food Policy Council. CLF is facilitating this process by crafting the foundation and structural documents for the Council through an iterative process with stakeholders and the community.

Thanks to the last two nights, candidates have these crucial issues on their radar, including the need for a Food Policy Council that capitalizes on opportunities and addresses challenges in our food economy. By helping to create the Council, CLF is working to ensure that the city prioritizes key farm, fish, and food related issues well into the future and takes a lead role in growing New England’s food system.

Hundreds show to comment on Marine National Monument proposal

Sep 16, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

CLF President Bradley Campbell addresses the crowd at the NOAA Town Hall meeting on Sept. 15, 2015

CLF President Bradley Campbell addresses the crowd at the NOAA Town Hall meeting on Sept. 15, 2015

Last night, more than 400 people attended a meeting at the Marriott in downtown Providence to discuss the possibility of a Marine National Monument in New England. Facilitated by NOAA, the meeting drew people from every corner of New England who are invested in gaining permanent protection for the Cashes Ledge Area and the New England Canyons and Seamounts.

Over the course of three hours, we heard from aquaria, fishermen, conservationists, scientists, faith leaders, business leaders, and concerned citizens. The majority of speakers, including many representing fishing interests, acknowledged the fragility and importance of the places being discussed.

Though most within the fishing industry opposed a Monument designation, many commented about the importance of keeping the Cashes Ledge area closed. The regional fishery management process is not perfect, but it is clear the New England Fishery Management Council recognizes the importance of Cashes Ledge. As one speaker noted, ultimately, we all share the same end goal: To ensure a healthy and sustainable ocean, with healthy habitats and healthy commercial fish populations.

Monument designation about more than fishing

And while there was agreement that these areas are in need of protection, some were opposed to the President using executive authority to designate an area as a Monument, citing it as an overreach of power. However, as another speaker noted, sometimes a place is of such importance that the only way to ensure it’s not lost is through a tool like the Antiquities Act.

Kelp Forest and Cod at Cashes Ledge; 70-miles off the coast of Maine

Photo by Brian Skerry

Cashes Ledge and the coral canyons and seamounts are two such places. And, in the end, commercial fishing isn’t the only human activity threatening their future. We need to safeguard these fragile seascapes from sand and gravel mining, oil digging, and other potentially destructive activities. A Monument designation will build on the existing protections for these invaluable ocean resources by the Fishery Management Council – and make them permanent.

Ultimately, it’s not the fishery management council’s duty or responsibility to preserve the scientifically important biodiversity at Cashes Ledge – nor should it be!

Conservation Law Foundation President Bradley Campbell, who joined the organization just last week, reiterated this point. “Even if the council is doing its job perfectly, it has no mandate to consider natural beauty, no mandate to consider scientific value, and no mandate to protect biodiversity or to protect jobs other than fishing jobs. So there comes a time when there are resources that are so exceptional, they’re outside the stove pipe of any given agency – and that’s what the Antiquities Act is there for.”

Regional Ocean Planning

Concerns about the Regional Ocean Planning process in New England were also brought to the podium, with some saying that a Monument designation undermines the ongoing ocean planning process. However, President Obama has publicly noted that ocean management and the designation of protected areas are concurrent priorities for his legacy. We at CLF are strongly committed to the regional ocean planning process, and are glad to have an Administration that recognizes the importance of both of these priorities.

Still Time to Make Your Voice Heard

Marine Monument protection for the Cashes Ledge Closed Area and the New England Canyons and Seamounts is within reach. Fortunately, NOAA has kept open the timeframe for public comments. Sign our petition here to let the Administration know why you support saving these ocean treasures for generations to come.

 

Experts Weigh In: Maine Doesn’t Need New Gas Pipelines

Jul 17, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

This week consultants hired by the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) concluded that Maine should not enter into contracts to purchase gas pipeline capacity because the costs of doing so would outweigh the benefits to Mainers.

In many ways, this was a foregone conclusion – one that CLF predicted nearly a year ago and that the PUC itself (unofficially) reached before soliciting proposals from pipeline companies and spending taxpayer dollars on a lengthy consultant’s report. It’s a cautionary tale not just for Maine but for all of New England as the region weighs its energy future – and decides whether it will overinvest in natural gas or blaze a trail based on cleaner, renewable resources.

This process all started back in March 2014. After a cold winter sparked region-wide fears of an imminent shortage of natural gas to power our homes and businesses, Maine’s PUC was tasked with determining whether the state should contract for additional gas capacity under the Maine Energy Cost Reduction Act (MECRA). The PUC approached this work in two phases: first, soliciting and examining evidence and testimony from a variety of interested parties, including CLF, as to the need and economics of gas pipeline capacity procurement. And, second, if the economics made sense, to request proposals from pipeline companies.

CLF testified before the PUC as it gathered the evidence and data it would need to make their determination. We reasoned that Maine should not enter into new contracts with pipeline companies – both because the legal basis for them was suspect (the investment in these new projects would have been paid for by ratepayers, which is unprecedented and risky) and because the costs – to our wallets and our climate – would ultimately outweigh the benefits to consumers.

PUC staff agreed with the economic argument in their own preliminary report, but the Commission nonetheless went ahead and accepted supply proposals from pipeline companies. As required by MECRA, the PUC hired an independent consultant, London Economics International (LEI), to examine these proposals. The consultant’s detailed report compared scenarios in which the state didn’t contract for additional pipeline and ones in which it did (based on the actual proposals the state had received).

LEI’s analysis reinforces both CLF’s testimony and comments and the PUC’s own staff report issued during the first phase of this proceeding: The costs of any contract for Maine to buy natural gas pipeline capacity trumps the benefits. In fact, LEI concluded that, even without Maine entering into a gas contract, gas prices should drop by 25% for Maine customers over the next few years due to already planned, market-based gas capacity expansions. The group also found that electricity prices should drop by 15% due to these lowering gas prices.

The LEI report rightly calls into question whether the PUC should have accepted proposals from gas companies in the first place – a process that has been costly to all participants, expended valuable resources of the PUC, and resulted in no different a conclusion than the PUC’s own staff analysis.

Maine law requires that, for any contracts like these proposed expansions, the benefits must outweigh the costs. The conclusions drawn by the PUC’s expert consultant in their report should prevent Maine from entering into such a contract any time soon.

Ultimately, there’s a larger lesson here – one for every state in the region considering its electricity future. Over this year-long process, the PUC spent hundreds of thousands of (tax-payer) dollars on experts and an intense, litigation-like process, only for their experts to conclude what was readily apparent at the outset – that subsidizing the gas industry on the backs of ratepayers is a bad idea, both economically and for the environment.

Those gas shortage fears that sparked this whole process in the first place ended up being completely unfounded over this past winter. Since then the economics of the energy markets have started to shift, with wholesale electric prices declining by 50% over the past year alone. Meanwhile, energy efficiency is decreasing the need for energy resources, fuel-free renewables are supplanting polluting power plants, and liquefied natural gas has become cost-competitive and available at times of peak need. With at least two new small-scale pipeline projects already set to come on-line and reduce energy costs even more over the next two years, now is the time for the New England states to invest in the stability of the cleanest energy future we can create – one that weans us off of natural gas within the next 35 years.

UPDATE: Take Action: Restore Energy Efficiency Funding in Maine

Jun 23, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

UPDATE: Governor LePage vetoed the revised bill on Tuesday, June 23, but the state legislature voted overwhelmingly to override his veto that same night. “With their override vote, the legislature has served the best interest of all Mainers by restoring funding for energy efficiency,” CLF’s Executive Vice President, Sean Mahoney, said in a statement.

From here, it’s up to the Public Utilities Commission to draft a new rule that will properly fund energy efficiency. Thank you to everyone who contacted their legislators and asked them to stand strong on efficiency in Maine. Your voice made a difference.

My original blog post follows:

Do you like wasting energy? How about paying more for electricity? What about leaving nearly $200 million in energy savings on the table every year because a single “and” was accidentally left out of a law?

Who would say “yes” to any of those questions? Governor Paul LePage.

If Governor LePage gets his way, then Maine will leave more than $200 million in energy savings

If Governor LePage gets his way, then Maine will leave more than $200 million in energy savings on the table.

With one stroke of his veto pen, Governor LePage plans to wipe out $38 million in funding for energy efficiency in Maine by vetoing a bill that simply restores the missing “and” into the law.

Contact your state legislators today. Tell them to stand behind their decision to restore energy efficiency funding. Tell them to override LePage’s veto.

Less energy efficiency funding means losing hundreds of jobs. It means fewer residential homes and commercial businesses in Maine will be able to install energy efficient light bulbs and HVAC equipment. It means fewer energy assessments to help Mainers reduce their electricity bills. It means fewer rebates for solar panel installation. And the list goes on. Energy efficiency fuels our economy. It’s the foundation of a strong energy future. The stakes could not be higher.

Here’s the back story on how energy efficiency funding has come under threat and why it’s so important that you act now:

Efficiency Maine Trust lost $38 million in funding due to an accidental omission of the word “and” when the Maine legislature passed the Omnibus Energy Act in 2013. The legislature has now wisely acted to correct that error and passed LD 1215, an act that restores the missing “and.” The bill to restore energy efficiency funding received nearly unanimous support from the Maine legislature! But Gov. LePage is threatening to veto it.

LePage’s threat to veto is nonsensical. Energy efficiency measures not only benefit the environment and help address climate change, but they also save the state — and all of us — money!

Luckily, the Maine legislature has the power to override Governor LePage’s veto. Tell your legislators to do what’s best for Maine and vote to override LePage’s veto. The veto could come anytime today. The legislature could vote to override it in the next 48 hours. So please act now!

Please contact your Maine legislators immediatelyThis is an opportunity to thank your senator and representative for their initial vote (the lone vote against the bill came from Rep. Ricky Long) and let them know how important it is that they override a veto.

Take action to restore energy efficiency today! 

 

Farmers and Lawyers: A Match Made in Maine

May 26, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Noah Fralich moved back home to Maine with one ambition: to open a business on his family’s land in New Gloucester. His fledgling cidery business was just getting off the ground when he hit a snag – the name of his business was already trademarked by someone else. Now, in the midst of trying to grow his business, he was confronting a significant legal issue, with limited means to afford a lawyer to help him solve the problem.

(150415-79)--New Gloucester, ME--April 15, 2015--Norumbega Cidery--Noah Fralich, Norumbega Cidery LLC, a Legal Services Food Hub participant, 402 Woodman Road, New Gloucester, ME 04260, filling and capping 22 ounce bottles one by one.  © George Waldman

Noah Fralich from Norumbega Cidery is just one small food business benefitting from the Legal Services Food Hub. © George Waldman

Noah’s not alone. Like many small businesses, farmers and food entrepreneurs in Maine have a slew of legal needs that, if not addressed properly from the outset, can lead to big problems down the road. Ensuring that our local food producers not only survive but also thrive will strengthen our environment, our communities, and our economy.

Enter CLF’s Legal Services Food Hub.

CLF developed the Legal Services Food Hub to help local farmers and food entrepreneurs like Noah overcome the legal hurdles associated with running a small business. We match eligible farmers, food entrepreneurs, and food-related organizations with skilled attorneys, who provide their assistance pro bono.

The Hub officially launched in Maine on May 18. Noah was among a packed house of 80 guests who joined us for this special event at the Portland law offices of Verrill Dana. Congresswoman Chellie Pingree — a farmer herself — gave the keynote address, telling the group about the importance of local agriculture and supporting food producers through this project.

Ali Tozier, Rep. Chellie Pingree, and Stephen Wagner

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (center) keynoted the launch. Maine Law students Ali Tozier (left) and Stephen Wagner (right) helped develop our legal guide for attorneys.

The Hub has been running successfully in Massachusetts for a year, where we have served a variety of innovative farmers and food businesses through our extensive network of attorneys. In Maine, our attorney network is growing quickly and already includes the largest firms in the state down to small partnerships and solo practitioners. To help Maine lawyers get a better grasp of the issues that farm and food businesses may confront, CLF collaborated with the University of Maine School of Law to develop a legal guide for attorneys in our network.

From Noah’s cidery to a decades-old organic farm trying to ensure their land remains protected for farming, the people that we’ve helped highlight why such a need for quality legal assistance exists – and the difference that help is already making.

If you are an attorney interested in getting your hands dirty – in the best possible sense – join our expanding network around the state. If you’re a farmer or food entrepreneur who needs help, contact us today.

Together, we can grow our local food system and support the hard-working farmers and food entrepreneurs who make it all possible.