Friday, February 29, 2008

Lawmakers turn attention to energy

Sun Journal

By Rebekah Metzler , Staff Writer
Friday, February 29, 2008

AUGUSTA - Maine legislators focused on energy conservation and regulation during several public hearings Thursday.

Members of the Natural Resources Committee heard testimony from energy and environmental experts concerning three bills, and members of the Business, Research and Economic Development Committee heard testimony on another energy bill.

The first energy bill heard before the Natural Resources Committee aimed to cap carbon dioxide emissions of new energy plants in Maine.

"Right now, nationwide, carbon dioxide is not regulated," said Steve Hinchman, an attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation of Brunswick, before the Natural Resource Committee.

Hinchman was one of several to testify in favor of a bill that would regulate coal or electric generating facilities to match their level of carbon dioxide emissions to that of natural gas energy plants. Carbon dioxide gas is known to contribute to global warming.

The committee also heard testimony by state Sen. Ethan Strimling, D-Cumberland, on behalf of his controversial bill to ban incandescent light bulbs by 2010. Strimling sought a ban the bulbs because of their contribution to global warming.

"Maine has always been an environmental leader, and now is the time for real leadership," Strimling said.

Opponents of Strimling's bill said fluorescent bulbs, the most popular replacement for incandescents on the market so far, contain mercury and could cause health problems if broken or not disposed of properly.

The final, and least contested, bill heard before the Natural Resources Committee would make minor revisions to laws regulating the regional greenhouse gas initiative.

"They are all fairly minor changes, but necessary," said David Littell, commissioner of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

Down the hall in another committee room, legislators heard public testimony on a bill seeking to save homeowners money as well as conserve energy.

State Sen. Phil Bartlett, D-Cumberland, presented the bill to the Committee on Business, Research and Economic Development. It would require new residential and commercial buildings be built to higher energy efficiency standards and would also provide a tax credit for homes that reach the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star high-performance rating.

"The cost savings to Maine residents if energy codes are applied are significant," said Sue Inches, the deputy director of the Maine State Planning Office.

Inches said under existing state law towns enforce energy codes on an optional basis, creating a "patchwork quilt" of regulation.

Jeffrey Austin, spokesman for the Maine Municipal Association, said the bill needs additional work and recommended the committee reject it in favor of "forthcoming" legislation.

"Municipal officials understand the goal of the bill and are supportive of an alternative approach to this issue," Austin said.

All four pieces of legislation will be scheduled for work sessions next week before being voted on by their respective committees.

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