AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Gov. Paul LePage's administration urged lawmakers on Tuesday to support a proposal to use money generated from increased logging on public lands to fund a program to help Maine residents boost energy efficiency and lower their heating bills.
The Republican governor's administration said it's introducing a new bill this week that would put $1 million per year from the timber revenue into a fund for residents who invest in modern heating equipment, like heat pumps and or new insulation systems. LePage criticized lawmakers for stalling a similar measure introduced by Senate Democratic Leader Troy Jackson.
Patrick Woodcock, director of LePage's Energy Office, said this winter's extremely cold temperatures combined with Maine's antiquated heating systems have "compounded what's usually a struggle" for Maine families to afford heating "into a crisis."
"Right now, Maine people are freezing and we are doing nothing about it," LePage said.
Maine's Department of Agriculture, Conversation and Forestry spokesman John Bott said Tuesday that the department has internally agreed to increase the harvest on public lands from 115,000 cords to 141,000 cords this fiscal year that ends in June, and then gradually raise it to 180,000 cords by 2016.
But that plan is getting pushback from groups like the Natural Resources Council of Maine, which says it will result in "unstainable overcutting on lands valued for their wildlife habitat, backcountry recreation and high-qualify timber."
"Taking money from the woods and lands that are held in public trust is a bad idea," said Dylan Voorhees, clean energy project director for the organization. "Our public lands are not an ATM machine for us to fund programs, whether they're good programs or bad ones."
LePage bashed lawmakers for focusing solely on solar energy this session, which he said will do nothing to help Maine residents with their heating bills.
A measure in the Legislature would restore a rebate for those who install solar systems, which had been in place since 2010 until it ran out last year. The proposal would add about 60 cents a year to homeowners' utility bills.