Does saving bureaucracy equal saving the environment?

Letters to the Portland Phoenix editors, June 1, 2012

Lance Tapley's article, "Lawmakers Mostly Stand Up Against Environmental Assault" (May 25) claims that Natural Resources Committee (NRC) Chair, Senator Tom Saviello, may have saved Maine's environment this session, along with a few "moderate" Republicans like senators Roger Katz and Chris Rector, representatives Bradley Moulton and Dennis Keschl, and Democrats like Senator Seth Goodall. The article infers that this group makes up a "surprising environmentalist majority" in the State House.

The act that apparently most determined one's commitment to the environment was the fact that Saviello and other "environmentalists" kept control much of rural Maine in the hands of the unelected Land Use Regulation Commission. LURC has repeatedly pandered to heavily subsidized out-of-state investors at the expense of the local economy and environment. Enforcement actions have been primarily against small landowners and family businesses.

Meanwhile, the Department of Environmental Protection has been rapidly approving major developments that can't help but negatively impact Maine's environment, with many of the most serious decisions being made outside of the legislature and within the department, without public hearings or votes.

Senators Saviello and Goodall, both now lauded by groups like NRCM, were backers of amendments to LD1, 2011's Regulatory Reform Bill, that restructured the Board of Environmental Protection. The BEP serves as a venue for members of the public to have input on rulemaking and permitting that does not go through the legislature. The amendments transferred most of the board's powers to the commissioner of the DEP and took away some of the last existing opportunities for public input on rules, enforcement, and permitting.

These changes most recently played out following DEP approval for major expansion of Casella Waste Systems' Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town. Several members of the public who live near the dump filed appeals with the BEP of the Public Benefit approval issued by Commissioner Patty Aho, a former lobbyist for Casella (and donor to Saviello's past election). Casella challenged the legal standing of the appellants. The standing of one person was removed due to changes from LD 1 that took away the ability for the public or BEP to suggest modifications to a permit, and placed the power solely with the commissioner, who also issues the permit.

The article doesn't mention of the investigation of contracts between Casella and the state, which the Government Oversight Committee took up this last session. The GOC is continuing to gather information to determine whether OPEGA (the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, which previously investigated the Maine Turnpike Authority and Casella's Maine Green Energy Alliance) should conduct an in-depth review and audit of possible misdealings in contracts between Casella and the state of Maine.

Senator Saviello has stated there are more important things for OPEGA to deal with than misdealings between Casella and the state, and claimed that none of the towns had complained about the landfill. The senator's claim was challenged by residents of the surrounding towns.

At the end of session, legislators attempted to ram through LD 1911, a bill that was a golden parachute for Casella. Casella was to sell its incinerator, MERC, to the city of Biddeford, while transferring ownership of the Juniper Ridge dump from the state to Casella. This would remove any remaining limits on the amount of out-of-state garbage that could be dumped there, allowing the company to import trash to Old Town from Massachusetts and New Hampshire that was being burned at MERC. That bill did not pass, but is expected to return at the beginning of next session.

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Related: Lessons learned, Looking ahead, Letters to the Portland Editor: July 10, 2009, More more >
  Topics: Letters , Natural Resources Committee, Tom Saviello, Roger Katz,  More more >
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