Under the Dome: Inside the Maine State House provides a high-level overview of recent activity at the Maine State House.
New Interim DEP Commissioner
On Tuesday, September 8, at 4:30 pm Avery Day was sworn in as Acting Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection. He will continue to retain his responsibilities as Senior Natural Resources Policy Advisor to Governor LePage while serving as Acting Commissioner. Acting Commissioner Day was formerly an attorney with Pierce Atwood and author of Under the Dome.
No Funds for Land for Maine’s Future
Bonds approved by Maine voters for the Land for Maine’s Future (“LMF”) program have been consistently withheld by Governor LePage. $6.5 million that was approved in 2010 has now expired and would require reauthorization by the Legislature to be issued. $5 million approved in 2012 is still being withheld by the governor and the $2 million currently in LMF’s account was frozen this week. Applicants who have sought funding from LMF received letters this week letting them know that all money is currently unavailable. Governor LePage has been open about the fact that he is withholding all funds as part of a political scheme to increase timber harvesting on state-owned land to subsidize heating costs for the economically disadvantaged.
Riverview Funding Still in Limbo
The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee met with Maine Commissioner of Health and Human Services Mary Mayhew this week to discuss the future of the Riverview Psychiatric Center. Riverview lost its federal certification and funding after an audit in 2013. Commissioner Mayhew indicated that the state would be responsible for the costs of running the facility if it did not become federally recertified. Currently the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have provided more than $30 million since the decertification and Maine may have to refund this amount. The Riverview facility cannot obtain federal recertification so long as it houses forensic patients. The current administration has offered a proposal, which would involve removing the forensic patients from Riverview to a privately run facility, but legislators believe the proposal is lacking detail. This issue will be taken up again when the Legislature reconvenes in January 2016.
“Grandfathered” Health Plans Becoming Expensive
When the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) was first rolled out, several individual insurance plans were “grandfathered” even though they failed to meet all of ACA’s standards. Mainers who chose to stay with a “grandfathered” plan then may face significant premium increases in the coming year while most ACA plans in Maine have premiums that will rise by less than one percent in 2016. This increase is thought to be caused by more people selecting ACA plans leaving fewer people in the “grandfathered” plans and thus increasing the risk held by the insurance companies. The next open enrollment period for ACA plans starts on November 1, 2015.
Grant for Energy Projects Won
Maine was one of 11 states that recently won a portion of a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. Maine’s part of the award, $285,000, is to be used to develop a strategy that will help achieve the Governor’s Energy Office goals: (1) reduce electricity use by 30 percent by 2020; (2) reduce oil use by 30 percent by 2030; and (3) weatherize all homes and 50 percent of businesses by 2030.
DEP and EPA at Odds Over Water Quality Standards
Currently Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) is authorized to issue, and monitor compliance of, federal wastewater discharge permits, including permits issued to Maine Indian tribes and to waters in Indian lands. However, Maine’s Indian tribes would prefer that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) have authority over Indian lands and waters. Lawsuits in recent years have given DEP the authority over Indian waters and land but earlier this year EPA demanded that DEP draft more restrictive water quality standards for Indian waters within 90 days of the demand. The Governor’s administration responded with letters to EPA threatening to turn over all authority to EPA, which would likely cause significant delays in permit drafting and approvals.