Opinion

LePage is worse for tourism than renewable energy

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Gov. Paul LePage cannot simply wave his arms and make laws — or the truth — disappear.
Though he often attempts both.

Last week, the governor issued an executive order creating a secret wind energy panel and placing a moratorium on new wind projects in the state (except for part of Aroostook County, maybe). He cited his concern for tourism.

Hogwash in a butter churn.

Executive orders, issued unilaterally by the governor — any governor — cannot overturn existing state laws and regulations. For that, you need an act of the Legislature.

Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills agrees.

So does the Conservation Law Foundation, which sued the governor earlier this week, claiming his misfire of an executive order violates the Constitution’s separation of powers provisions.

While the moratorium certainly isn’t legal, it nonetheless has power. It’s a clear statement of intent to potential investors in Maine’s renewable energy sector that the governor will use whatever legal — or extralegal — maneuvers he can dream up to block projects.

The governor is clear. He doesn’t want solar, and he doesn’t want wind. He double-crossed Statoil and ended a partnership that could have brought a $120 million investment to the state and made Maine a world leader in offshore wind energy. Now, he’s trying to double-cross the University of Maine, which has its own offshore energy project. He’s single handedly blocked smart solar policy and he’s taking one last swing at wind power on his way out the door.

He’s also made clear what he does want.

He wants oil rigs off Maine’s coast and continues to chase the elusive white whale of “cheap” electricity from hydro projects in Canada. Spoiler alert: Nobody gives energy away for a bargain.
Meanwhile, the planet continues to warm, our fisheries are put at stake, the bugs keep getting worse and the governor keeps telling lies.

On Maine Public on Tuesday, the governor taught a master’s class in deception. At one point, he claimed that it was “fake news” that his wind task force is exempted from the state’s open meetings and open records laws.

That’s a lie, and Maine Public followed up with a story saying as much. The executive order clearly attempts to exempt the proceedings from scrutiny. To quote the governor’s order itself, “the meetings of this Review Panel are not ‘public proceedings’ subject to Maine’s Freedom of Access Act.”

Beyond the illegality of his order and his lies about creating a secret panel, the governor goes further and cloaks his motives by saying he’s concerned for tourism.

It’s not believable.

During a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C., last year, LePage could not talk about the economic impact of tourism on Maine’s economy. He drew a blank.

He described a beautiful part of the state as a “mosquito area,” not exactly the tagline the Maine Office of Tourism was looking for, I’m sure. The office calls the region the Maine Highlands. That sounds better than “mosquito area.”

In fact, his entire purpose for attending the hearing was to attack the creation of a new national monument in the state that has the potential to draw tens of thousands of tourist to Maine’s interior. (Disclosure: I worked for five years to help create the monument, and I’ve supported wind projects, generally and specifically.)

Meanwhile, the governor supports drilling for oil along Maine’s coast, where the majority of our tourists go. Never mind the oil rigs and potential spills that coat beaches and destroy fisheries, which are real threats to tourism.

So color me skeptical when I read the governor’s rationale. It’s a convenient excuse. Nothing more.

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument has been mentioned by almost every major media outlet in the country. It’s been included in must visit lists by CNN and is already having a positive impact on the region and the community.

But I dare you to find it mentioned on the state’s tourism website. And, in fact, the governor refuses to even allow signs to be put up pointing the way.

After the governor’s executive order was made public, the director of his energy office admitted that they don’t have any data to support the contention that wind turbines hurt tourism.

I don’t have any hard data on this, either, but if you talk badly about your own state on national television, lie constantly and generally embarrass Maine with your radical and racist ideas, that probably hurts tourism, too.

But unlike an illegal wind moratorium, the governor has the power to make an immediate change.

He could just stop talking.

David Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s 2014 campaign for governor.

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