Wind dealings in Legislature prove Maine democracy is an illusion
Bangor Daily News
By Alan Farago, Special to the BDN
Posted Jan. 13, 2015, at 10:16 a.m.
The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting recently published a damning report detailing how easily the Maine Legislature bends to the wind power industry.
In “LD 1750: A study in how special interests get their way in the Maine legislature,” Pine Tree Watchdog reporters detail how Juliet Browne, First Wind’s lawyer, sent former Senate President Justin Alfond suggested text for an amendment relating to a wind power bill. Alfond ultimately adopted all 248 words she supplied, changing nothing.
Neighbors of wind turbines on Vinalhaven have a different story and outcome to tell. In 2013, they proposed a single legislative change, to require that all Maine wind turbines conform to noise limits set by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in 2012; 42 dbA instead of the previous 45 dbA at nighttime.
After a series of public hearings by the Bureau of Environmental Protection, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection lowered wind turbine noise limits slightly. Lobbyists such as Juliet Browne, cited by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, actively opposed and testified against the minimal change.
Turbine noise makes some people very sick. Turbine noise forces some people to abandon their homes and suffer real financial loss. One wind turbine neighbor testified that every night she told her children to say their prayers and then gave them sleeping pills.
The Vinalhaven neighbors’ proposal for the Legislature in 2013, LD 1741, was only 74 words. Not 248. Its purpose: “[to ensure] that reductions in the sound level limits adopted by rule by the Department of Environmental Protection for the routine operation of wind energy developments are applied to previously approved wind energy developments. This bill directs the Board of Environmental Protection to modify an existing license for a wind energy development to implement sound level standards that were adopted by rule subsequent to the approval of the wind energy development.”
All they wanted with those 74 words was not to be treated worse than other Maine neighbors of wind turbines.
In contrast to the legislative carte blanche provided to the wind power industry, Vinalhaven wind turbine neighbors had a single state representative, former Department of Environmental Protection staffer Dennis Keschl, willing to help. Neighbors spent hours in meetings and telephone calls and meetings again, over weeks and months, trying to make sure that the language we proposed was suitable for committee review. They didn’t even make it to first base.
The proposed bill was introduced by Keschl. It then withered and died. Vinalhaven neighbors might be isolated on the island, but they are hardly alone.
In the Maine Center report, “Lexington Township resident [Alan] Michka reflected on how hard it has been for citizens like him to gain traction in the statehouse. Michka said, ‘I will tell you one thing that a legislator said to me, a Democratic legislator. He told me, ‘We don’t want you here. We say we do, we act like we do and we welcome you, but in truth we don’t want you here. In truth you clog up the works and make us feel bad.’”
Legislators ought to try having their home equity, health and quality of life hijacked: see how that feels.
The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting found:
— Wind industry lobbyists and lawyers enjoyed unfettered access to Alfond and his staff before and while the bill made its way through the Legislature.
— Wind industry lawyers and lobbyists provided the text of the bill at Alfond’s invitation.
— Alfond relied on the industry to direct him and his staff as the legislation was written, rewritten and debated.
— Alfond and his staff asked wind industry insiders to help them manage uncooperative Democrats who didn’t like the bill and strategized with them about who should testify in favor of the bill.
When pressured by such disclosures, legislators often resort to the argument that they are just ordinary citizens elected to public office and need industry experts to help frame complicated matters, but dozens of citizen initiatives related to the broader siting issues of wind turbines in Maine suffered the same outcome as the Vinalhaven wind turbine neighbors.
Placed alongside the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, these examples offer insight how democracy in Maine is a shadow government operated by crony capitalists.
Vinalhaven wind turbine neighbors have tried everything to obtain a small measure of fairness, but instead of fairness, they were dealt a lesson like a slap: unless you shovel a lot of money at elections, you don’t get a seat at the table or a shot at protecting your health or property values or civil rights.
Alan Farago lives in Vinalhaven and Coral Gables, Florida. He is president of Friends of the Everglades.