January 7 Work Session on LD 891, An Act to Amend the Site Location of Development Laws to Include Consideration of Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The Legislature’s Committee on Natural Resources will take up the LD 891 greenhouse gas emission standard in a work session on January 7, 2010, at 1:00 p.m.  This carry-over bill, if enacted in its present form, will add a new standard to the Site Law, requiring applicants to demonstrate that their project will not result in “unreasonable emissions of greenhouse gases.”  The full text of the bill can be found here:  http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/bills/bills_124th/billpdfs/SP034101.pdf

Action on this bill will be rapid.  As a carry-over bill, LD 891 is required to be reported out of Committee by Friday, January 22; leadership has indicated they will be holding committees to this schedule.

It is extremely important that interested parties make their concerns about this proposal known to the Committee members.  We encourage anybody interested in or concerned about the passage of this bill to come to the work session on January 7, and to contact members of the Committee, as follows:

Issues to stress in discussions with legislators might include topics such as the following:

  • This is the wrong time in our State to impose significant new requirements under the Site Law.  We need to be attracting development, not hindering it.
    • This measure is premature.  Let other processes play out at the federal and state levels before trying to tackle this issue through the Site Law.
    • The impact of this proposal on overall greenhouse gas emissions, and climate change, would be negligible.  Climate change is a global issue; we are at the “end of the line” for carbon emissions, nationally, and Site Law projects represent a minuscule contribution.
  • The proposal is overly vague and extremely broad in its impacts.  What is meant by “unreasonable emissions of greenhouse gases”?  What is meant by directing DEP to consider “factors related to the location, design, construction and operation of the development, including but not limited to, land use, transportation, building materials, building energy usage, energy conservation policies and actions, and solid waste”?
  • The law seems designed to allow DEP to micromanage many different aspects of development.  DEP’s preliminary draft rules to implement this legislation bear this out, and go well beyond what is contemplated by the legislation.
  • The proposal to require compensation for clearing of trees is of great concern.  Maine is 90% forested, and doing more than its share to sequester carbon.  This proposal would put Maine’s economic development efforts at a disadvantage compared to other, less forested states.
    • Applicants are already required to avoid impacts to other resources, including wetlands, vernal pools and waterfowl habitat.  It becomes virtually impossible to avoid clearing trees for development, given all of the other siting constraints.
    • Other regulations, such as required setbacks and buffers and lot coverage restrictions, already preserve significant natural vegetation.
    • This proposal could push more development to open fields, increasing loss of farmland and visual impacts.
    • The number of trees that are removed for development is small, especially compared to the number of trees that the state is encouraging to be removed through subsidized biomass burning - these policies are in conflict. 
  • This bill should not be passed this session, and especially not in its current form.  If the Legislature feels passing something on this issue is critical, the approach should be completely voluntary and incentive-based, rather than imposing a vague, but mandatory standard.  The focus should also be limited to building energy efficiency and site design, rather than location and land use.
  • Many good ideas regarding possible incentive-based approaches are being discussed, but in this short session there is insufficient time to refine the concepts.  A better approach would be to mandate a process to study and formulate incentive-based proposals.
  • All rules proposed by DEP to implement the Site Law should be major substantive, requiring approval by the Legislature.

On a related matter, Andy Fisk, the Director of DEP’s Bureau of Land and Water Quality, has stated recently that DEP expects to release revised drafts of the proposed Site Law regulatory amendments by early February, with additional opportunities for stakeholder comment followed by formal rulemaking through Spring 2010.