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Another “fee” on heating oil proposed in Maine Legislature, will be heard this week

Rep. Christopher Kessler (D – South Portland) is proposing a new fee on heating oil in the Maine Legislature. Kessler is an energy auditor with Nova Consulting, a firm that works
as a “Qualified Partner” with the organization that would benefit from the
proceeds of the fee Kessler is proposing.

AUGUSTA – After facing stiff opposition to numerous efforts to raise taxes on gasoline, heating oil and other fuels, a Democrat State Representative is now proposing a new “fee” on home heating oil, propane, coal, kerosene and dyed diesel fuel.

Rep. Christopher Kessler, a Democrat from South Portland is proposing the new fee in his bill, L.D. 1231, which would apply at the wholesale level, virtually guaranteeing a pass-through cost increase to residential and business consumers, and putting state and municipal governments and public schools on the line for higher costs as well.

The impetus for this proposed fee is to provide greater funding for energy efficiency programs. Rep. Kessler’s 2018 financial disclosure form filed as a state lawmaker says he works as an “Energy Auditor” for Nova Consulting.

Nova Consulting’s website says they are a “Qualified Partner” with Efficiency Maine, the quasi-governmental state agency that would receive the funding from Kessler’s new fee on heating fuel.

Opponents of increasing fuel taxes and fees to fund energy efficiency programs point out that it amounts to a tax on low-income Mainers who can’t afford to access sometimes costly programs through Efficiency Maine and instead have to take a Do-It-Yourself approach for their homes while paying to subsidize businesses and upper middle-class and wealthy homeowners.

The non-profit’s air sealing rebate, which requires a co-pay of $200 and outlay of up to $600 to acquire the rebate of $400 after a home energy assessment, or rebates of 30% on other projects only when completed by an Efficiency Maine Residential Registered Vendor.

Other opportunities through Efficiency Maine require thousands of dollars in up front investment to receive the rebate. An example on the Efficiency Maine website shows a $3,750 heat pump investment receiving a $500 rebate.

The proposal would require the proceeds from the new fee to be put into the Heating Fuels Efficiency and Weatherization Fund, which provides the rebates mentioned above, as well as making funding available for commercial interests.

“This bill proposes to put a tax on every fuel sold in Maine,” said Rep. Jeff Hanley (R – Pittston). “It will increase costs for every individual, family and business in Maine. It is one of many proposals that will slow the economy and make it harder for people to live and work here.”

Other attempts by liberal Democrats in Augusta to impose taxes on gasoline, heating oil and other fuels have ranged from claims they would pass along rebates through other programs to consumers after removing administrative costs, and ostensibly, for infrastructure projects.

In early March, a large contingent of Mainers showed up at a public hearing to oppose a carbon tax proposal from Rep. Deane Rykerson (D – Kittery) that would have imposed a 40-cent per gallon tax on gasoline and heating oil when fully implemented.

That proposal was pulled back in favor of a “study group” to further investigate the plan. It is not clear if Democratic Leadership in the Maine Legislature will push forward with that plan this session or not.

Regardless the fate of other proposed tax and fee increases on gasoline and heating fuels, Rep. Kessler’s proposal will have a public hearing on Wednesday, April 3rd at 1pm. The hearing will take place before the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee in Room 211 of the Cross Building, adjacent to the Maine State House.

In addition to Rep. Christopher Kessler as the bill’s primary sponsor, it has eight cosponsors, all Democrats.

Cosponsors:

Rep. Christopher Babbidge (D – Kennebunk)
Sen. Benjamin Chipman (D – Cumberland)
Rep. Janice Dodge (D – Belfast)
Rep. Lori Gramlich (D – Old Orchard Beach)
Rep. Thom Harnett (D – Gardiner)
Rep. Sarah Pebworth (D – Blue Hill)
Rep. Deane Rykerson (D – Kittery)
Rep. Charlotte Warren (D – Hallowell)

To read the actual language of L.D. 1231, click here.

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