AUGUSTA – This week, the Maine House Republicans weekly radio address centered around an issue that is all too familiar to Mainers: proposed new and increased taxes on fossil fuel energy in Maine. In the address, Rep. Dick Pickett (R-Dixfield ME) references the real implications of raising taxes on middle class working families who depend on fossil fuel heat to get through the winter, saying “Maine is a wonderful place to live, but the cost of heating our homes, transporting goods, traveling long distances for work and recreation is more expensive than other parts of the country.”
Representative Pickett isn’t wrong, Maine is a unique state in that it primarily depends on fossil fuels for home heating systems. Nationally, Maine is the largest consumer of fuel oil, with New Hampshire a close second.
While Maine relies on fuel oil for warmth, the rest of the state’s energy consumption is in fact renewable, generated with hydropower, biomass, and wind.
Despite using mostly ‘green’ energy, Maine’s unique standing in fuel oil consumption hasn’t stemmed off attacks. The new Democrat majority in the capitol led an all-out assault on fossil fuels, often echoing the national message of 2020 Democrats and proposing local versions of a ‘Green New Deal’ and new taxes on carbon.
Just this past legislative session, when presented with a new ‘carbon tax’ bill, Maine’s local fuel oil companies like Maritime Energy pushed back saying the bill was “unfair and poorly thought out,” while Dead River company explained, “Maine homeowners and businesses alike have invested thousands of dollars in their heating systems and vehicles. Our company has invested millions in our infrastructure. Penalizing homeowners and businesses for these choices is unaffordable for many and bad policy for our State.”
Maine’s Speaker of the House, Sara Gideon, who is currently running to challenge Senator Susan Collins in 2020 and has received the backing of Chuck Schumer, continues to tweet her support of combating climate change, more recently re-tweeting a pro-Green New Deal youth group, StrikeWithUs.org adding, ““This week, young people are taking action with a global #ClimateStrike, with over a dozen strikes happening here in Maine. We all should follow their lead by demanding immediate climate action.”
A review of the website Speaker Gideon was promoting shows that among the “Demands” for action listed by the group are a call for the total elimination of the use of fossil fuels by 2030. Another demand is an end to all leasing and permitting of fossil fuel extraction, processing and infrastructure. Both demands are listed under the group’s “Green New Deal” goals.
Speaker Gideon co-sponsored the carbon tax bill in Augusta last legislative session that sparked the most outrage across the state and brought protesters to the State House to oppose the bill. That bill would have imposed a new tax on gasoline and heating oil at about 40 cents per gallon when fully implemented. Even representatives from industries that rely on Maine’s pristine environment, such as the lobster industry, spoke out in opposition.
The demands Gideon is now promoting appear to go well beyond that.
Mainers are sharing their own stories though, and the struggles that they have faced in heating their homes through Maine’s long, hard winters. A lady named Nicole from Holden said in a statement, “I need oil to heat my home and I know most people do too. The prices are already too high and many struggle in the winter months, especially the elderly. Please do not burden us with more taxes.”
James, a single father of three from Westbrook, said, “I understand ‘sin’ taxes but trying to stay warm is not a sin. Enough is enough.”
It is clear that climate policy is an important issue to some Maine voters as the state moves closer to 2020, but how the candidates tackle the issues, and how they defend the people of Maine from major tax hikes and attempts to outright ban the energy that keeps their homes warm will be what distinguishes the serious contenders from the wannabes.