Maine Carbon Tax bill is all but dead after public hearing

Maine citizens who opposed the proposal to impose a 40 cent per gallon tax on gasoline and heating fuel packed the Legislature’s Energy Committee hearing and filled overflow rooms as they waited to testify. Photo courtesy @DerekUSPatriot Facebook page.

AUGUSTA – The proposal to impose a new tax on gas and home heating fuel faced strong opposition from Mainers who showed up to testify on the proposal yesterday.

The proposal, sponsored by Rep. Deane Rykerson of Kittery and cosponsored by more than half of Legislative Democrats, including House Speaker Sara Gideon, would impose about a 40 cent per gallon tax on gas and heating oil when fully implemented.

Since details of the bill emerged, opposition to the carbon tax has grown rapidly. Thursday, two groups organized rallies to oppose the carbon tax, joining forces to fill overflow rooms at the public hearing and provide more than 60 pieces of testimony in opposition to the bill.

The list of people testifying in opposition to the proposal was so large, the Committee Chair postponed afternoon work sessions on other bills to make time for the testimony.

Only two individuals, the bill’s sponsor and a representative from one special interest group, testified in support.

Rep. Rykerson, the bill’s sponsor, apparently acknowledging the bill was now facing overwhelming opposition, proposed in his opening testimony to turn the bill into a legislative study instead of charging ahead with the tax hike.

The audience watching the testimony in the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee erupted in applause when Rep. Chad Grignon (R-Athens) said in a follow up to Rep. Rykerson’s, “I read this and it looks like a redistribution… scam.”

Grignon went on to point out that Maine’s carbon emissions are so low that any change in carbon emissions in Maine would have no impact on global carbon emissions.

“We do economic redistribution all the time,” responded Rykerson.

The testimony from Maine people who came to make their voices heard was blunt.

“So, I would call this a gas-tastrophe,” said Julian Payne, a Democrat from Waterville. “It would hurt Maine’s most vulnerable, the very people you were elected to protect.”

Julian Payne, a Democrat from Waterville, on his way to the public hearing on the carbon tax. Payne testified that the carbon tax would hurt Maine’s most vulnerable citizens, the very people the Legislature is elected to protect. Photo courtesy @DerekUSPatriot Facebook page.

“I’m here as a concerned citizen of Maine’s disappearing middle class,” said Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro. “Mainers cannot afford a new draconian tax that will crush our middle class, our low income families, and squeeze our economy to the breaking point.”

Isgro went on to discuss the impact on working and rural Mainers, and how the impact of the carbon tax would even be felt by Mainers who receive LIHEAP fuel assistance, because of the way the carbon tax would be imposed.

Rep. Jeff Hanley, a member of the committee asked Rep. Rykerson directly if there was a provision in the bill to keep gas and oil companies from passing along the tax to consumers, to which Rykerson responded directly, “No.”

Rykerson attempted to deflect Rep. Hanley’s question about the cost of trucking in goods, saying, “You think that an electric truck is a pie in the sky, but they’re not far away.”

That statement elicited a response from Rep. Hanley, commenting on how he didn’t see ‘electric skidders’ anytime soon, making reference to traditional Maine industries that would be impacted by the tax.

Rep. Steven Foster of Dexter, a member of the committee, made reference to the strong public outcry against the carbon tax during the hearing, “Rep. Rykerson, first of all I would like to thank you. I was beginning to wonder if my constituents even knew I was serving here, but now my inbox is full.”

The bill is expected to be amended in coming weeks to eliminate the tax and create a study group that will report back their findings to the Legislature.

Rep. Chris Kessler, a Democrat from South Portland, said during the hearing that he would like to see the study group made up of actual experts in economics and the fields impacted, not just legislators.

The committee hearing took place on the same day Gov. Janet Mills was laying out her plans to combat climate change, including an announcement that Maine would join a multi-state coalition to attempt to function under the restrictions of a climate change accord the United States has withdrawn from.

Below are three videos of committee testimony from the public hearing:

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