Under the Dome

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State budget

Yes, lawmakers on the Appropriations Committee completed their work last Monday in closing the state budget. But now the measure must be approved by the entire Legislature. House and Senate leadership told members the entire bill was expected to be available online on Sunday. Lawmakers would have until Monday night to file amendments on the legislation, leaders said.

As part of the committee negotiations, the more than $2 million Gov. John Baldacci had placed in the budget for spending on a bond package was removed, but not spent. On Monday, the Appropriations Committee is schedule to hold a public hearing on the pair of bond proposals put forth by both Democratic leadership, for about $99 million in borrowing, and Baldacci, who proposed a $79 million package. Republican leadership has remained cool to the prospect of borrowing more at this stage in the budget cycle.

Proposals from both the Democrats and Baldacci include more than $20 million to purchase the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic rail line that leads to Aroostook County and improvements in the rail infrastructure in Auburn and Lewiston, among other things.

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Green Day

The environment was the unofficial theme of events at the State House last week, with Gov. John Baldacci signing a new law aimed at keeping the air in Acadia National Park clean and representatives of Maine’s wind power industry holding a press conference, among other events.

On Saturday, the dome of the State House was darkened for an hour to support the World Wildlife Fund’s “Earth Hour 2010.” Many organizations and businesses around the world participated in the event, which was aimed at bolstering awareness about the importance of energy conservation.

“We are darkening the dome to symbolize the importance of energy conservation and to honor Earth Hour, but we have taken several concrete measures to reduce our own carbon footprint here at the State House,” said Rep. John Piotti, D-Unity, in a release. “The Legislature has worked to pass numerous bills encouraging Maine families and businesses to conserve energy. It only makes sense that we would do so in our facilities as well.”

Piotti is the House Majority leader and chairs the Facilities Committee for the Legislative Council, which granted the request from Rep. Elsie Flemmings, D-Bar Harbor, for the dome to go dark.

Earth Hour started in 2007 in Sydney, Australia, when 2.2 million homes and businesses turned their lights off for one hour to make their stand against climate change, according to the release.

Ethanol gas

Maine lawmakers passed a resolution last week asking federal lawmakers to increase the availability of ethanol-free gasoline, as a result of complaints from Mainers about the toll it takes on some motors.

“Ethanol is very corrosive in older fuel systems, and if it is run in an engine that wasn’t designed to use it, engine stoppage can occur,” said Sen. Lisa Marrache, D-Waterville, in a press release.

An earlier attempt to amend state laws to allow for more access to ethanol-free fuel was refined to become a resolution, and Marrache and Rep. Meredith Strang Burgess, R-Cumberland, co-sponsored the measure.

Federal law requires that 10 percent of motor fuel be renewable and the only renewable fuel available in Maine is ethanol, according to the release. The state resolution asks Congress to grant exemptions to this law.

Strang Burgess criticized other impacts of ethanol-based fuel.

“The economics of ethanol cannot be justified. It is 30 percent less efficient than gasoline, so it drives down your mileage, forcing people to buy more fuel,” said Strang Burgess in the release. “It takes 450 pounds of corn to produce the ethanol to fill one SUV tank. Incredibly, it takes at least one gallon of fossil fuel — oil and natural gas — to produce one gallon of ethanol.”

— Rebekah Metzler

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