AUGUSTA (AP) – House Majority Leader Hannah Pingree, convening a new legislative task force, isn’t ruling out action by the lame-duck Legislature on heat and energy issues later this year.

But as ranking lawmakers and other members of the Presiding Officers’ Heat and Energy Emergency Task Force sat down Wednesday, it appeared most likely that any new moves to aid consumers and promote energy savings would be left to the incoming Legislature that assembles in early December.

As Pingree, D-North Haven, and Senate Majority Leader Elizabeth Mitchell, D-Vassalboro, put the new panel to work, Baldacci administration officials presented briefings on gubernatorial initiatives that were announced last week.

Gov. John Baldacci’s $12.6 million energy action plan proposes new investments in weatherization, low-income heating assistance and alternative modes of transportation. It also includes voluntary four-day work schedules for state employees.

Specifically, the governor would dedicate $4.2 million to increase the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program benefit from around $415 to $500 per eligible household. Additionally, a $3.25 million emergency fund would be created in January to help families who either participate in LIHEAP or are slightly above the entitlement threshold in the event of a fuel oil emergency.

The Baldacci package would boost weatherization funding by $2 million, allowing for an expansion of about 500 homes, and make available an additional $1 million to upgrade furnaces in about 1,500 additional homes that are LIHEAP-eligible.

The package would reserve $1 million of available funding in the Economic Recovery Loan Program at the Finance Authority of Maine for energy conservation projects at businesses and redirect $1 million within the Department of Transportation.

Deputy Republican Senate leader Richard Rosen of Bucksport said GOP lawmakers still favor bringing the full Legislature into special session to take immediate action to bolster the LIHEAP program. Republicans would commit $10 million in surplus state funds.

“That’s still our position,” Rosen said after Wednesday’s opening task force session.

“There’s a difference of opinion” with Democrats, including Baldacci, Rosen noted.

“They have the votes. So it’s not going to happen, obviously.”


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