Last week, the state of Maine and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission signed an agreement to streamline the permitting process for tidal energy projects off the coast, a move hailed as a signal to industry that Maine is serious about its future here.

In fact, John Ferland, the president of Ocean Renewable Power Co., which is pursuing tidal projects in Downeast Maine, called the deal a “regulatory innovation, ” according to the Portland Press Herald.

We’re heartened by this development, as a pro-active approach toward developing renewable energy is crucial for Maine to reach its potential for generation. Government can act as a trailblazer for new technologies, by clearing the permitting path for entrepreneurs and investment to follow.

Gov. John Baldacci deserves credit for getting this deal done.

Yet, it also raises a question. How much of an obstacle to energy development is government? If the agreement between state and federal officials to share information and adopt a mutually agreeable permitting schedule is an innovation, doesn’t this mean the system needs fixing?

A strong regulatory environment is a necessity to protect the public interest, but good intentions can sometimes yield negative results. Maine’s health insurance market, for example, is oft-criticized for being over-regulated, which drove away the competition among insurers.

Now, regulations like community rating and guaranteed issue have ensured thousands of Mainers have been covered by health insurance. It’s an interesting argument, though, to consider whether the price of these regulations — increased insurance premiums — has been worth it.

And a weak regulatory environment can breed base exploitation, which must be avoided. Look no further than the fast, frightening meltdown of the American financial system to exemplify the terrible toll a barely regulated, or not regulated at all, atmosphere can level.

For something as important as energy, however, it would be worthwhile for the state and federal governments to review all its jurisdictional overlaps to ensure they are as cohesive, efficient and streamlined as possible. It is odd to think of something as simple as this as an innovation.

We’d use another descriptor for it: common sense.

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