Pipeline or no pipeline?

In a sharp divide, the two junior members of Maine’s U.S. Congressional delegation made arguments for and against the now famed Keystone XL oil pipeline expansion proposal.

In speeches earlier this month, U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, and 2nd District U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican, offered countering views on the controversial expansion of a pipeline that would carry oil sands crude from Canada to the Gulf of Mississippi.

King argued against the very idea of the U.S. Congress acting as the nation’s “planning board,” While Poliquin said the expansion should go forward because it would further shore up the American economy.

“This is a construction permit being issued for a private company and a foreign one at that,” King said. “I just find that a very strange procedure for the Congress to do. We’re supposed to be establishing policy here, not issuing building permits to individual companies. Why not write a bill to give money to Apple Computer?”

Meanwhile, Poliquin, in a speech on the House floor, urged the U.S. Senate, including King, to pass the measure. He argued that increasing the overall supply of petroleum on the global market would continue to drive down oil and gasoline prices in the U.S.

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Poliquin said already decreasing fuel costs were already saving working families money.

“Compared to last summer, hard-working Maine families are saving $20 with every weekly fill-up of their vehicles,” Poliquin said. “That $1,000 annual savings is buying almost 2 months of groceries for a family of four,” said to his House colleagues. “Our families will save more money, have more jobs and enjoy more freedom when America increases the production and transportation of all forms of domestic energy, and do it in an environmentally responsible way.”

Hayride safety and trailer regulation

A new set of data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and released by the Virginia-based advocacy group dangeroustrailers.org shows that malfunctioning trailers that were being towed by motor vehicles in Maine resulted in 49 fatalities from 1975 to 2013.

That’s more than Massachusetts, which had 25 fatal accidents related to trailers and New Hampshire and Vermont, which saw 37 and 28 fatal accidents, respectively.

Surprisingly, none of the four states require utility trailers to pass an annual safety inspection. Maine also exempts a host of other vehicles from safety inspections, including antique cars and motorcycles, farm tractors and trucks, fish trucks, island vehicles and motorized bicycles or mopeds.

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While the data, released this week, does not include the October 2014 hayride accident in Mechanic Falls that claimed the life of 17-year-old Cassidy Charette of Oakland, the founder of dangeroustrailers.org, Ron Melancon, said the lack of state and federal safety standards for trailers and the hitches used to pull them are an ongoing source of traffic injuries and deaths nationwide.

The accident at Harvest Hill Farm, which also sent 22 people to hospitals with injuries, remains under investigation, but the tragedy has prompted an outpouring of proposed legislation in Maine.

Last week, state lawmakers released five proposed bill titles that aim to regulate farm amusement rides, like the one that led to Charette’s death.  

Maine lawmakers have also cited a 2013 fatal Fourth of July parade accident in Bangor involving an antique firetruck.

When the brakes on the truck malfunctioned, a tractor in front of it driven by 63-year-old Wallace Fenlason was hit by the truck.

According to the Bangor Daily News, Fenlason was ejected off the truck and “landed in a the roadway in the path” of the firetruck, a report on the accident by the Bangor Police noted.

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Melancon has lobbied both state governments and Congress on the issue to little avail Monday he issued an open letter to Maine lawmakers on a Facebook page he set up in Charette’s memory and to advocate for law changes in Maine.

“Granted we cannot prevent all accidents and loss of lives, but as long at it involves you on your own property, then it is all on you,” Melancon wrote. “The minute it involves public safety, and these operations charge an admission, then it is open to interpretation that these unregulated and never-inspected operations need to be held accountable just like Disney World is . . .

“It is all about saving lives, and if the tone of this letter makes it clear that somebody will be held accountable if no action is taken, and it takes us to point out who that person is, then make no mistake about it: We will let the world know exactly who these people are.”

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Sun Journal State Politics Editor Scott Thistle’s offers beyond-the-news observations on Maine politics.

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