Mar 31, 2010

Maine legislature vote on "best torture practices" bill LD1611 resched'd to Monday April 5.

Maine's House of Representatives will vote Monday April 5,  on whether to either pass "best torture practices" bill or continue to allow unbridled use of isolation and bondage punishment techniques by the state's prison personnel. The alternatives come as the divided form of LD 1611 comes up for vote today by the Maine House of Representatives. 


Bill supporters say regulated torture is far better than the unregulated version currently in vogue at Maine State Prison. For that reason, they are calling on House members to vote to approve Alternative Two of the bill, the Nutting/Schatz Alternative.  Prison officials, on the other hand, are urging that the "Ought Not to Pass" alternative be approved.

Under the version proposed by Senator Nutting and Representative Schatz, prisoners could not be held in solitary for more than 45 days without an open review, and those inmates known to suffer from a short list of mental illnesses that would be aggravated by prolonged isolation would be subject to other forms of discipline.

"The Department of Corrections' present policy is completely arbitrary",  said Ron Huber, host of a weekly corrections-focused talk show on WRFR Community Radio in Rockland.  

"My inmate correspondent in Maine state prison was ordered to six months in solitary for repairing other inmates' broken radios," Huber said.  "No history of violence or other violations of prison policies. Yet inmates guilty of far more serious infractions received less than a week in "the Hole" as Maine Supermax is known by guards and prisoners alike."  

"Regrettably, Commissioner Magnusson and his associate commissioner for public relations Denise Lord claim this this arbitrary system is preferable." Huber said. "It lets them literally  wield the power of life and death in Maine State Prison " he said, pointing out all the suicides in Maine state prison during the Baldacci Administration have occurred in the Maine Supermax under the present arbitrary policy.

On Thursday morning, Maine's House of Representatives will vote on LD 1611, choosing between 

(1) continuing the Department of Corrections current system of meting out arbitrary terms in solitary confinement/segregation at the whims of prison officials by noting Ought Not to Pass, or 
(2) rationalizing the process by requiring the Warden and Corrections Commission to follow limits consistent with present day understanding of the impacts of the use of this punishment.

By whatever name: the Hole, segregation, solitary confinement, the practice is widely condemned around the civilized world as a form of torture, Huber noted.

"If Maine is determined to continue to torture its incarcerated citizens," he said, "then regulated torture is much much better than the unregulated nightmare sanctioned by Governor Baldacci that is presently taking place behind the walls of Maine's Supermax ." 

Reform supporters say that is why passing the Nutting/Schatz Alternative is important. 

"It will let Maine lead the nation out of the supermisery that the rise of Supermaxes has had on America's corrections", radio producer Huber said. 

"The alternatives, doing nothing, or at best, urging the state prison to investigate itself, would be laughable if the situation weren't so serious."

Mar 30, 2010

Windpower: investors' bubbles bursting in Maine

Investors can see the writing on the Maine wall. The domino effect of municipalities across the state taking up preemptive "windproofing" ordinances, in diminished future subsidies. 

And with Maine deciding her nearshore waters are fully exploited by working Mainers as is, and too economically important to clutter with subsidized windfarms, offshore wind is truly being sent OFFSHORE - ten miles and more to set them over the horizon.  

American deepwater wind energy extraction,  which Maine is fortunate enough to have been federally funded to design and deploy a full sized prototype for, will scare off smaller investors with the 7-figure costs associated with these windgobbling behemoths.  

First Wind is in a classic rock & a hard place scenario. With Maine communities putting up aggressive defenses, its plans for an IPO may fizzle; investors likely won't touch their stock offering with a 450 foot pole.

Mar 29, 2010

Maine Legislators press colleagues to lead nation in Supermax reform

If legislative supporters of reform of Maine's troubled Supermax have their way, Mainers will soon be spending less time in solitary confinement and other forms of "special management".  

 LD 1611 An Act To Ensure Humane Treatment for Special Management Prisoners", has come out from its  review by the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee with  several alternatives. 

 Because the majority report from the Committee merely urges the Department of Corrections to conduct an internal review of its supermax policies, other legislators on the committee are championing a minority report that they hope the greater House and Senate will approve instead.

Called the Nutting/Schatz amendment for its two key sponsors: Senator John Nutting and Representative James Schatz, the Alternative Report#2 would (1) identify types of mental illness that identify certain prisoners to be unsuitable for "segregation", and(2)  limit the use of segregation or solitary to 45 days, with extensions only if the isolated inmate has attempted to escape, has engaged "serious physical violence" including sexual assault, or "would pose a risk to the safety of staff or other prisoners."

 Prisoners would also be able to appeal solitary confinement and, under their own expense, could hire an attorney and produce witnesses for the appeal. The bill also requires the Department of Corrections to maintain a current list of all "special management" prisoners

The Majority Report is a  toothless sop to prison industry lobbyists" said Ron Huber,  prison reform activist and producer of a weekly radio show on Maine state prison issues.  "The prison industry waged a negative campaign attacking the reform bill as dangerous for prison guards and other officials." he said.

 While the alleged dangers were never articulated, the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee was convinced into supporting a stripped down version of the bill that limits it to simply urging prison officials to investigate themselves and try to reform Maine's supermax from within. 

 "Doesn't work," Huber said.  "Maine state prison has been urged before to improve its record on treatement of Maine citizens placed under solitary confinement and other forms of "special management". To little effect"

The alternative bill by Senator Nutting and Representative Schatz is watered down, Huber said, but still requires the state to treat Mainers behind prison bars as human beings. "Inmates that are mentally incapable of handling solitary confinement will be disciplined in other ways." 

 With dozens of Maine legislators already supporting the Nutting/Schatz Alternative report (Minority report 2), Huber and other prison reform activists are confident that the legislature will pass the minority report's modest reforms into law. 

Mar 28, 2010

Maine's ocean windpower law. The March 2010 legislative hearing &three worksessions AUDIO

At the March 11, 18, 23 &24 2010 meetings of the Maine Legislature's Energy Utilities and Technology Committee, legislators, Maine fishermen, windmill proponents, opponents, regulators, scientists and others worked out  LD 1810 An Act To Implement the Recommendations of the Governor's Ocean Energy Task Force. The bill directs commercial windfarming interests to federal waters ten miles and further offshore.

3/11/10  Public Hearing on LD 1810. AUDIO

* Introduction 7 minutes 
Senator Hobbins Sponsor of LD 1810 6 min
Representative Leila Percy, Co chair Marine Resources Comm 2 min
Beth Nagusky MDEP Energy Office 12 min
Beth Nagusky questioned 18 min
Senator Kevin Raye 8 min
Rep Stacey Fitts, Co sponsor 12 min
Rep Seth Berry 4:17 min
George Lapointe. DMR  6 min
George Lapointe Q & A  5 min
Chuck Digate, Neptune Wind 
Chuck Digate, Neptune Q&A
Bob Baynes. Lobsterman  2 min
Shawn Mahoney, CLF  7 min
John Ferland, Ocean Renewable Power Co  9 min
Lance Burton of Castine 3 min
Bill Staby, Resolute Energy  4min
J. Monroe, Blue Water Dynamos  11 min
Ron Huber, Penobscot Bay Watch 7 min

Bob Moore, Dead River Oil, 11 min
Ned Bulmer, Maine Energy Marketing Assn  9 min
Carol Lee ex head of Bangor Hydro 7min 
Caroll Lee, Q&A 6 min
John Pierce of Harspwell 4 min
Chris O'Neill, Saco 10 min  

3/18/10 Work session #1 on LD 1810. AUDIO                                             

3/23/10 Work session#2 on LD 1810 AUDIO
Introduction 90 seconds 
Beth Nagusky Q&A 2 12 minutes
Beth Nagusky Q&A 4 9 minutes
Beth Nagusky Q&A 5 17 minutes

3/24/10 Work session#3 on LD 1810. AUDIO
Part 1 14 minutes Review of  amendments
Part 2 13 min BEP & Municipalities
Part 3 7 min Preamble amendments. Criteria for projects
Part 4 12 min Ocean wind green standard offer 
Part 5 8 min  pricing and funding
Part 6 16 min Where's PUC. What jobs would come
Part 7 13 min Pilot project RFP  Cert of convenience 
Part 8 9 min Not enough info to make goals
Part 9 10 min renewable energy goals
Part 10 8 min Rep Thibideau & Public Advocate Davies
Part 11 8 min  Stop hiding the costs. Make Maine leader.
Part 12 10 min Involve marine resource advisory council
Part 13 11 min Ocean wind green standard  discussed
Part 14 9 minAadditional transmission line capacity issue
Part 15 4 min duplicate policy statements fix. Language review tomorrow
Part 16 8 min Final Motion and discussion.

Mar 26, 2010

Maine inshore wind wannabes try to spin their legislative loss

The Baldacci administration is working to put the best spin on the peeling away of state waters-related windfarm incentives from their ocean energy task force bill LD 1810.

A statement rushed into print by the Maine offshore wind energy task force announced that the administration's policy continued to be:"There is nothing to prevent a developer of offshore wind, wave or tidal power from proposing a project in Maine state waters today."

But opponents of windfarms in Maine state waters point out that this has been the status quo since long before the ocean energy task force itself was even proposed, and suggest the administration is trying to save face over its failure to obtain corporate welfare for would be state waters windfarmers.

"Maine's existing submerged lands leasing law is broad enough that anyone can apply for a lease to  build almost anything." said Penobscot Bay Watch Ron Huber. "A windfarm, a fishfarm, a floating dock; you can apply to  the state to lease marine submerged lands and the waters over them for any reason you like. Doesn't mean you'll be able to get it approved, though." he added.

Huber said that  LD 1810 originally offered  the same incentives to build windfarms in state waters as  had been enacted  by the legislature several years ago  for upland windfarms: price supports,  immunity from environmental laws,  unaccountability to the Maine Board of Environmental Protection, authority to 'take' land to run their cables through to the grid.   "Not to mention  stripping towns'  of municipal authority to regulate windfarms within their borders," Huber said, "And fat fees to keep LURC and MDEP budget mavens happy.

Without these incentives, he said "the wind industry won't come in and squat on your natural resources. That's what the legislature gave Big Energy when it passed legislation opening up Maine's mountains to windfarming. The wind turbine industry has exploited it ruthlessly."

But LD 1810 had three flaws, critics said, that led to its extreme makeover:

1. The bill also deals with setting out incentives for OFFSHORE windfarming - an entirely dfifferent  set of economic and scientific players interested in waters well  beyond Maine's marine boundary.

2. Unlike land windfarms proposed on private lands, ocean windfarms would be in public lands heavily exploited by a variety of important businesses already licensed to be there, and willing to fight to the death the proposed incursion into their economic futures.

3. The bill directed the state to require the closing down of Maine's heating oil industry, another politically connected interest group

Despite its reservations, the Adminsitratino was convinced by the wind industry and its NGO supporters CLF, NRCM, Island Institute and Maine Audubon that the heating industry, fishermen, and coastal tourism industries should be brushed aside for the greater good, and off-the-shelf windfarm operations speedily set up in state waters as a 'transitional technology' to deepwater offshore wind.

"They were wrong". Huber said. "The oilers, the fishermen and the other marine resource economic interests bit back. With testimony en masse. With letters, with petitions, phone calls and emails. Good old fashioned Maine civics in action."

Legislators, including House Speaker Hannah Pingree, Marine Resources Committee Chair Leila Percy and many others, including those on the Utility and Energy Committee, got the message.The bill lost momentum, with legislative leaders declaring the bill must be "stripped down".  Worried windmill investors fretted that Maine was not being sufficiently 'business-friendly'.

Then the other shoe dropped. The offshore wind farm technology developers at the University of Maine saw the legislators looking askance at state waters windmills, and worried that tax incentives and other goodies for their baby - also in the LD1810 - could go out with the inshore bathwater if the bill stalled over nearshore concerns. So the academics too started disparaging state waters windmills to the legislature.  

It was unbecoming, they said, for a state like Maine - now on track to lead the nation with futuristic over-the-horizon floating offshore windfarms - to clutter and disrupt its nearshore waters economy and ecology with off-the-shelf imported shallow water windmills. Beter that the state focus solely on offshore windfarming.

This unexpected put down of inshore wind stiffened the legislators' resolve to protect maine's inshore fisheries. With the aid of the Maine's Lobstermens Association's executive director Patrice McCarron, the Utility and Energy Committee trimmed away the incentive package for state waters windmills from the bill. The parts of LD 1810l mandating reduction in the use of heating oil by Mainers also disappeared.  Cleansed of its inshore wind incentives and heating oil disincentives, the bill was voted out of committee with a unanimous Ought To Pass as Amended.

"This was a real Waterloo for the ocean windfarm industry's nearshore plans" Huber said, Governor Baldacci thought he was sweeping all opposition aside. He was badly mistaken."

So where do things stand?

"Like it was before the bill was written: non existent," Penobscot Bay activist Huber said. He added that while there is nothing to prevent a developer of offshore wind, wave or tidal power from proposing a project in Maine state waters, "nor is there any corporate welfare or hamstringing of state environmental laws to attract them. That's good enough for now."

The words seem straightforward, in the hastily written essay rushed into print by the Baldacci administration's Beth Nagusky and by former head of Maine Lobsterman's Association Pat White, now a wind energy spokesman. The op-ed was penned after LD 1810 the Ocean Energy Task Force bill  was finalized March 24th by the Utility and Energy Committee.  

The money quote in their joint essay "Passage of ocean energy bill the responsible step" is  

"There is nothing to prevent a developer of offshore wind, wave or tidal power from proposing a project in Maine state waters today."

If Nagusky and White are proudly announcing a new era of inshore wind development, then what curiously apologetic language to use!   In essence:  

We can't stop 'em!

It is...almost true. But NOT at all in the way the essayists intended. Let me explain why this bill  is very good news for Maine's wild marine environment. Why I got a delicious sense of deja vu when I read that "nothing to prevent" line. 

For that "nothing to prevent" line is exactly what they said a year ago at Energy Ocean 09, and earlier this month at the wind seminar at the Maine Fishermens Forum:  "There is nothing to prevent a developer of offshore wind, wave or tidal power from proposing a project in Maine state waters today."  Meaning that Maine's existing submerged lands leasing law is general enough that anyone could apply for a lease  to build anything, including  a windfarm. in state waters right now. Without any changes in state law. True enough. In fact, you can apply under that law for a lease to build anything in Maine state waters. Say, a floating circus big tent, with a big seahorse aquaculture operation on the side -the trained ocean equines to push it around in state waters. You can apply for a lease to try ANYTHING. The Bureau of Parks and Lands will be pleased to take your application fees.  But expect any special bending of the rules.

For as is known to victims of landside windfarming, without a fat package of tax incentives, corporate welfare and immunity from environmental and conservation laws, the wind industry won't come in and squat on your natural resources. That's what the legislature gave Big Wind last time, when they opened up Maine's mountains to windfarming, and the industry has exploited it ruthlessly. The result: windfarm proposal after proposal rushed into Augusta for approval, and ever since, under a dense cloud of opposition in the courts and other civic arenas, utility scale wind projects, flanked by join-em-if-you-can't-lick-'em NGOs like Conservation Law Foundation, Natural Resources Council of Maine, parts of  Maine Audubon, Sierra Club and others, all feasting on industry-fronted grant and consultancy money, have begun cluttering Maine's incredible upland mountains. 

Addicted to incentive money, thus yearning for new frontiers, Big Wind's investors looked appraisingly at the sea. They worked with the Baldacci administration to create a bill packed with the same incentives to build windfarms in state waters: corporate welfare, lots of fat fees to keep the agencies happy, immunity from environmental laws, the right to 'take' coastal land to run their cables through to the grid, the stripping towns of municipal authority to challenge windfarms in their borders...the usual nasties.   

But they overlooked three things: One: that this bill also directed the state to force the closing down of the heating oil industry and its replacement by electric heating;  Two: that in addition to state waters, the bill also deals with setting up corpoarte welfare for OFFSHORE windfarming -  in federal & EEZ waters beyond the Maine's marine boundary. Three: that, unlike land windfarms, ocean windfarms would be in public lands heavily exploited by a variety of important businesses  already licensed to be there, perfectly willing to fight to the death this proposed incursion into their economic futures.  

But the dazzle and wealth of the Big Windies convinced the Baldacci administration that they could just shove the heating industry, the fishermen, the sailors and coastal tourism industries aside.  

So up comes the bill LD 1810 with great fanfare, with acclamations that fishermen, heating oil suppliers and others were to patriotically give up great chunks of fishing grounds to enrich absentee corporate investors to fight global warming. 

Didn't fly. The oilers, the fishermen and the other marine resource economic interests began to bite back. With testimony en masse. With letters, with petitions,  phone calls and emails. Good old fashioned civics in action. Simple clear message: you legislators must not destroy our livelihoods. Bad bill! Bad bill!  And the legislators, including House Speaker Hannah Pingree, Marine Resource Committee chair Leila Percy and many others, including those on the Utility and Energy Committee - got the message loud and clear, and start to hem and haw.  

That was bad enough to the inshore windmill wannabes. But then they got another unpleasant shock: The offshore wind developers at the University of  Maine saw the legislators  looking askance at state waters windmills. They started worrying that corporate welfare for their baby - also in the bill LD1810 - could go out with the inshore bathwater! So the academics too started dissing state waters windmillery as stupid. As an economic hardship for existing state waters users. As unbecoming for a state like Maine, which is now on the track to LEAD the nation with over-the-horizon floating offshore windfarming. 

This surprise attack by what the inshore windies thought were their offshore allies stiffened the legislators' resolve. They set about cutting away the incentive package for state waters windmill stuff, to the great joy of the Maine Lobstermens Association, whose executive director Patrice McCarron helped the committee go over the bill with a finetoothed comb deleting the inshore wind benefits package, even to removal of a line extolling inshore windfarming in the "Whereases" section of the bill.  

Cleansed of its inshore wind kerflufflery, the bill passes the committee unanimously  So inshore wind development in Maine is back to the default we had BEFORE the hearings and the bill. As M.s Nagusky and Mr. White intone:

"There is nothing to prevent a developer of offshore wind, wave or tidal power from proposing a project in Maine state waters today."

Aye. "Nothing" as in No corporate welfare for inshore wind. No suspension of environmental laws for inshore wind, No requirement that Maine utilities must purchase power from inshore wind developers. Not a thing. Nothing. 

So indeed, "Nothing (i.e. the absence of govt handouts) is preventing  a developer of offshore wind, wave or tidal power "from proposing a project in Maine state waters today.". May it always be that way.  There remains authorization to accept lease applications for a pilot wind and tidal projects in state waters, but only tiny R&D projects. 

Bob Dylan said it: "When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose."

Mar 25, 2010

No windfarms to be allowed in Maine state waters, state legislative committee decides

Augusta.  There will be no windfarms in Maine state waters, a state legislative committee has decided. By unanimous vote, the Legislature's Utilities and Energy Committee sent a final version of LD 1810."An Act To Implement the Recommendations of the Governor's Ocean Energy Task Force", to the full legislature, where passage is deemed likely.

Maine will be the first state in the Union to ban windmills from its coastal waters. Listen to the March 24th final Work session on the bill The decision to keep state waters free of windfarming came as a result of pressure by members of Maine's commercial fishing industry,including  lobstermen, groundfishermen, shrimpers and scallopers, who intensive ply their trade in every square mile of Maine's marine waters. See a petition about LD 1810 submitted by Bar Harbor fishermen

The 40 and 50 year windfarm leases that would have been offered  under the earlier form of LD 1810  would have, due to wind farm insurance policies, barred groundfishing and scalloping and other fishing. This would be "closing the commons" of Maine's Territorial Sea that the fishermen share with windjammers recreational fishers and other water users. The Committee also heard from the coastal resort industry, which similarly feared loss of business if windmills began flapping near the shore in Maine state waters

While the  radically altered bill bars windfarms from state waters, it promotes their development a minimum of ten miles from shore, including from the shore of any inhabited Maine island.  The bill no longer strips coastal towns of the power to regulate structures in municipal waters, and drops a proposal to bar the Maine Board of Environmental Protection from hearing appeals of windfarm permits. Instead,  the bill allows for prototype wave and tidal power generators in state waters, with test locations to be identified using a process similar to the one used to identify three test sites for prototype deepwater floating turbines.  The bureau of Parks and Lands, which will license wave or tidal projects in maine setate waters, will be required to notify commercial fishermen via the state's Marine Resources Advisory Council and the state's lobster zone councils.

But central to the bill is setting up a competitive solicitation process for building, transporting and operating a 25 megawatt deepwater floating wind system  that by 2015 would supply 87,000 megawatt hours of electricity per year  to Maine consumers, with hopes for greater expansion in decades to come.Under the bill, the state will "brand" power from its over-the-horizon wind generation as  "Ocean Wind Green Standard Offer"  Though power from the offshore wind facility will cost more than land-generated electricity, the state hopes consumers and industry will be attracted by the idea of purchasing "Ocean Wind Green" power, that does not interfere with fishermen or other already existing businesses and communities like land -based turbines, and does not degrade Maine's scenic assets.

Kudos to the Maine Legislature's Utilities and Energy Committee for learning from the mistakes made several years ago when they legislated a fast track approach to wind farming in Maine's mountainous areas. In the case of the ocean, the committee put coastal Maine's existing ocean-dependent, scenery dependent economy first.