Update From Augusta
Getting Our Facts Straight
The River Valley leads the way in many different areas -- not just in football and wrestling. We are somewhat an epicenter for land based wind energy development in Maine. There is something about the area that has made it attractive to grid scale wind developers with projects having been proposed in a number of communities within the River Valley including Byron, Roxbury and Rumford. The proposed projects are in various stages of planning, permitting and development -- and the road thus far has not been a particularly straight path.
Earlier this week, there was a public hearing on legislation I introduced -- L.D. 1035 “Resolve, To Establish Baseline Information on Health Impacts from Grid-scale Wind Energy Development.” This proposed legislation embodies my intent to create a better framework and process that will help policy makers on the state and local levels access a set of commonly accepted facts about wind power health effects, based on a consideration of peer-reviewed studies rather than speculation and assertions which had not been rigorously reviewed.
We’ve all heard the old expression “You are entitled to your own opinions, but you are not entitled to your own set of facts.” In our Google culture, it seems there has been a real proliferation of pseudo-science. Self proclaimed experts appear on every corner of “Internet Avenue”, and it can be daunting sorting out the facts from the claims.
The foundation for most modern science and particularly the practice of medicine is intended to strike the balance between consumer safety and innovation. For example, without the acceptance of peer-reviewed studies as the basis for decision-making in medicine we would still be seeing patent medicines being sold with dubious results but out-sized claims. A factual foundation -- based on widely accepted, tested and peer-reviewed studies -- should also be the foundation for judging the health impacts of wind generation facilities.
It is precisely on this issue that the Rumford Board of Selectmen has been working for more than a year, with a contentious local debate and election that resulted in the rejection of a citizen committee drafted local ordinance. After that vote in November, Rumford went back to the process of drafting an ordinance -- and those discussions are continuing.
I believe all these deliberations could be better served by having access to a state-identified and recommended database of information and a set of conclusions based on peer-reviewed scientific studies. Our local officials do a great job sorting through the many challenges they face, particularly in these difficult economic times. However, like my colleagues in the citizen legislature -- they are not generally scientists, so need to be able to make decisions based on a factual foundation that has been examined and vetted by people who are qualified to make such a judgment.
That is my goal with this legislation. I think that people of Maine are better served if they can make decisions based on facts -- especially if those facts have been examined and vetted by experts that we support with our tax dollars and who are charged with the responsibility of serving our citizens. That is why an interagency task force, as envisioned in this proposed legislation, seems like the right approach.
Like all of my legislative colleagues, my goal remains to represent the District to the best of my ability. The only way I know to do that is to be sure that the elected officials and voters in our District have access to the best possible information so they can make informed decisions about the future of the River Valley. I have great confidence in the thoughtfulness of my neighbors and I believe they are very capable of making intelligent and informed choices if they have access to the facts. The goal of this initiative is to empower people to make thoughtful and informed choice.
As of this writing, I don’t know what the outcome of the Legislative initiative will be. Some folks thought the proposal went too far, others didn’t think it went far enough. That is the political and legislative process and it is not different from the discussion about wind power we have been having for the last several years here in the River Valley. At the end of the day -- making decisions based on some facts, particularly commonly held facts, seems better than flipping a coin, especially if we have to live with the impacts of a bad decision for many years.
In other news, I’m pleased to report that last week members of the Agriculture, Forestry and Conservation Committee gave their support to legislation I sponsored and wrote about in a previous column. LD 109, “Resolve To Establish the Commission to Study the Promotion and Expansion of the Maine Maple Sugar Industry” received a unanimous ought to pass committee report and now moves to the House and Senate chambers for a vote by the full bodies.
Finally, I’d like to note a correction to my column from last week. I stated previously that SAD 44 had made the decision to refuse to comply with following state law to collect social security numbers from students within the district. While SAD 44 has officially expressed strong concerns about the consequences of following the law, they have not outright refused to comply. I apologize for the error.
I’m always interested in hearing from you with feedback, thoughts, ideas or concerns. Please contact me by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call me at 776-8051. Thank you for the honor of serving as your state representative.