Monday, July 29, 2013

LePage administration proposes weakening anti-smog regulations

A couple of Maine-related updates that intersect with investigative projects I've done in recent months:

LePage administration and smog: As I report in tomorrow's Portland Press Herald, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection has been quietly seeking to repeal some anti-smog requirements that effect new or newly-modified industrial facilities. Environmentalists are crying foul; the administration says it will be good for the economy. No public hearing has been scheduled, the public comment period ends tomorrow, and the US Environmental Protection Agency (which must approve the change) is allegedly on board with it.

The state DEP was the subject of a five-part, three-day investigation published in the Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram last month. [Update, 8/1/13: some further developments here.]

Steve Bowen's role model in trouble: The Associated Press reports that former Indiana and current Florida education commissioner Tony Bennett -- a pioneer in the effort to assign A-F letter grades to public schools -- cheated on the grading of a charter school run by a political ally. Bennett, a close friend of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, was the keynote at Gov. LePage's education summit earlier this year in Augusta. Education commissioner Steve Bowen described Bennett as his role model in his introductory remarks.

Jeb Bush's Florida-based foundation played a key role in bringing A-F letter grading of schools to Maine, and in ghost writing Maine's digital education and virtual charter school policies.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

In Maine, rural E.R. closure raises fears; why is it happening?

The Closure of St. Andrews E.R.: Here in Maine, residents of the Boothbay region are up in arms over the pending closure of their local hospital's emergency department and, with it, the loss of its status as a hospital. After Oct. 1, ambulances will be diverted to another MaineHealth hospital in Damariscotta, 30-40 minutes to the northeast, but that hospital is simultaneously being scaled back.

Why is it happening? I try to unpack the issue in this story in today's Maine Sunday Telegram, with interviews with local residents, former and present board members, hospital officials, and MaineHealth CEO Bill Caron. It's a sobering situation, regardless of which "side's" arguments you find most compelling.

Update on proposed investigation of Maine DEP: For those who read my investigation of what's been going on inside the Maine Department of Environmental Protection under commissioner (and former corporate lobbyist) Patricia Aho, I had an update late last week. Formal discussions on whether to launch an legislative investigation of Aho's activities have been postponed at the request of the lawmaker who proposed it. Details herein.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Speaking on American Nations, July 23, North Haven, Maine

For the few of you out there who will be on Maine's North Haven Island this week, I'll be giving my American Nations talk Tuesday evening, July 23, at the Waterman's Center.

It's based on my most recent book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, which won the 2012 Maine Literary Award for Non-Fiction and was named a Best Book of 2011 by the editors of The New Republic. For those who've read the book, I'll also be showing how the results of the 2012 election cycle comported with the regional cultures defined in the book.

The talk kicks off at 8pm and there's a $10 admission. It's co-hosted by the Waterman's Center and the North Haven Conservation Partners, who had me out on the island a couple of years ago to speak on the past, present, and future of coastal Maine, the topic of one of my earlier books, The Lobster Coast.

My next scheduled presentations on American Nations are at Miami University of Ohio later this month, but I'll be back in Maine to speak at the Maine Island Trails Association small boaters conference at the end of August.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Maine: updates on paint recycling, climate adaptation, governor's "blackout"

A few updates on some of the stories I've been covering here in Maine:

Paint Recycling enacted: As I reported in today's Portland Press Herald, Gov. Paul LePage chose not to veto a bill creating a household paint recycling program here in Maine. His administration has opposed this and other so-called product stewardship programs in the past. (His spokesperson, Adrienne Bennett, told me a couple of hours ago -- well after the piece came out -- that the governor was satisfied with changes made to the original bill that helped ensure no toxic paint would escape into the environment.)

This piece of legislation -- which was backed by both industry and environmental groups -- featured in part three of my recent investigation of the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Blackout against Press Herald lifted?: After said investigation appeared last month, Gov. Paul LePage's office declared that state officials would no longer speak to the Press Herald or its sister papers, the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. The move received unfavorable coverage across the country, from the Associated Press and Poynter Institute to WGBH's "Beat the Press" and MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show.

It would appear the blackout has ended. While reporting the paint story, I received prompt, live, and forthcoming attention from the DEP. I also ultimately (although past deadline) received a response from Bennett herself, who has previously said she was the one who instituted the ban. Gov. LePage has also recently answered questions from our State House bureau chief at a live press event and the Department of Education has tweeted that it has never stopped speaking to us.

Climate adaptation bill killed: While we're talking about the DEP, one update on my March story on the death of Maine's climate adaptation strategy. This session, the state legislature passed a bill that would have compelled the DEP to re-start work on the strategy, but as the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting noted last week, it was vetoed by LePage and the legislature was unable to over-ride.