Energy & Environment

Mainers, not Governor Mills, should decide Maine’s participation in the TCI

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Maine’s Committee on State and Local Government held public hearings last Friday on two bills that would require a legislative vote for the state to participate in the Transportation Climate Initiative, a regional cap-and-trade program that would force Mainers to pay more for gasoline and diesel fuel. One bill, LD 1366, is sponsored by Rep. Laurel Libby of Auburn and the other, LD 1472, is sponsored by Sen. Stacey Guerin of Penobscot.

Under the TCI, gasoline and diesel dealers in participating northeast and mid-Atlantic states would be required to purchase allowances for the carbon emitted by their fuel products. Over time, the amount of allowances issued would shrink while the cost to acquire them increases until, eventually, it becomes too expensive for the average consumer to own and maintain a gas-powered vehicle.  

It’s estimated Maine’s participation would cost drivers 5 to 17 cents per gallon in the first year alone, with the cost ramping up substantially over time. Ultimately, TCI is nothing more than a roundabout way to tax carbon-based fuels. The entire purpose of the project is to disincentivize usage of fossil fuels through the implementation of a fee structure for gasoline and diesel dealers, with the goal of making gas-powered vehicles so prohibitively expensive that consumers turn to electric vehicles.

Due to the nature of Maine’s participation forcing higher gasoline and diesel fuel costs on Mainers, Governor Mills shouldn’t have the power to unilaterally enter Maine into the agreement; our participation should be subject to the deliberative scrutiny of our legislature.

The Maine Constitution may demand as much. Article I, Section 22 of the Maine Constitution states, “No tax or duty shall be imposed without the consent of the people or their representatives in the Legislature.”

Whether it will legally be considered a tax is irrelevant. Large, multi-state compacts should not be agreed to without the full involvement of Maine people through their elected representatives; full stop.

The exact mechanism of how Maine would enter TCI is still an open question, since many of the states which have already done so have entered without an act of their legislatures. It’s believed Maine does not need legislative approval to join the compact, according to Staci Rubin of the Conservation Law Foundation, who told the Boston Globe last year that Maine, Massachusetts, and Connecticut likely do not need legislative approval and can join the agreement through executive action and rulemaking.

Even though she did not sign on to the initial memorandum of understanding (MOU) last December, it is entirely possible that Governor Mills, or future governors, could sign us up for much higher fuel costs via the TCI on her own and without an affirmative vote of the Legislature.  

Many other interstate compacts in which Maine currently participates have been deliberated and passed into statute by way of the legislative process, one held in public in which interested citizens, legislators, and regulators meet and hash out the important policy details and potential consequences.

Regardless of one’s politics, executive branch authority to unilaterally enter the state into any interstate agreement is a power that neither this Legislature, nor future, will relish. Lawmakers should protect the interests of low-income and rural Mainers by passing LDs 1366 or 1472 this session. No Mainer should be subject to new taxes and fees without an affirmative vote of their Legislature.

About Nick Murray

Nick Murray, of Cornish, currently serves as Policy Analyst with Maine Policy Institute, writing, researching, and bringing Mainers together over the issues facing the state. Previously, he served as Outreach Coordinator, planning events to spread the word about Maine Policy's work to new audiences around Maine.

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