AUGUSTA, Maine – The Legislature’s State and Local Government Committee voted Wednesday to advance a bill introduced by Rep. Robert Saucier to encourage Maine taxpayer-funded institutions to purchase locally sourced wood pellets.
“We need to support the four pellet fuel producers in the state. All of them are facing a near-perfect storm of low oil prices, high temperatures and a strong U.S. dollar against foreign currencies,” said Saucier, D-Presque Isle. “All four are experiencing high inventories on hand and weak demand for their products. Many of these mills are working very limited hours or have shut down entirely, laying off workers.”
Saucier introduced the legislation in response to news that a company that contracts with the University of Maine at Fort Kent is purchasing Canadian pellets. The university’s two-year fuel contract for a biomass plant shared with the local school district requires two sources of wood pellets. The company, which provides fuel to the university, says that because Northeast Pellets is the only company in Aroostook County they purchase Canadian pellets as well.
Saucier says, however, that there are other wood pellet suppliers in Maine and that all taxpayer-funded institutions should be required to buy Maine-made goods if they are available.
Theresa Fowler, executive director of the Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce, submitted testimony in support of the legislation.
“In my years with the Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce, which serves Caribou, Presque Isle and 18 other communities in the area, we have worked with the forestry industry to help develop good jobs that will make the best use of our major renewable resource,” said Fowler. “In these years we have maintained rail service and seen the expansion of multiple processors. As taxpayers in the state of Maine, it is important that our tax dollars be used wisely and support state of Maine businesses that subsequently provide tax revenue, jobs and new dollars to the economy by adding value to our limited resources.”
The committee voted 7-6 to advance the measure. LD 1588 faces further votes before the House and Senate.
Saucier serves on the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee and the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. He is also House chair of the Maine Citizen Trade Policy Commission. He is in his second term in the Maine House and represents part of Presque Isle.