LePage pushes natural gas, criticizes sheriffs, Collins in Falmouth comments

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FALMOUTH — Arguing that reducing energy costs is a critical catalyst for spurring economic growth, Gov. Paul LePage called Thursday for the creation of more capacity to bring natural gas to Maine.

But LePage said since he’s gotten nowhere negotiating with leaders in Massachusetts and New York to expand natural gas pipelines through New England, he will instead turn to Canada.

LePage was speaking at the fifth annual Natural Gas Conference, which was held at The Woodlands Club.

The conference, hosted by the Portland law firms of Verrill Dana and Pierce Atwood, also included panel discussions on commercial and industrial usage, natural gas as a transportation fuel and natural gas in power generation.

LePage was one of the keynote speakers at the conference and said natural gas is “very, very critical. We can’t move forward as a state without more pipeline capacity.”

He also said industry is either leaving Maine or not coming to the state due to high energy costs, a mantra he’s repeated since first being elected governor in 2010.

LePage said many states, particularly those in the South and Midwest, have energy costs that are at least 35 percent cheaper than those in Maine.

He said there are many companies and industries that would “love to come to Maine, but they can’t make money here because the energy costs are so great.”

“I’ve been trying to convince the Legislature that we really need to have electricity that’s affordable,” LePage said.

“We’re in the bottom 10 in prosperity,” arguing that affordable energy would go a long way toward growing the economy and increasing wages for workers.

The governor said he would be meeting with leaders from New Brunswick and Quebec “in the next few months” to see what could be done to bring natural gas into Maine from its northern neighbor.

He said that only 16 miles of additional pipeline would be needed to connect with Canadian natural gas lines.

LePage also argued that with significantly lower energy costs it would be possible to reinvent the paper industry in Maine, particularly in terms of the increasing demand for bio-degradable food packaging.

“We have 17 million acres of forestland and if we’re ever going to be prosperous, we have to put it to good use,” LePage said. “Working forests equal prosperity.”

He also said that his energy policy is “very simple: lowering the cost without harming the environment and protecting natural resources.”

LePage said that renewable energy “has its place,” but also said that “natural gas is our best shot,” in terms of powering industry.

He said that while “alternative energies have a place in our mix,” solar and wind, for instance, would not be able to produce enough energy to meet industrial demands.

LePage also said that “if we don’t solve this problem, we could lose 80,000 jobs (across) New England in the next three years.”

“All we hear is ‘we’ve got to save the planet’ and I agree, but Maine has the highest renewable energy portfolio in the country, but also the highest energy costs,” he said.

“The most valuable asset is human life and I think poverty is an environmental problem. If I can be of any help to push the needle, I’m all in,” LePage added.

Immigration enforcement

In an impromptu press conference following his remarks, LePage repeated his threat to fire any county sheriff who does not follow the law in terms of detaining illegal immigrants.

“There are many laws I don’t like, but you can’t pick and choose. I don’t want to fire anyone, but don’t tell me you won’t enforce the law,” LePage said.

“It’s not appropriate for a law enforcement officer not to enforce the law,” the governor said. “I represent 1.3 million Mainers and I will do everything in my power to keep them safe,” even if that includes violating the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Regarding the announcement this week by Anthem Blue Cross that it would pull out of the state’s health-care marketplace, LePage blamed Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins for the Senate’s failure to bring another attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act to the floor for a vote.

Insurance companies “are dying in the individual market,” LePage said. “They can’t function because the ACA makes it impossible to have a positive bottom line.”

He said he would “love nothing more than for the Graham-Cassidy bill to pass. It’s a shameful thing what (Collins has) done to this state.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Gov. Paul LePage at the fifth annual Natural Gas Conference, Sept. 28 at The Woodlands Club in Falmouth: Natural gas is “very, very critical. We can’t move forward as a state without more pipeline capacity.”