For the first time in 16 years, staff of Maine PowerOptions appeared before lawmakers Feb. 2 to explain how the quasi-state electricity consortium brings together hundreds of municipalities and school districts across the state to help them buy power.
Part 1: Five years after a scandal at the Maine Turnpike Authority landed its director in prison, a quasi-state program — Maine PowerOptions (MPO), which brings together municipalities, school districts and other state nonprofits to purchase electricity in bulk — lacks transparency and effective oversight.
Part 2: Both a confidential state probe and a subsequent independent investigation by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, including a review of a confidential agreement between Maine PowerOptions and its electricity supplier, raise questions about whether the quasi-state program is living up to its original mission of saving Maine taxpayers money.
Part 3: Several northeastern states, including New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts, have formed groups similar to Maine PowerOptions. Boston-based PowerOptions runs an organization nearly identical in mission to the Maine program, though far larger in scale — and with more transparency.
The Department of Environmental Protection will resume releasing data on oil rail shipments in Maine, reversing a five-month policy that kept the information out of the public eye.
Just last month, the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting filed a Freedom of Access Act request for the monthly data. The DEP, acting on the advice of the Attorney General’s office, decided that the oil data summaries were not covered by a new and controversial law that meant to make hazardous material rail shipments secret.
A 2015 law that ended the public’s right to know about hazardous freight on Maine railways sidestepped normal legislative processes, ignored federal policies and overcame a gubernatorial veto. Now even the law’s sponsor agrees it needs to be changed.
If the giant, ever-growing Irving corporations were to have a larger presence in Maine, what effects might there be on Mainers’ daily life? Our final story in this three-part series looks at the Irving companies’ growing domination of Aroostook County and Maine politics and the corporate giant’s potential effects in Maine’s marketplace, in the state’s political world and, possibly, in the news media.
“Expansion is the thing” was the motto of K.C. Irving, the twentieth-century tycoon who created the Irving family empire. An investigation by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting of the Irving-family domination of its New Brunswick homeland and of its growing economic and political influence in Maine suggests that this is still its motto — and that Maine is its expansion target.
Several books and a Canadian-government report have noted that the Irving family business’ power over the province of New Brunswick is probably unparalleled in the developed world. Our reporter, Lance Tapley, spent a number of days in the province, getting an unusual tour of the Irving refinery, and talking with both critics and supporters of Irving’s influence in the province.
Irving Oil has stopped and has no plan to resume shipping oil to its Canadian refinery via Maine rail lines. The decision was made earlier this year and confirmed recently in an email to the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting.
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