Policy Updates: Advancing MFT's Maine State Policy Priorities: PFAS, Solar and more!

Policy Updates: Advancing MFT's Maine State Policy Priorities: PFAS, Solar and more!

May 18, 2022


Henry Trotter

The Maine 2022 legislative session has ended, but we are pleased to report that many of MFT’s state policy priorities did very well this session.

Thank you to all of our members and supporters who responded to our action alerts on these bills. YOU helped create important policy wins for Maine farms and farmland!

Protecting Farms and Farmland from PFAS Contamination and Supporting Impacted Farmers

Protecting Maine farms and farmland from PFAS contamination and advocating for support for impacted farmers were top policy priorities for MFT this legislative session. The recently-passed supplemental budget, LD 1995, includes $60 million to provide farmers impacted by PFAS contamination with critical resources to support health monitoring, income replacement, new business models, relocation services, the buying of contaminated land, and soil remediation research. The supplemental budget also incorporates the language of LD 2013, establishing an advisory committee to make recommendations for how the $60 million in funding should be spent.

The passing of LD 1911 was another incredibly important development in Maine’s response to PFAS. This bill bans the land application of PFAS-contaminated sewage sludge and compost made from that sludge, as well as prohibits the sale of compost made from PFAS-contaminated sewage sludge in Maine. The bill passed the Legislature and Governor Mills signed it into law on April 20, 2022.

MFT worked closely with farmers, partners, legislators and our members on advocacy efforts in support of these bills, including:

  • Organizing with MOFGA a farmer listening session for public officials to hear the stories and support needs of impacted farmers;
  • Sending out numerous action alerts and policy updates to MFT members and supporters to encourage them to take action in support of the bill;
  • Reaching out to farms in MFT’s Farm Network to encourage them to contact their legislators in support;
  • Producing a video about an impacted farm and sharing it with members of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee;
  • Organizing with MOFGA and Defend Our Health a farm, business, and organizational sign-on letter that collected over 340 signatures and was delivered to members of the Appropriations Committee.

Another important policy development related to PFAS is the passage of LD 1875, requiring a study of methods to treat PFAS-contaminated leachate at state-owned landfills. This leachate is contributing to contamination of the Penobscot River, which is relied upon by the Penobscot Nation.

Balancing Solar Development and Farmland Protection

MFT supports renewable energy production on farms as long as it does not significantly diminish the potential for agricultural production or impact important agricultural resources. Solar energy production can provide economic support to a farm, reduce the farm’s energy costs, and is important for addressing climate change. But making sure we have the land base to support a robust local and regional food system – and food security in Maine – is also critical. Solar development in the state should not result in the loss of important agricultural soils, displace agricultural production, or impede the ability of farmers to access the land they need for their agricultural operations.

MFT worked on two bills this legislative session to support balanced solar siting by both guiding the siting of solar projects away from important agricultural resources and supporting the integration of agricultural production with solar development.

LD 856 would have advanced key recommendations to incentivize the siting of solar energy projects that minimize impacts to important agricultural lands. The Maine Legislature voted in favor of LD 856, but unfortunately the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee did not fund the bill, and so the legislation will not be enacted.

LD 1350 would have authorized the Maine Public Utilities Commission to conduct additional competitive solicitations for renewable energy resources. MFT worked with partners on amended language to provide priority in the selection process for projects that are sited on previously developed or contaminated lands, including lands with significant PFAS contamination. Unfortunately, LD 1350 did not pass for a variety of reasons.

Advocating for policy measures to create balanced solar siting will be a big policy priority for MFT for the 2023 legislative session.

Enhancing Agricultural Grant and Financing Programs

To support Maine’s rural economic development, farms must be economically viable. MFT supported an amendment to LD 219 because it proposed changes to two of the state’s agricultural grant and loan programs that would allow more farmers to access important financial support to grow successful businesses.

The bill requested dedicated funding for the Agricultural Development Grant (ADG) program, a very popular program that provides farmers with cost-share grants for market development, value-added processing projects, and new technology demonstration projects. The bill also proposed structural adjustments to the Agricultural Marketing Loan Fund (AMLF), which provides low-cost financing to farmers and food processors for projects that improve the manufacturing, marketability and production of Maine products.

The bill passed the Legislature and Governor Mills signed it into law on May 3, 2022.

Preventing the Development of Large Tracts of Farmland

Although MFT is very sensitive to the need for more housing in many areas of the state, we do not believe the way to address that challenge is to open up large tracts of farmland to development, particularly if the community has identified the protection of farmland and support for farms as a priority. This is especially true given that farmland in Maine is already threatened, and we need that land base to support the development of a more robust local and regional food system.

Therefore, this legislative session MFT opposed LD 1884, which would have prohibited the types of requirements that municipalities can set for zones primarily used for agriculture, and in doing so, limit the ability of communities to protect farmland through agricultural zoning.

A majority of the Legislature’s Committee on Labor and Housing voted this bill ought not to pass. This majority report was upheld by the Legislature, so the bill did not move forward.

Investing in Maine’s Dairy Stabilization Program (Tier Program)

In 2020, MFT published its Dairy Sector Report, which analyzes the challenges and opportunities facing the dairy sector in Maine and identifies policy and market interventions that could help to enhance the sector’s future viability. One of the critical policy recommendations included in the report is to support and invest in Maine’s Dairy Stabilization Program, or the Tier Program. The Tier Program provides an important safety net to dairy farmers in Maine during periods of market volatility, allowing more dairy farms to stay in business than would otherwise be possible without the Program.

The Tier Program provides support when dairy farmers receive less in payment than their cost of production. For the program to be effective, the cost of production must be based on realistic data, but the last time the Legislature updated the cost of production was in 2012. For this reason, MFT supported LD 1805, which updates the cost of production numbers based upon a survey of dairy farmers in Maine.

We are pleased to report that the Legislature allowed LD 1805 to take effect by a procedural move, thereby ensuring continued support for dairy farmers in Maine.

Supporting Tribal Sovereignty

As a farmland conservation and food systems organization, MFT understands the critical importance of access to land and the ability to manage natural resources and land use for both economic viability and environmental stewardship. For this reason, MFT was pleased to support LD 1626, which would enact the recommendations of a bipartisan task force so that the Passamaquoddy Tribe, the Penobscot Nation, and the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians enjoy the same rights, privileges, powers and immunities as other federally-recognized Tribes across the country. Unfortunately, the bill did not make it through the legislative process this session.

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