Saturday, October 31, 2009

Senate approves $10 million fo Maine projects in Interior Appropriations conference report

U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a member of the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, announced that the Senate approved the fiscal year (FY) 2010 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations conference report by a vote of 72-28. This bill includes $10 million in federal funding that Senator Collins successfully secured for Maine projects.

The bill, which passed the House earlier today, will now be sent to the President for his signature.

“The Interior Appropriations bill includes important funding Maine’s lakes, parks, National Park and national wildlife refuges, water and sewer infrastructure, and land preservation,” said Senator Collins. “This funding will help protect and preserve the natural beauty of our state.”

$3.3 million of this funding was not included in the original House version of the bill, including funding for the Saint Joseph’s College milfoil project, rehabilitation of Deering Oaks Park in Portland, Maine Coastal Islands’ seabird nesting project, and the Limestone Water and Sewer District. However, Senator Collins, who is the only member of Maine’s delegation to serve on an Appropriations Committee was successful in ensuring that these dollars were included as part of both the Senate and final versions of the Interior spending bill.

Full funding for Maine projects in the bill is as follows:

* $3,000,000 for Trust for Public Land, Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge. The Rachel Carson NWR has an opportunity to acquire, at below cost, a longstanding priority property in Kennebunkport called Timber Point. This 110 acre property includes 2.25 miles of undeveloped coastline, upland forests, wetlands and marshes that provide critical habitat for a wide variety of wildlife. Permanent protection of the entire 110 acres, on over which the refuge already owns a conservation easement covering more than 45 acres, would ensure public access to Maine's coastline in a highly developed part of the state. Finally, refuge acquisition of the Timber Point property will protect nationally significant estuarine and marine resources, ensure habitat protection for migratory waterfowl and seabirds, and protect the water quality at a nearby public swimming beach. Federal funds will be matched by privately raised donations. This funding was included in the President’s FY 2010 budget request.

* $500,000 for Saint Joseph’s College of Maine, Maine Lakes Invasive Species/Habitat Restoration Initiative. These funds would help support a public-private partnership between Saint Joseph’s College of Maine; two major Maine Lake Associations; and volunteer organizations at Maine lakes. This partnership would launch a comprehensive attack on the threat that milfoil, a dangerous invasive plant species, poses to the 6,000 lakes in the State of Maine. The focus will be on the milfoil infestation threat in Little Sebago Lake and six other lakes as a “test bed” for the development of milfoil action plans for other Maine lakes.

* $1,250,000 for City of Portland, Deering Oaks Park Rehabilitation. This would provide for the design and construction of the infrastructure improvements to address the environmental and public health risks caused by combined sewer overflows (CSO) and storm water runoff which pollute Deering Oaks Pond and create a blighting impact on the park and surrounding neighborhoods. Deering Oaks Park, where the Pond is located, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. However, due to CSO problems, the Pond is deteriorating and poses an environmental and public health risk. Water quality tests show high levels of coliform bacteria which requires the City to restrict or prohibit people from using the pond.

* $1,000,000 for Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge, Maine Seabird Nesting Islands. The Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge is seeking to acquire five Nationally Significant Seabird Nesting Islands and a key parcel on a sixth island. These six nesting locations are scattered among a collection of more than 4,500 islands, of which 377 have been designated as Nationally Significant Seabird Nesting sites by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Adding this wildlife habitat to the refuge will help the Fish & Wildlife service meet its many obligations, including ensuring the health and welfare of seabird species and conducting research. By adding this wildlife habitat to the refuge, it will help the Fish & Wildlife Service better meet its many obligations, including ensuring the health and welfare of seabird species and conducting research.

* $550,000 for Limestone Water & Sewer District, Greater Limestone Regional Wastewater Treatment Facilities. The proposed project is the second phase of upgrading the Limestone Water & Sewer District’s wastewater treatment facility (formerly part of Loring Air Force Base.) The improvements are new pipes and pumping stations. It also will include installation of energy efficient and green (solar voltaic panels) equipment for the effluent pump station. These upgrades will assist the Loring Development Authority to attract new industry and possibly reactivate an existing power plant. This will also allow for the waste discharge to be removed from the Little Madawaska River which will improve trout and salmon fishing and water quality as well as minimize increases in sewer user fees and bring the facility into compliance with the MEDEP Toxic Reduction Evaluation Program. These industries would create temporary and permanent jobs as well as tax revenue for local communities and the state.

* $3,700,000 for Maine Department of Conservation, Katahdin Forest Expansion through the Forest Legacy Program This is the number two ranked Forest Legacy project in the President’s budget request. This will provide matching funds to state and local resources for the easement and fee protection of 19,647 acres of undeveloped lake front and forest land in a portion of the country valued for its forests and associated natural resources. The Katahdin Forest Expansion project area includes five parcels totaling 19,647 acres in the heart of Maine’s Northwoods and will connect to existing recreation and conservation lands north and south of Millinocket. It complements and enhances previous federal investment in land protection around Baxter State Park. In addition, the viewshed from the summit of Mount Katahdin and the federally designated Appalachian Trail will be protected. The tracts include portions of popular snowmobile and ATV trails, and the Seboeis area also hosts ATV trails.

Report Language for Mercury Monitoring

Senator Collins also worked to a provision in the bill encouraging EPA to continue its work to coordinate a monitoring network for mercury.

Remembering our nation's veterans

Weekly column by Senator Collins

For more than two centuries, young Americans have left the comfort and security of home in order to preserve our freedom and to extend the blessings of freedom to others. Veterans Day is a solemn anniversary-- a day set aside not to celebrate victory in a great battle, but to honor the sacrifice that brought peace. The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 was not marked by the roar of cannon. Rather, it was the moment the guns were silenced by courage, devotion to duty, and a commitment to freedom.
The virtues that brought about that silence echo through the ages. It is appropriate that Veterans Day now honors all who have defended our nation. Whether they serve in the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, or the Merchant Marine, whether they serve in the regular forces, the National Guard or the Reserves, they sacrificed much to serve our country.
It was my father who taught me to honor our veterans. A World War II veteran, my father earned his Purple Heart when he was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge. From my father, I learned that the heroes who wear the uniforms of America’s armed forces are peace-loving, caring men and women who put aside the comforts of civilian life to advance the cause of freedom.
The men and women we honor on Veterans Day have paid the price of our freedom in times of conflict, and they are our shield in times of peace. We honor those who paid the ultimate price.  We honor those who lived beyond their years of military service and returned home. And we honor those who serve today. We owe them all a great debt.
We repay that debt in part with the gratitude we express on Veterans Day, but only in part.  Today, nearly 24 million Americans proudly wear the title of veteran.  There are more than 136,000 veterans right here in our great state of Maine.   In addition to our gratitude, we must also repay our debt with health care, rehabilitation services, educational and employment opportunities that our veterans have earned by their sacrifice to our country.  As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I support the Fiscal Year 2010 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill.  The Senate version includes $53.2 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs, including $50 million for a new Rural Clinic Initiative to help provide additional Community Based Outreach Clinics in rural areas such as Maine.  The bill also includes $250 million to continue a Rural Health Initiative, created last year, that is specifically aimed at improving medical care for veterans in rural areas.
We are fortunate to live in a state in which so many have served our nation with honor, and in which so many join together to honor those who serve. From the Troop Greeters at Bangor International Airport to the many citizens who volunteer countless hours to helping and supporting our vets, to the veterans service organizations, the people of Maine have always expressed our gratitude with generosity and a spirit of caring.
As we honor those who serve, we should also remember the parents, the wives and husbands, the children and other loved ones of our veterans and our troops. The families left behind must face the challenges of daily living as they endure the separation and the relentless worry. Their sacrifices are great, and we must thank them as well.
The Americans we honor on Veterans Day fought for the security of our nation, and for benefit of mankind. Those who serve today – the veterans of tomorrow – carry on this great mission.   They have earned our deepest thanks, not just on Veterans Day, but for all the days to come.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Senator Collins demands urgent explanation of H1N1 vaccine shortages, delays

In a letter Monday to Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Senator Susan Collins, Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, asked for urgent explanations on the availability of the H1N1 flu vaccine. Her letter follows the committee’s recent hearing, “H1N1 Flu: Monitoring the Nation’s Response,” held Oct. 21 to examine safety, supply and delivery issues.
In her letter Monday, Senator Collins, R-Maine, expressed additional concerns and questioned why some of the vaccines won’t arrive until after people have been infected with the virus. Senator Collins requested answers to her inquires by Friday. The full text of the letter follows:

The Honorable Kathleen Sebelius
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, DC 20201

Dear Secretary Sebelius:

As the President acknowledged just a few days ago, the nation is facing an emergency in responding to the H1N1 epidemic. A primary concern for nearly every American at this time is the lack of sufficient vaccine supply even for those at high risk for serious complications, including children, young adults, and pregnant women. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) originally projected that it would have at least 40 million doses available by the end of October. More recently, however, HHS downgraded this amount to just 28 to 30 million doses by that time. As I pointed out to you last week at the H1N1 hearing held by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the lack of sufficient supply is alarming.

I am troubled that HHS has assured the public since August that the government would have enough vaccine to meet demand. It now appears that much of the vaccine could arrive only after many people have already been infected with H1N1. Indeed, an October 15, 2009 Purdue University study predicts that nearly 60 percent of the American population will be infected with H1N1, that a third of them will fall ill, and most disturbingly, that the peak week of infection was this past week. It seems that HHS gave its assurance of sufficient supply in August without adequate information to make such a commitment. In addition, HHS should have noted that an adequate supply also depended on whether one or two doses were needed for the vaccine to be effective – something that was not known until September.

Before our Committee, you stated that delays in production were due to problems in the manufacturing process that have now been corrected. To ensure that actions are taken to address fully the delays in providing the vaccine to the public, I ask that you respond to the following questions by October 30th:

• What is HHS's revised schedule for distributing the full 250 million doses of H1N1 vaccine?
• When does HHS expect that there will be enough vaccine to meet the needs of all those who are in the priority groups?
• What is the estimate of the number of doses of H1N1 vaccine required to vaccinate those in the high-risk groups?
• How will HHS ensure that the currently limited supply reaches those groups in an expedited manner?
• What actions is HHS taking to recover ground lost due to the prior production delays?

There are longer-term issues as well that affect our response capability. Most experts agree that a significant limiting factor in the production of any type of flu vaccine is our dependence on egg-based production rather than cell-based technology to produce the vaccine more quickly. How soon does HHS anticipate that the United States government can shift to cell-based technology for the production of flu vaccine? What effort is HHS making to ensure that this shift in production occurs rapidly and safely?

Of the five manufacturers of the H1N1 vaccine, only one is based in the United States while the other four are foreign. In the case of a pandemic, a foreign vaccine producer will likely be compelled to prioritize the bulk of their production for their own country's consumption. What investment or policy changes should the United States undertake to ensure that the U.S. can manufacture a sufficient percentage of flu vaccine domestically?

Should you have any questions about this letter, please contact me directly or have your staff contact Asha Mathew on my Committee staff at (202) 224-8432. I look forward to your prompt response.


Susan M. Collins
Ranking Member

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Collins Demands Explanation for H1N1 Vaccine Shortage

from MPBN:

Maine Senator Susan Collins is demanding to know why there are shortages of the H1N1 vaccine. Collins sent a letter Monday to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, asking her to explain why there are fewer doses of the vaccine than federal officials had originally projected.

Collins, the ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, questioned why some of the vaccines won't arrive until after people have become infected with the virus.

In her letter, Collins said the tight supplies of the H1N1 vaccine is "alarming." She said HHS originally projected 40 million doses of the vaccine by the end of October, and only 28 to 30 million doses have materialized.

"I am troubled that HHS has assured the public since August that the government would have enough vaccine to meet demand," Collins writes in the letter. "It now appears that much of the vaccine could arrive only after many people have already been infected with H1N1."

Read the full letter >>

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Senator Collins announces $95.9 million for CMP smart grid

U.S. Senator Susan Collins today announced that the Central Maine Power Company will receive $95,900,000 in Smart Grid grant funding from the Department of Energy. The funding will be used to install a “smart meter” network for all residential, commercial and industrial customers in CMP’s service territory - approximately 650,000 meters.

“Smart meter technology will accelerate CMP’s plans to complete its Advanced Metering Infrastructure and allow customers to see in “real time” how much electricity they are using,” said Senator Collins. “Customers could then make informed decisions to decrease their usage during peak load times therefore reducing energy consumption and saving money.”

In a letter sent to the Department of Energy last month, Senator Collins strongly supported CMP’s application for this funding. In the letter, Senator Collins wrote that CMP has a longstanding working relationship with the Maine Public Utilities Commission, and has assembled an experienced team of project managers, subject matter experts, vendors and external consultants to complete the necessary installation of the “smart meter” network.

This funding is included in a $3.4 billion investment in Smart Grid technology being announced today by the President. It’s the largest single Smart Grid modernization investment in U.S. history. The funds are part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act which Senator Collins worked to craft earlier this year and will be matched by industry funding for a total public-private investment worth more than $8 billion.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Maine delegation asks for federal assistance for Maine shellfish industry

U.S. Senators Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins and Representatives Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree, in a letter, urged the U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to heed to Governor John E. Baldacci’s request for federal assistance and declare a fisheries disaster for the Maine shellfish industry.

“Last spring and summer, the shellfish industry in Maine experienced a severe economic crisis as a result of the closure of 97% of the State’s shellfish beds and 100% of the offshore beds in federal waters,” the delegation wrote. “The shellfish industry is vital to Maine’s economy. Approximately 3,000 harvesters and dealers depend directly upon access to healthy shellfish beds to make their living and support their families. Maine’s Department of Marine Resources (DMR) estimates total annual economic value of this industry in Maine at $50 million, with the largest proportion of that value coming from May through August. We once again urge you to consider declaring a fisheries disaster for the Maine shellfish industry and immediately make funds available under Section 312(a) of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, and any other assistance you can provide.”

*Full Copy of the Letter Follows:

October 19, 2009

The Honorable Gary Locke, Secretary
Department of Commerce
1401 Constitution Avenue
Washington, DC 20230

Dear Secretary Locke:

Last spring and summer, the shellfish industry in Maine experienced a severe economic crisis as a result of the closure of 97% of the State’s shellfish beds and 100% of the offshore beds in federal waters. These closures due to extensive rainfall and a subsequent, severe outbreak of a harmful algal bloom known as red tide have impacted the shellfish industry and coastal economy far more drastically than similar events occurring in 2005 and 2008. In those years, Maine received disaster declarations and Federal financial assistance for red tide-related fisheries failures. On October 5, 2009, Maine’s Governor John E. Baldacci formally requested assistance for the Maine shellfish industry under section 312(a) of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. We strongly support the Governor’s request for assistance to this industry so vital to the State of Maine.

The fisheries failure of this past spring and summer was not a product of overharvesting, overly restrictive regulatory measures, or other management actions. Rather, it was due to the overabundance of the naturally occurring toxin Alexandrium, exacerbated by the wettest summer in Maine’s recorded history. At its peak, the density of this toxin was nearly 100 times the federally mandated quarantine level, a concentration not seen since the early 1980s. The closure of these shellfish beds, some of which remained in effect until September, was justified in the interest of maintaining public safety, but could not have come at a worse time for Mainers dependent on the shellfish resource. Further, because this failure came as a result of natural oceanic and meteorological occurrences, a disaster declaration and subsequent allocation of relief funding will not cause any expansion of this failure, and may help mitigate the impact of future red tide events.

The shellfish industry is vital to Maine’s economy. Approximately 3,000 harvesters and dealers depend directly upon access to healthy shellfish beds to make their living and support their families. Maine’s Department of Marine Resources (DMR) estimates total annual economic value of this industry in Maine at $50 million, with the largest proportion of that value coming from May through August. On July 23, 2009 NOAA awarded $121,000 to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the University of Maine to conduct cruises to monitor the extent and magnitude of the red tide outbreak. We sincerely appreciate this investment and recognize this commitment to reducing the impacts of this disaster. Yet, while this emergency funding was justified and hastened reopening of some areas, it did not address the ongoing concerns of the hard-working shellfishermen who rely on this income to carry them through Maine’s long, cold winter.

We once again urge you to consider declaring a fisheries disaster for the Maine shellfish industry and immediately make funds available under Section 312(a) of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, and any other assistance you can provide. We look forward to your expeditious response to Governor Baldacci’s request and thank you on behalf of the people of Maine.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Senator Collins on Fox- health care reform

Senator Collins was on Fox and Friends discussing the health care reform debate:

Senator Collins on Hardball

Senator Collins discusses the health care reform debate on Hardball with Chris Matthews:

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Senator Collins' statement on health care reform debate

As the U.S. Senate moves forward in the health care reform debate, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) today released this statement:

“There simply is no question that our nation’s health care system requires substantial reform. The status quo of soaring health care costs, families struggling, millions uninsured, and health care provider shortages is unacceptable. Maine families and small businesses are paying ever higher premiums, increased deductibles and greater co-pays.

“Due, in large measure, to the efforts of Senator Olympia Snowe, who has worked tirelessly, the legislation passed by the Senate Finance Committee represents a substantial improvement over the costly and flawed alternative approved by the Senate Health Committee as well as the House bills.

“Nevertheless, the Senate Finance Committee’s bill falls short of the goal of providing access to more affordable health care for all Americans. The goal of health care reform must be to rein in costs and provide consumers with more affordable choices. Yet, many individuals and families would be forced to pay more for their health care under the Finance Committee bill, and they would have fewer choices. Our health care reform efforts should give Americans more, not fewer, choices of affordable coverage options.

“This bill also could lead to onerous financial penalties for small businesses that are already struggling to provide affordable health insurance to their employees. As structured, the bill actually could discourage small businesses from adding more jobs.

“I am troubled that the legislation would cut nearly $500 billion from Medicare, which provides care for our oldest Americans and our most vulnerable citizens. These cuts would adversely affect the ability of Maine’s hospitals and other health care providers to provide essential services to Medicare patients. Medicare, which is so critically important to our nation’s seniors, is already in financial trouble. It should not be the piggy bank for new spending programs when revenues are needed to shore up the current program.

“Finally, I am disappointed that the Finance Committee did not focus more on cost containment, which should have been one of the most important goals of this bill. For example, the legislation contains no meaningful medical liability reforms to reduce frivolous lawsuits and reduce the costly practice of defensive medicine. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that medical liability reform could save $54 billion in health care costs over the next decade. And the bill should do more to reform the health care delivery system in ways that would curb costs and improve the quality of care.

“I share the goal of passing responsible health care reform and, working with members on both sides of the aisle who share these concerns, I am hopeful that many improvements will continue to be made to produce a bill that can achieve bipartisan support. Our goal should be legislation that protects affordable health care choices, safeguards Medicare, and reduces costs to the consumer and the taxpayer especially at a time when we simply cannot afford to pay more.”

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Senator Collins secures major provision to assist Brunswick Naval Air Station redevelopment

U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a conferee on the Senate Defense Authorization bill, has successfully convinced her colleagues to support a critical provision that will help accelerate the transfer of excess military property, and reduce the cost, or even make no-cost transfers, to communities hurt by base closures, including Brunswick.

Specifically, language included in the final version of the bill states “the transfer of property may be for consideration at or below the estimated fair market value or without consideration. The determination of such consideration may account for the economic conditions of the local affected community and the estimated costs to redevelop the property.”

“I am delighted that my colleagues on the conference committee approved my request to include
No Cost Economic Development Conveyance language in the final version of the Defense Authorization bill,” said Senator Collins. “This legislation is critical to the timely and successful redevelopment of Brunswick Naval Air Station. This legislation will help Local Redevelopment Authorities to obtain properties at lower than market value, or perhaps even at no cost, and will be a cornerstone of implementing the master reuse plan for the base.

“These new provisions will provide the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority with additional tools to attract new businesses to the region and accelerate the redevelopment process. This will result in increased job opportunities for our skilled and dedicated workers and help to mitigate the very serious economic challenges created by the base’s closure. I fought hard to obtain these provisions in my work with the Senate Armed Services Committee, and I am truly delighted with the outcome.

Senator Collins added, “I would also like to thank Steve Levesque, the Executive Director of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority for his outstanding leadership on this initiative both in Maine and nationally through his work with the Association of Defense Communities.”

Earlier this year, Senators Collins and Olympia Snowe wrote to the President urging support for a provision that would increase the utilization of no-cost economic development conveyances as a tool for property disposal.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Senator Collins presented with "Friend of the First Amendment" award

In recognition of her continued efforts to improve open government at the federal level, The Maine Association of Broadcasters has honored U.S. Senator Susan Collins with its “Friend of the First Amendment Award.”

The award was presented during a ceremony in Augusta on Saturday, October 3.

Photo (L to R) - Suzanne Gaucher, President and CEO of the Maine Association of Broadcasters, Senator Collins, and Jon van Hoogenstyn, Chairman of Board of the Maine Association of Broadcasters

Senator Collins receives award from Stillwater Society

Senator Collins with Severin Beliveau (left) and University of Maine President Robert Kennedy

In May 2001, the Stillwater Society began awarding The Stillwater Presidential Award for Achievement. This award honors exceptional achievement by members of the University of Maine family. Nearly 20 alumni have been recognized for their achievements to date. The award is bestowed by the president of the University of Maine on behalf of the Stillwater Society. Friday night Senator Collins received this award and Severin Beliveau introduced her.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Senator Collins welcomes Maine troop greeters to Capitol Hill

U.S. Senator Susan Collins hosted a special Capitol Hill screening of “The Way We Get By,” a moving documentary that tells the emotional and very personal story of three dedicated troop greeters at Bangor International Airport. During a reception held prior to the screening of the film, Senator Collins introduced the filmmakers and the film’s subjects—Bill Knight, Jerry Mundy, and Joan Gaudet to Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden. Dr. Biden is a Blue Star Mother whose son, Beau, returned from a year-long deployment to Iraq last Friday.

Senator Collins then introduced Dr. Biden to the audience that gathered, including Maine’s Adjutant General, Major General John Libby, and Dr. Biden introduced the film.

For more information on "The Way We Get By", click here.