The current round of proposals to build LNG terminals, and the state’s response to them, is reminiscent of Maine’s flirtation with oil refineries a quarter-century ago. Back then, developers would poke their heads up here and there, counting on support from people in need of jobs, business-oriented citizens, tax-conscious politicians and local officials. Over about 15 years, proposals surfaced in Machiasport, Eastport, Searsport and Long Island. In some cases the state held hearings; in most cases the major opposition came from environmental groups concerned about spills. Over the years, proposals for aluminum smelters, nuclear power plants and cargo ports came and went as well. In the end, except for Maine Yankee, nothing got built.

Now we have LNG. A proposal for Harpswell came and went last winter. Since then, developers have been sniffing around in Searsport and in Casco Bay. Local opposition, well organized after Harpswell’s experience, has stiffened in Casco Bay. The state seems to be testing the political waters before it commits itself: guardedly supportive of an LNG facility on state-owned land in Searsport while indicating it won’t buck local opposition to a plant elsewhere. From outside state government, at least, it would appear that Maine officials want an LNG plant for its revenue, jobs and potential contribution to energy security, but aren’t willing to take the political heat to get one.

Maine is as dependent on outside sources of energy as ever; Maine Yankee is gone and we now use gas to generate much of our electricity; we haven’t done nearly as much as we should to conserve energy.

What’s required here is leadership, and on this issue at least, we aren’t getting it. Siting a facility as large as an LNG plant calls for a regional approach; the state must not stand back and allow developers to play one town off against another, one part of Maine against another. Nor should the state allow one community to reap all the benefits of an LNG plant while imposing the costs on everyone in the neighborhood.

At the very least, an LNG facility shouldn’t be built anywhere in Maine without assurances that the public and its elected representatives will have a say in where it’s built. And we need to be certain that the benefits (taxes) from such a development will be widely shared.

It goes without saying that Maine citizens and their government need to do much more than they have to conserve energy – for all anyone knows, conservation could eliminate the need for more energy facilities in the first place.