Who Needs Consent Of The Governed When There Are Profits To Be Made? Maine’s Rocket Launch Bill

Rocket launch site built at public expense in Kodiak, Alaska.

A local law with far reaching consequences snuck across the finish line this week in my state. The bill created a Maine Space Corporation, defined as a public-private partnership to facilitate establishing rocket launch sites in Vacationland. It was passed under the gavel i.e. without a roll call vote in the House, and will undoubtedly receive the governor’s signature as Janet Mills, a neoliberal Democrat, is a consistent cheerleader for corporate looting of public resources.

Why Maine? Most types of orbit require launch sites nearer the equator, but polar orbits need launching nearer the poles. A local space watcher theorizes that the Pentagon is promoting the construction of many “private” launch sites at the expense of others, hoping to drive down the cost of paying to use them for military launches by creating competition. 

Certainly, rocket launch sites are proliferating all over the planet.

A group of us collaborated to ferret out the details of a bill that was rushed through the public hearing process of the IDEA legislative committee. That event was successfully managed to hear from those who plan to profit from the bill but a dismal failure at hearing from actual Maine taxpayers (“no one testified against the bill!” gloated supporters). Considering not a single article or television news story on the bill appeared until after the public hearing, those of us who would have testified about objections didn’t know about it. We did of course then submit written testimony detailing our objections (which testimony you can read here).

During work sessions in committee, the bill received no fiscal note i.e. identification of expected costs to the public. One committee member reported the group was told that they would have to pass the bill to learn the eventual costs, another that the price tag would likely be $90 million.

 Two competing amendments further muddied the water as the bill passed out of committee with a divided report, two members voting no on any version and some voting “ought to pass” contingent upon one or the other of the amendments.

The amendment that was eventually adopted contains this gem of wholesale looting of public resources for private profits, couched of course in the impentrable language of bureaucratic fascism:

removes the prohibition of public officials, members of the board of directors or employees of the corporation from acquiring or holding a direct or indirect financial or personal interest in a corporation activity, a corporation property or a contract or proposed contract in connection with a corporation activity.”

My husband called to leave a message with our senator on the morning we had heard that the bill would be taken up after passing with no roll call vote in the House. According to the Senate office in Augusta, it had already passed the previous night.

In an email our senator, Brad Farrin, (one of 7 who voted no) commented:

I agree with your assessment of LD 1923 as many bills during this “emergency “ session are being rushed through without proper hearings and debate.

In addition to our website NoToxicRockets4ME, here is the one-pager we prepared for citizen lobbying efforts in advance of its passage:

“Explosion rocks SpaceX test launch site in Florida during test“”

You might think that the state’s big environmental organizations would have opposed this bill, but you would need to ask yourself first if they take money from the Democratic Party. You might also ask yourself why these organizations nationally have been so ineffectual in halting the extraction activities that are hastening us to climate chaos whether D’s or R’s are in control of the White House and Congress. (Hint: if it involves pushing back on the military, fugedaboudit.)

The only group successful at opposing the plan for rocket launches from the Maine coast was the lobster fishing community of tiny Jonesport. They rallied around and got a moratorium in place as one of the originators of the bill made plans to launch from an island smack dab in the middle of their fishing grounds. The rocket profiteer eventually dropped plans saying the public were misinformed but so stubborn that he’ll look for a site in Florida instead.

Is the consent of the governed needed to put a good appearance on things? 

NIMBY efforts would lead us to say so, but the way LD 1923 was bum rushed through the legislative process suggests otherwise. This year Maine’s governor has vetoed a slew of bills strongly supported by the people who voted for her, but she’ll no doubt sign this one at the behest of her corporate sponsors.

She’s counting on the fact that most in Maine will vote for her anyway, because the Republican is so awful.

Democrats may continue misconstruing that as “having the people’s support,” but my reading of history tends to suggest otherwise.

A staggering inflation rate for food and fuel, and no universal healthcare despite a ongoing pandemic, is what national Democratic leadership is offering up. 

Maybe the ruling class needs to keep building weapons while children go to bed hungry because they actually do know what happened to regimes that lost the consent of those they governed?