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I have said time and time again that Maine has it all – natural beauty, an amazing work-force and tremendous people. We are a state that is admired from afar and cherished by those who are lucky enough to live here.

But that’s not to say that we don’t face challenges.

Mainers are resilient – we meet those challenges head-on and we work through them.

Every year, Mainers face the inevitable challenge of the winter season. The joys of skiing and snowmobiling are overshadowed for some of the harsh weather and energy prices that seem to only go up.

I know families are struggling with this.

When I became Governor in 2003, one of the first things I did was to create the Office of Energy Independence at a time that oil was selling for about $20 dollars a barrel.

Fast forward five years to the present – oil prices have topped out at $100 dollars a barrel, gasoline prices have doubled and people throughout the Northeast are struggling to stay warm.

We’ve established the Keep ME Warm Program to aid families who need heating assistance but don’t qualify for Federal heating assistance.

With the help of the United Way, Eastern Maine Funders and the Maine Community Action Agencies, the program has raised more than $1 million dollars for fuel assistance.

Last month, Irving Oil announced a donation of $100,000 for the fund; and L.L. Bean said it would donate $250,000.

This fund is a great example of “neighbors helping neighbors.”

In addition, we learned last week that Maine will receive an $8.8 million dollar relief package in emergency funds for additional fuel assistance.

With that money, more than 48,000 households that require energy assistance will be able to afford more oil for this winter. It won’t be able to get them through the entire winter, but it will help.

I want to thank our Congressional Delegation for working together to help bring the much-needed money home to Maine.

High energy prices are not just affecting families, but businesses are hurting as well.

I have talked to the truck drivers and small business owners who are being pushed to the brink.

This month, the statewide average for diesel hit a record price three days in a row. This problem is not going to correct itself.

I have heard the call for help and we’re answering that call.

Earlier this week, the Legislature passed - and I signed - a bill that allows for a temporary 5-percent increase in the amount of weight trucks can haul forest products on Maine roads.

The action is one step that can be taken to ease the burden on our forest products industry – and we’re already working on additional legislation to ease the tax burden for the industry as well.

But for too long, our country and our state have been dependent on costly foreign oil.

Eighty percent of Maine’s homes are reliant on oil for heat.

As prices have risen, we have sent billions of dollars out of state to pay for it. Money that otherwise would have remained in Maine with families and businesses here.

We have got to end our addiction to foreign oil.

We cannot be shy about new energy projects. We need to harness our natural resources and turn them into energy that is produced AND used here in the State of Maine. Wind, tidal, solar power, and our abundantly available natural resources in this State and we should capitalize on that.

Throughout the State we have over $2 billion dollars worth of wind power projects either approved or awaiting approval.

Maine’s economy is changing – and our industry must change with it.

During my State of the State, I announced a “Wood-to-Energy Initiative” to bring Maine-made sources of heat into homes and businesses.

The partnership will bring together the public and private sectors to explore what is possible and what is practical.

Maine will join New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island to look at the possibility of available forest resources to support a variety of initiatives while operating on a sustainable basis.

We will identify the business potential of new bio-energy and biochemical uses of our forest products;

And we will analyze the best use of those available forest products in terms of employment, profitability, long-term viability and sustainability.

We can develop renewable sources of energy made in Maine, by Maine businesses for Maine people. When we work together, everyone wins.

While the temperature isn’t as harsh as it was a few days ago, this weekend is still cold. And no matter how much we’ve come to expect winter, it doesn’t always make it easier to pay the bill. Keep an eye on your families and neighbors and lend a helping hand when it’s necessary.

Brighter, warmer days are ahead, but we’re going to stick together and help one another through this cold season in Maine – just as we have always done in the past.

Thank you and have a good weekend.

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