Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins are part of a great Maine tradition of national leadership on the environment. Working across party lines, Maine Sen. Edmund Muskie championed two of our nation’s bedrock environmental laws — the Clean Air Act of 1970 and the Clean Water Act of 1972. These laws have had incalculable benefits for our country, our health and our environment.
Today, our senators have another seminal opportunity to protect the country’s environment for future generations on an issue that is no less urgent — improving our nation’s energy policies and dealing with the climate crisis.
Support from Sens. Snowe and Collins will be vital if the Senate hopes to pass comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation this year. In September, the “Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act” was introduced in the Senate. With a broad coalition of major corporations, utilities, and labor groups, along with leagues of concerned citizens calling for us to boost clean energy and cut carbon pollution, now is the time to act.
Many studies show that a comprehensive clean energy plan is the most direct way to attack our current economic crisis, which cost the country another 290,000 jobs in August alone. Because our failed energy policies have been part of the problem — straining family budgets and sending billions of dollars to oil-rich dictatorships that are hostile to our interests — clean energy can be a big part of the solution.
A companion to the Senate bill, the “American Clean Energy & Security Act,” passed the U.S. House of Representatives with bipartisan support in June. From converting manufacturing plants to produce wind turbines to training workers at community colleges to install solar paneling, the legislation will help create more than a million jobs in America — including hundreds right here in Maine.
This is not just wishful thinking — it’s a transformation that’s already under way. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, job growth in the clean energy sector has far outpaced job growth in the overall economy over the last decade.
A strong clean energy and climate bill also offers the best route toward reducing the global warming pollution that is devastating our environment.
In a recent report of the effects of climate change in Maine, the University of Maine states that, “Perhaps more than any other state, our social and economic well-being depends on the health and productivity of Maine’s forests, fields, lakes, rivers, and the marine waters of the Gulf of Maine.”
Independent experts and scientists have reached a broad consensus that climate change, if left unchecked, will cost the American economy trillions of dollars as droughts, storms and pests become more severe. Human-made climate change is not a legacy we hope to leave for future generations.
Limits on carbon pollution are an essential part of the solution. Forcing polluters to take responsibility for their emissions will create a level playing field for growing clean energy industries, and will address economic recovery and carbon pollution simultaneously.
Yet there are challenges to overcome. Already, a coalition of big oil companies has spent more than $80 million lobbying against clean energy. Rather than presenting an honest picture of the job creation and long-term savings offered by clean energy, they are doing everything they can to keep us hooked on the failed energy policies of the past.
Passing clean energy and climate legislation will require courage — courage Sens. Snowe and Collins have shown time and again in the great Maine tradition of environmental leadership — from increasing fuel efficiency standards for our cars and trucks, to protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to conserving Maine’s forestland.
We encourage them to continue their track record of bipartisan leadership in helping to enact comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation. Doing so will help protect consumers, enhance our national security, create jobs and curb global warming pollution.
Horace A. Hildreth Jr. is chairman of Diversified Communications and served in the Maine state Senate from 1966 to 1968. Maureen Drouin is the executive director of the Maine League of Conservation Voters.