PORTLAND, Maine — Damariscotta River oyster farmer Bill Mook said on May 9 of last year, the average daily amount of carbon dioxide in the planet’s atmosphere crossed the 400-parts-per-million threshold.
The last time humans encountered carbon dioxide levels that high, they were just evolving as a species.
“That’s a number we haven’t seen for between 800,000 and 15 million years,” Mook said. “A lot of that carbon dioxide is dissolving in the ocean and making it more acidic.”
Mook, who said the increasingly acidic oceans are threatening his oysters’ abilities to form shells during their larval stages, joined Maine businessmen from other fields Wednesday morning in Portland to voice his support for a slate of new federal carbon pollution limits under consideration.
Bonnie Frye Hemphill of the Natural Resources Council of Maine said her organization called the Portland news conference to thank the state’s U.S. senators, Republican Susan Collins and independent Angus King, for their previous support of carbon pollution regulations and to urge the duo to maintain their stances in the face of pressure from coal-fired power plant operators to roll back the proposed limits.
Under the rules being considered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, new power plants would be prohibited from emitting more than 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour.
Typical coal plants currently emit more than 1,800 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour. The United States has limits in place on how much arsenic, mercury and lead pollution power plants can emit, but the latest proposed caps represent the first such restrictions on carbon pollution.
The EPA is slated to release plans for new carbon pollution standards for existing power plants in June, according to the NRCM.
“Shellfish hatcheries are right on the front line. We’re the canaries in the coal mine,” said Mook. “The time for excuses and procrastination is over. We either pay now or we pay a whole lot later.”
Attached to a letter the NRCM plans to send to Collins and King on the issue is a list of nearly 250 Maine business owners who have signed on in support of the new EPA standards.
Among them are developer Kevin Mattson and Ken McGowan, owner of Portland’s Custom House Wharf, the Porthole Restaurant and Casablanca Cruises. The two joined Mook and Hemphill at McGowan’s eatery for Tuesday morning’s news conference.
Mattson said rising water levels, often attributed to the melting of the polar ice caps due to heavy carbon emissions and climate change, threaten Maine’s historic downtowns, many of which are built near the state’s coast and waterways.
McGowan said extreme weather and temperatures, again often linked by scientists directly or indirectly back to carbon emissions, threatens the stability of his business.
“Climate change is affecting us on a daily basis,” he said. “Our business is down 50 percent from last year, mainly because of the cold weather.”
Hemphill said Maine “has everything to gain and nothing to lose from these power plant pollution standards.”
“Mainers get stuck breathing the air from dirty coal plants in upwind states,” she said. “While Maine and the Northeast have already taken concrete action to reduce power plant pollution, including through our Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the new EPA rules will ensure power plants across the country follow our lead.”