AUGUSTA, Maine — Reactions to President Barack Obama’s ambitious and sweeping climate change announcement on Monday were hot and cold among environmentalists, energy experts and members of Maine’s congressional delegation.
While some said that the package disproportionately benefits Maine and the other New England states where heating oil is the major source of energy, others said Obama’s aggressive push toward renewable energy sources is too much, too soon.
In an announcement that some have called an attempt to enhance Obama’s legacy as attention shifts to the race to succeed him, the Environmental Protection Agency on Monday released the final version of its Clean Power Plan, which proposes a more than 30 percent decrease in 2005 levels of carbon pollution from power plants by 2030.
“The United States is leading by example today, showing the world that climate action is an incredible economic opportunity to build a stronger foundation for growth,” said EPA administrator Gina McCarthy in a news release.
The package calls on states to develop their own plans to institute emissions trading mechanisms that will help them achieve overall pollution reduction goals.
Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and Senate Climate Action Task Force, said in a written statement that he was pleased states will be allowed to develop their own plans.
“I am encouraged that it sets concrete clean air goals and empowers states to tailor their own paths to achieve emissions reductions benchmarks rather than simply handing down a set of Washington-devised blanket regulations that will only make it more difficult to meet the distinct needs of individual states,” said King.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she was pleased that Obama’s plan was less stringent than originally proposed, particularly for states such as Maine that have already made progress on reducing air pollution. Maine is one of several northeastern and mid-Atlantic states that are part of a carbon-trading program called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and Maine also has made strides with energy efficiency programs.
“The EPA’s original proposal would have unfairly disadvantaged and asked more of states that took action early than it would have from states that had not yet acted to reduce their emissions,” said Collins in a written statement. “The regulations released today represent a considerable improvement in this regard.”
Collins and King both said they will monitor implementation of the program to ensure that biomass — which means wood products — continues to be an acceptable source of energy for states such as Maine to use to reach renewable energy goals.
Maine 2nd District U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican, criticized the plan as a government overreach.
“While I appreciate concerns about our state’s great outdoors, I’m worried that the proposal the president has put forward is far too overreaching and harmful to Maine’s hardworking businesses and employees,” said Poliquin in a written statement. “Overregulation and poor government policies have led to higher energy prices for families in Maine and increased risk to our national security.”
Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat who represents Maine’s 1st District, was enthusiastic about Obama’s proposal and said it would help curb effects of global warming that are already evident in extreme weather events and ocean acidification.
“With sources like offshore wind and tidal power already being developed in Maine, it would be a huge opportunity for the state’s economy and workforce,” she said in a written statement.
Tony Buxton, an energy lobbyist for Preti Flaherty, said Obama’s proposal is great news for New England, which he said consumes more than 80 percent of the nation’s heating oil.
“It will save money and lower emissions on the electricity generation side and will also help us get off oil for home heating,” said Buxton, who has long been a proponent of renewable energy. “What the president is asking us to do is something that is completely in our interest.”
Todd Griset, a partner at Preti Flaherty, said Obama’s plan could face problems if states opt out of it, even though the EPA would then impose federal rules on states in that event. He said some congressional Republicans have urged states to ignore the Clean Power Plan.
“States are in a difficult dynamic when they’re getting different signals,” he said.
Adrienne Bennett, a spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Paul LePage, declined to comment on the issue until LePage has had a chance to review the program in detail.
Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, called the plan “great news.”
“It will ensure that other states join us and do their part to address climate change before it takes too great a toll on our economy, our health and our way of life,” he said. “Maine has taken bold, effective action; these national limits on carbon pollution are way overdue.”