Over the next few weeks, world leaders are gathering in Paris for the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, where attendees will seek to negotiate a binding international agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
U.S. President Barack Obama hopes his Clean Power Plan, announced in August, will represent America’s good faith contribution to controlling climate change. That plan seeks to cut carbon emissions in the U.S. by 32 percent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels, largely by requiring the states to each develop strategies to reduce dependence on coal plants and shift more to renewable energy sources.
While Obama’s plan has been widely described as “ambitious” and even “transformative,” it’s also been derided by opponents as another case of federal over-regulation of the states, with questionable long-term benefits.
So where do Maine’s representatives in Washington, D.C., fit in to all of this?
Against that backdrop of ongoing climate change discussions, the following chart shows how a few of the nation’s most prominent environmental groups score the three longest-serving members of Maine’s congressional delegation — U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree.
Of note, this information was gathered from the searchable political databases provided by VoteSmart.org. (In one of the places where VoteSmart had incomplete information — namely, on the subject of where the senators stood on whether human activity contributes to climate change, we just checked a January vote on the issue to fill in the blanks.)
First-term U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, who took office less than a year ago, has yet to be officially rated or ranked by any of these environmental groups, according to VoteSmart, which explains why he’s not in the grid. It’s also worth pointing out that nearly all of these organizations lean left, with perhaps the exception of ConservAmerica, a Republican environmental advocacy group.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine
“The plan issued by President Obama today appears to be more flexible than was originally proposed, providing states with more time to submit plans and to achieve compliance with the requirements to reduce their carbon pollution from power plants.
“I am encouraged to learn that the emissions targets for Maine will not be as stringent as was originally proposed, in recognition of the fact that Maine has already made substantial progress in reducing carbon emissions, increasing energy efficiency, spurring the adoption of clean energy technologies, and improving air quality and public health, including through the State’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). By contrast, 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. The regulations released today represent a considerable improvement in this regard.
“In addition, biomass energy is a sustainable, responsible, renewable, and economically significant energy source. Many states, including Maine, are relying on renewable biomass to meet their renewable energy goals. While I understand that the Clean Power Plan will allow for the use of certain biomass as a compliance tool, I want to ensure that it appropriately recognizes the carbon benefits of forest bioenergy in a way that helps states, mills, and the forest products industry and recognizes the carbon neutrality of wood. Regulatory clarity is needed so that biomass markets can thrive and our nation can reap the benefits of this important energy source, a message that was clearly stated in a bipartisan letter that I recently sent to the EPA, DOE, and USDA that was signed by 45 of my colleagues.
“[The] release of the first-ever standards that address carbon pollution from power plants is significant, and after the details of the plan and the statewide goals are released for Maine, I look forward to reviewing the specifics and to hearing feedback from Maine regulators on how EPA has addressed their concerns in the final rule.
“Climate change is a significant risk that could threaten Maine’s working forests, fishing, agricultural industries, as well as tourism and recreation. Greenhouse gasses are also a clear threat to our health. I will work to support responsible and realistic regulations to reduce carbon pollution.”
(Collins also was one of two primary sponsors of the Super Pollutants Act of 2015, hailed as the first bipartisan climate bill of the year, which seeks to address a range of non-carbon dioxide pollutants such as methane, toxic refrigerants and soot. Read more about that bill here.)
U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine
“The Clean Power Plan announced … is an important step forward in the effort to turn the tide against climate change, better protect public health, and transition toward a future that is defined not by fossil fuels, but by clean, renewable energy sources. While the plan is extensive and I have yet to review all of the details, 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. I also look forward to further evaluating the plan’s impact on sustainably-derived biomass to help ensure that Maine’s forest products industry is not buried in the sort of bureaucratic red tape that would hinder the production of this renewable and sustainable resource.
“But fundamentally, this plan is about our future. It’s about ensuring our children will have clean air to breathe, that our economy can thrive without relying solely on fossil fuels, and that our planet will remain a vibrant home for all who follow us. It’s up to us to lead.
“I look forward to working with my colleagues to strengthen and improve it. I hope that we can work together in a productive way to ensure a brighter, more sustainable future for the generations to come.”
He later added:
“For the life of me, I don’t understand why this is a partisan, political, controversial issue. This is simply science. Nobody is going to the floor of the United States Senate and trying to repeal the fact that light travels at 186,000 miles per second. The correlation between temperature and CO2 is well established. Will [the Clean Power Plan] totally solve the problem? Of course not. But the only way to tackle a problem like this is in bite size chunks and this is a very important step. The thing I like about the Clean Power Plan is that it says here’s our goal, but the states, and the industries in those states, have to figure out how to get there — and I think that’s a much better approach than Washington trying to decide. I think that is a very important, but somewhat overlooked, characteristic of this plan and how it’s been developed.”
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine
“I applaud President Obama for taking bold action to address climate change. Maine communities are already dealing with the effects of climate change and carbon emissions, including rising sea levels, more extreme weather, and ocean acidification. By reducing these emissions at their greatest source — power plants — we can not only head off future impacts and protect public health, but drive toward utilizing clean energy sources. 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.”
U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine
“Like many fellow Mainers, I believe that it’s critical to protect the environment. A clean environment means better personal health and more jobs for Maine families. While I appreciate concerns about our state’s great outdoors, I’m worried the proposal the president has put forward is far too overreaching and harmful to Maine’s hardworking businesses and employees.
“Over-regulation and poor government policies have led to higher energy prices for families in Maine and increased risk to our national security. Too many of our paper mills have closed and jobs have been lost because the high cost of energy has made it hard to compete. With these closures came unnecessary hardship for thousands of Maine families and several local communities. This is simply unacceptable.
“I will continue to review the president’s plan, keeping in mind the need to protect our environment while allowing our businesses to grow. Knowing that quality of life must also include a paycheck, let’s all continue to work together to balance the two as America pushes to become energy independent.”