As the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, I know that climate change affects every single environmental program the DEP implements, and I am well aware of the impacts it has on our regulated community, including municipalities. Every single day we provide assistance to the regulated community on climate adaptation projects.
Why, then, did the Bangor Daily News assume in its June 25 editorial that little help was coming from Gov. Paul LePage’s administration for climate adaptation assistance to Maine communities?
In fact, it’s not just the department that works with municipalities on adaptation projects.
Last fall, I attended the New England Governors/Eastern Canadian Premiers meeting in Quebec where state and provincial leaders discussed continued collaboration on issues surrounding climate change, including adaptation strategies. LePage strongly recognizes that the protection of our environment involves helping communities reduce the vulnerabilities of both our infrastructure and our natural resources.
If you think about it, our built infrastructure keeps us warm, our water flowing and our waste discharges clean. Our waste management, drinking water and wastewater systems are vital to protecting public health. And our roads, culverts and bridges don’t just get goods and services to us, they allow us to move during emergencies. Not just our safety but the health of our environment depends on these built infrastructure systems working well.
The governor also wants to ensure that our approaches as government agencies are cohesive, consistent and helpful and that various agencies don’t create conflicting requirements and data or duplicative information. If an adaptation project can’t move forward because there are inconsistent requirements from state agencies, our economy won’t move forward, and our environment is at risk.
LePage created the Environment and Energy Resources Working Group, which is led by the DEP and comprises representatives from the Governor’s Energy Office along with the departments of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, Transportation, Marine Resources and Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. In addition to compiling information on the ongoing work all of our agencies are undertaking regarding climate adaptation, we are asking the regulated community — including municipalities, engineers, builders, contractors, planners, operators and more — what we can do to help with these issues.
Our goal has been, and continues to be, finding the best ways to ensure environmental protection while not overcomplicating and stifling the operations of the very infrastructure we need to keep the environment clean.
We have heard directly from municipalities, planners and businesses on what they need from state agencies in order to undertake climate adaptation projects and how to break down some of the silos that have been built up over decades.
And I say, thank goodness! My very first efforts have been to break down those silos, to create a more holistic approach to many of our issues and to understand that such collaboration needs to happen both within and outside our agency.
Contrary to popular belief, the DEP is engaged in both climate mitigation and adaptation efforts in many ways, whether it is by the governor’s commitment to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, through which Maine has received $56 million since the program began; our work with regional and national environmental associations; our international work with New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers; or our work with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region I, helping EPA to build a cross-state and federal approach.
Our work is multi-faceted, considers multiple pollutants, and we are deeply involved. Air, water, energy, waste, land use — all of our actions and reactions matter. And we continue to focus on incorporating adaptation into all of our work.
Part of our building a more resilient approach is a bond, which will be on the ballot this November.
It includes money for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, for culvert replacements and for wetlands acquisition. All are critically necessary for Maine’s sustainability and are areas of our built and natural environment impacted by climate change.
Successfully adapting to a changing climate is going to take all of us working together, to help us build a shared understanding of the need for the 21st century of environmental regulation. Our approach is focused on innovation, collaboration and expertise from our businesses and municipalities, and it encompasses a holistic approach to environmental management.
Patricia Aho is commissioner of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.