An executive order signed this week by President Donald Trump is expected to undercut efforts in Maine and New England to reduce the amount of power plant air pollution that blows into the region from the rest of the country.
The order, which is viewed as a boon for the shrinking coal industry, primarily takes aim at former President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which required states to slash carbon emissions from power plants. Goals set forth in the Obama plan are a key factor in the United States’ ability to meet its commitments under a climate change accord reached by nearly 200 countries in Paris in 2015. The plan required states to collectively cut carbon emissions from power plants by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
Environmental advocates in Maine sharply criticized Trump’s plans, saying that the president’s “denial” of climate science is putting Mainers’ health directly at risk.
“This is a disaster for Maine, which is not only downwind from many of those polluters, but is also blessed with abundant clean, local, renewable energy supplies, rather than dirty coal and oil,” Lisa Pohlmann, executive director of Natural Resources Council of Maine, said this week in a prepared statement.
Trump’s position, Pohlmann added, “is a direct threat to our children, especially here in Maine.”
By undoing the carbon emissions reduction plan, Trump’s order is expected to result in an increase in greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide — something that Maine and other Northeast states that are part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, have aimed to curtail since the group was created in 2005.
Members states of RGGI — which also include Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont — set a cap on the carbon dioxide emissions their power plants can produce as a group and then raise money by auctioning off allowances to individual power producers. Proceeds from the auctioned allowances then are used to invest in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other consumer benefit programs in those states.
One goal of the program is to offset the amount of power plant emissions that blow from the west to New England, which has been referred to by clean-air advocates as “the tailpipe of the nation.” Prevailing winds cause greenhouses gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide to converge in Maine where they are inhaled by residents and tourists alike and sometimes result in high-ozone health advisories. Such emissions, advocates have said, is a reason why Maine and New England have a high rate of asthma.
Environment Maine, in response to Trump’s order, has called for Gov. Paul Lepage to support more strict RGGI emissions standards. Doubling RGGI restrictions would cut pollution from power plants in half by 2030, the group indicated in a prepared statement, and would raise enough money from auction proceeds to fund improved energy efficiency projects at 260,000 homes in Maine.
“Right now, Governor LePage is our best hope for action to protect the climate,” Emma Rotner, campaign organizer for Environment Maine, said Wednesday in the statement. “He should act quickly. We can’t count on the federal government, so it is up to Maine to lead the region, the nation and even the world towards a clean energy future.”
Messages left Friday with LePage’s office requesting comment on the president’s order were not returned.
Pohlmann also cited the benefits of RGGI, crediting the program with helping to lower pollution levels and energy costs while at the same time boosting the economy. But she stressed the need to focus on the issue at a nationwide level, not just a regional one.
“Air pollution know no borders,” she said. “Because upwind emissions pollute Maine’s air and harm our health and climate, we need upwind polluting states to do their part and clean up, too.”
In addition to increased carbon levels, coal plant emissions also have been blamed for elevated levels of mercury and lead in freshwater and marine fish populations in Maine and in birds that eat fish, such as loons and bald eagles. The Washington Post has reported that reductions in the past decade or so of coal plant emissions have been linked to lower mercury levels in tuna caught in the Gulf of Maine from 2004 to 2012.
Reuters reporters Valerie Volcovici and Jeff Mason contributed to this report.