As the dust begins to settle in the aftermath of Maine’s legislative and gubernatorial elections, now, more than ever, is the time to hold our elected representatives accountable for their promises made to reinvigorate and protect the backbone of Maine’s economy: the environment.
Following the quiet release of the Trump administration’s climate assessment report over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend — a study commissioned by the federal government and created in coordination with 13 federal agencies — the facts are more pressing than ever. Climate change is real, and its effects are already being felt throughout the country in the form of deadly wildfires in California, bleaching of coral reefs in Florida and Hawaii, and thawing of permafrost tundra in Alaska.
Here in Maine, the Gulf of Maine is warming 99 percent faster than the rest of the world’s large bodies of water, endangering the fishing and lobster industries that provide the means of subsistence for so many Mainers.
The effects of climate change are far too exhaustive to list for a state as ecologically diverse as Maine, including imbalances to seasonality, rainfall and extreme weather episodes. Warmer ocean temperatures and sea level rise will threaten Maine’s coastal communities, which heavily support the state’s economy and way of life in the form of commerce, tourism and recreation.
A Democratic shift in state leadership is precisely the opportunity for liberal politicians to fulfill their promises of kickstarting rural economies by creating new jobs in the energy sector while promoting weatherization policies that will ensure their longevity.
Maine’s solar net-metering debate is one that has been ongoing and is, frankly, exhausted by now. The debate over expanding solar power in Maine is one that has been going on for eight years now but gained prominence in 2015-16 after Gov. Paul LePage won re-election, appointed two new commissioners to the Public Utilities Commission, and ordered the agency to conduct a “value of solar” study. Despite the study’s findings that increased solar power would reduce costs for all Maine ratepayers, the ensuing votes and vetoes that took place in Augusta over the next two years are a testament to just how partisan any discussion concerning renewable energy has become.
While the election of two Democratic members of Congress and Democratic governor on Nov. 6 were a result of a number of worries beyond just that of the environment, Maine is now in a position to reclaim its place as a national leader in energy efficiency and renewable energy, and in the process, embracing its historic legacy of environmental stewardship.
For a state in which six in 10 homes are heated by oil that is imported to the state, it is time to pass legislation that will make it feasible for middle-class households to switch to solar generation, while being compensated for excess energy to the grid, and thereby keeping money within the local economy. For the politicians who ran on these promises, we as Mainers must hold them to their word when they assume office in January and ensure that our tax money is spent properly. For state legislators, another election is only two years away.
At the very least, the findings from the Trump administration’s climate assessment report, published under the very president who denies the existence of climate change, is as much of a wake-up call as this state could want.
Nick Suarez is studying sociology and environmental studies at Bowdoin College.