On Jan. 19, Maine’s Environmental Priorities Coalition rolled out its legislative priorities for the 2019 session, including nine different bills before the state Legislature. The coalition’s decision to simultaneously work on such a large number of priority bills would appear to reflect the optimism of these environmental organizations in Maine’s new political climate. In stark contrast with her predecessor, Gov. Janet Mills has profiled environmental issues, particularly climate change, in her political agenda.
Five of the coalition’s priority bills for 2019 focus on issues related to climate change. Given the deluge of bad, indeed alarming, news in 2018, regarding the accelerated rate at which we are approaching a climatic tipping point of no-return, the EPC’s priorities are not surprising and somewhat reassuring. While I remain concerned about the direction of national policies and their impact on global initiatives, the coalition can play a significant role in helping Maine to “change the debate on climate change,” a worthy aspiration set out in a recent editorial by the BDN in which climate change was identified as one of its targeted issues for 2019.
To achieve this transformation and become once again a national leader in environmental protection, Maine will need to adopt critical pieces of legislation several of which are highlighted in the EPC priorities. Central to this agenda is an “Act to Limit Greenhouse Gas Pollution and Effectively Use Maine’s Natural Resources” that seeks to enact a comprehensive strategy to tackle climate change by curbing harmful carbon pollution while creating jobs and protecting the health of Mainers and their environment for future generations. In addition to decreasing reliance on fossil fuel, the proposed climate plan would create new jobs in energy efficiency, battery storage, and renewable energy while benefiting Maine industries through strategies such as increased reliance on wood as a building material.
Complementing this effort to reduce carbon pollution are three other EPC priority bills that focus on renewable and clean energy. “An Act to Reform Maine’s Renewable Portfolio Standard” focuses on made-in-Maine renewable energy sources to reduce carbon pollution that is contributing to the warming and acidification of the Gulf of Maine that endangers our fishing industries. This bill seeks to promote local, clean energy that is cost effective through grid-scale renewables along with community and individual solar development.
Similarly, “an Act to Benefit Maine Consumers, Businesses, and Communities through Expanded Renewable Energy” intends to keep more energy dollars in Maine’s economy through investment in solar installations for communities, municipalities and business. In the absence of a clear, effective and fair solar policy, Maine has lagged far behind its neighbors and the nation in investment in solar power. Passage of this bill would have the added benefit of creating good-quality jobs in this growing industry. To promote investment in solar power and other clean local energy projects that would lower energy costs and support local economies, “an Act to Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue to Support Municipal Investments in Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy” would provide financial resources for Maine towns and cities. The proposed matching grants would be dispersed to maximize geographic representation, building on the momentum of cities and towns across Maine that have begun to invest in clean energy solutions.
Finally, the EPC is advocating for the creation of a Science and Policy Advisory Council to guide public policy and adaptation strategies to protect our marine resources from the ravages of climate change. Over the past 40 years, soft shell clam landings have decreased by 75 percent, while invasive green crab predation has increased 99 percent. To protect our environment and our economy, Mills has rightly proclaimed that we need to act now. By drawing together our top scientists and policymakers, we can ensure that our actions are informed and effective.
Linda Beck is associate dean of experiential and global education at the University of Maine at Farmington. This column reflects her views and expertise, and does not speak on behalf of the university. She is a member of the Maine chapter of the national Scholars Strategy Network, which brings together scholars across the country to address public challenges and their policy implications. Members’ columns appear in the BDN every other week.