Gov. Janet Mills is taking climate change seriously and has made it one of her top priorities. That is an important change for Maine.
Former Gov. Paul LePage was a climate change skeptic who stalled action, and even study, of the changing climate in Maine and actively drove some renewable energy development, notably offshore wind, out of the state.
Mills is reversing course, although the details of how she proposes to make Maine a more environmentally friendly state remain vague.
Last week, Mills took two important, if small, steps to put Maine into the category of states that are taking direct action to address climate change. On Thursday, she announced the state would join the U.S. Climate Alliance, a group of 21 states and Puerto Rico that have committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and to creating policies to develop cleaner energy. The states in the coalition represent more than half of the U.S. population and a third of 2016 energy-related carbon emissions, according to federal data.
Mills also withdrew Maine from a pro-offshore drilling group of governors. The state was a member under LePage. This move is somewhat symbolic, as offshore drilling is unlikely off the Maine coast because there are not significant oil and gas reserves there. But, it serves as an important reversal on one of the state’s misguided energy policies.
Mills also said last week that she would present legislation to form a state-level climate council to develop a plan for Maine to meet carbon reduction goals, which she pegged at achieving 80 percent renewable energy in the electricity industry by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050. The group would also develop plans to ensure that Maine’s communities and economy are resilient to the effects of climate change. It will include commissioners, science and technical experts, nonprofit leaders, and representatives of climate-impacted industries.
This is important work, which should have been started years ago.
In 2013, LePage vetoed a bill that called for a study of what Maine could do to protect itself from the effects of climate change. The veto was unfortunately sustained. This left the state behind in preparing for the consequences of climate change, both positive — such as longer growing and tourist seasons — and negative, such as an increase in diseases transmitted by ticks and other insects and rising ocean temperatures, which could hurt lobster and other valuable seafood harvests.
Climate change, of course, is a global and national issue. But, with a lack of action — and, in fact, many steps backward — from the Trump administration, states have been left to develop their own plans to combat rising temperatures, more unpredictable weather, more frequent natural disasters and other consequences of climate change.
Speaking to the Environmental and Energy Technology Council of Maine (E2Tech) on Thursday, Mills previewed where her administration would focus. A key area is transportation, which accounts for more than half the state’s carbon dioxide emissions, Mills said. In a rural state with limited public transportation, this will be difficult, but necessary work.
The governor said her administration will also work to make solar energy technology more accessible to Maine, to increase the use of heat pumps and to support development of offshore wind technology at the University of Maine.
Much of this work will require the support of lawmakers, some of whom, like LePage, remain skeptical of climate change or are wary about the costs of moving to cleaner energy sources. These costs, which will hit consumers and businesses, cannot be ignored. But, these investments must be weighed against the growing expense — both in terms of money and human well-being — of not taking appropriate steps to prepare for and ameliorate the consequences of climate change.
Mills has put Maine on the right track to consider climate change in a more serious, comprehensive manner. As with any big change, the next challenge will be convincing lawmakers and the public of the need for big changes and big investments to reduce our collective carbon footprint.