May 26, 2019
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State action offers hope on Earth Day

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Saco Middle School student Antonia Farago-Dumsch, 14, holds a sign outside Portland City Hall as part of a worldwide rally to draw attention to climate change, March 15, 2019.

Earth Day 2018 was not a particularly happy occasion. A cloud of uncertainty loomed, and admittedly continues to loom, over environmental policies at the national level. But this year, we have some reason to hope, at least here in Maine.

While President Donald Trump continues on his misguided and unhelpful course of climate change skepticism — both in rhetoric and policy — Maine’s new governor has embraced action in a way the Trump administration and her predecessor in the Blaine House failed to.

Gov. Janet Mills and her administration are undoubtedly playing catch-up after years of climate inaction from the LePage administration, but encouragingly, she has already taken steps to move Maine in the right direction.

For example, Maine has joined the U.S. Climate Alliance, a group of 23 states and Puerto Rico that have committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and to creating policies to develop cleaner energy. Mills has also withdrawn Maine from a pro-offshore drilling group of governors, a symbolic but nonetheless important departure from former Gov. Paul LePage’s environmental legacy.

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. That left the state behind in preparing for both the positive and negative consequences of a changing climate, including longer growing seasons and warmer oceans.

Mills brings a welcome shift in this critical effort to better understand and prepare for the changes, challenges and opportunities ahead. She has highlighted work on a bill that would form a state-level climate council to develop a plan for Maine to meet carbon reduction goals — she aims for 80 percent renewable energy in the electricity industry by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050. That climate council would also help prepare communities and the state economy for climate change’s disruptions.

This work at the state level, ultimately, must be advanced with incremental progress. Earlier this month, for instance, Mills signed a solar energy bill into law. While that new state solar policy was actually a reset that abandoned a flawed approach from the LePage era, it still represents an improvement in encouraging — or at least not discouraging — renewable energy development.

We also need to see climate action at the federal level. But after working to undo much of former President Barack Obama’s efforts to act on climate change, and withdrawing the U.S. from global efforts, the Trump administration slid even further away from meaningful climate action by disbanding a federal climate advisory committee.

Luckily, those scientists decided to keep doing their important work through a re-formed panel called the Science for Climate Action Network. And a recent report from the group emphasizes the need for local leaders as well as the business community to engage in efforts to help mitigate and adapt to changing climate conditions. Thankfully, some of that work is now underway here in Maine.

Earth Day provides an opportunity to appreciate our environment and celebrate the work done to protect it, but it is also a reminder of the responsibility to continue safeguarding our planet for years to come.

A year ago on Earth Day, we lamented climate inaction from the federal government. This year, our outlook is much sunnier thanks to emerging action here at the state level. What a difference a year — and new leadership — can make.

 



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