Gov. Janet Mills pledged Monday that Maine will have a carbon-neutral economy by 2045 in an address before a United Nations climate summit, tacking on the most ambitious goal of her tenure and upping the stakes for a new council set to begin meeting this week.
Mills, a Democrat who took office in January, paired her two-minute address at the international body in New York City with an executive order directing a new Maine Climate Council to deliver recommendations by late 2020 to transition Maine to a carbon-neutral economy in 25 years.
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“We’ve got to unite to preserve our precious common ground, for our common planet, in uncommon ways for this imperative common purpose,” she said. “Maine won’t wait. Will you?”
The new pledge surpasses Mills’ past climate goals in scope and deadline, pushing into more difficult territory that includes the areas of transportation and heating emissions. The governor signed a bill into law this year setting goals for Maine to get 100 percent of electricity from renewables and reduce overall emissions by 80 percent by 2050.
California and Hawaii have made similar pledges to get to carbon neutrality by 2045. Mills spokeswoman Lindsay Crete said the governor “believes that goal is appropriately ambitious given the threat of climate change and its consequences” for Maine. A federal study in 2016 found the Gulf of Maine has been warming faster than 99.9 percent of the world’s oceans.
Emissions fell overall in Maine by 30 percent between 2004 and 2015 largely due to decarbonization in the electricity sector, but transportation in the rural state made up roughly half of total carbon emissions four years ago and that share stayed mostly flat over the decade.
Maine has also historically been the state most reliant on heating oil, though the share of homes using it as a main heating source dropped from 75.6 percent in 2009 to 62.2 percent in 2017, according to Census data, as the shares of Maine homes using propane and natural gas rose.
Mills has taken some steps in those areas. Her administration is monitoring a regional effort to address transportation emissions, set aside $5.1 million in settlement money to boost electric vehicle programs and signed a bill making changes to a grant program with the goal of installing 100,000 new heat pumps by 2025.
The new pledge is a framework that will be filled in by the 39-member council. Mills’ office released the roster of members last week. It includes top administration officials, lawmakers and other government officials, scientists and business, industry, nonprofit and labor leaders.
It will be politically fraught. The Republican National Committee issued a statement linking Mills other Democrats to a “radical climate agenda.” Sen. David Woodsome, R-North Waterboro, who will serve on the council, noted it will be “controversial.” He said he favors policy approaches that include weatherization to reduce fossil fuel consumption without levying higher taxes.
“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Woodsome said of the council’s effort. “The general public has to buy into it if it’s going to be successful.”
Tony Buxton, a lobbyist for large energy users, praised Mills for a “measured” response on the issue so far. He said he has advised Mills “the key is not in setting targets that are far away,” but “doing the easy stuff right now,” citing increasing heat pump availability as one example.
“What really matters is getting to the easy stuff soon,” Buxton said. “Every year that we don’t is another year of [carbon dioxide] in the air that takes 100 years to go away.”
Mills will be in New York City through Tuesday, the last day of the summit. She is scheduled for a panel discussion with European leaders on Tuesday and will hold another discussion with other governors who have agreed to abide by the goals of an international climate agreement that the U.S. left in 2017 under President Donald Trump.