HALLOWELL, Maine — Members of the Maine Climate Council know they face a difficult mission in guiding the state to meet the governor’s energy and pollution goals.
The 39-member group came together for the first time Thursday at Maple Hill Farm in Hallowell to kick off its efforts to address climate change, a few days after Gov. Janet Mills pledged to the United Nations that Maine will have a carbon-neutral economy by 2045. Earlier this year, she also set goals for Maine to get 100 percent of its electricity from renewable resources and reduce overall emissions by 80 percent by 2050.
The council includes members of state government, lawmakers, and others in the science, business, industry and nonprofit fields.
Mills on Thursday vowed that the council’s eventual action plan won’t be “another three-ring binder that gets filed in the library and never seen again.” Instead, she said, the council will create a serious timetable that needs commitment from all stakeholders to succeed.
That approach is critical to bringing the realities of climate change home, said Gina McCarthy, who led the Environmental Protection Agency during the Obama administration and now teaches at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
“I don’t just want legislation, I want it to happen,” McCarthy said to the room. She said those who have a personal commitment to creating change will do far more than efforts in Washington, D.C.
“There is absolutely nothing partisan about the issue of climate change,” she said. “It impacts everyone the same.”
Some efforts have already been made to address emissions from transportation and heating under the Mills administration. There’s a regional effort to address transportation emissions, $5.1 million in settlement money has been designated to boost the use of electric vehicles and a law was passed to change a grant program with the goal of installing 100,000 new heat pumps by 2025.
The Bangor Daily News spoke to three council members about how the sector they represent can move the needle on climate change. Here’s what they said.
Bruce Van Note, commissioner of the Maine Department of Transportation: Transportation makes up 50 percent of the state’s emissions. Changing that, Van Note said, will require different strategies in Maine’s urban and rural areas.
Greater Portland, for instance, has a mix of bus and rail systems threaded throughout the region, and is dominated by interstate highways. It also accounts for a large chunk of the state’s population. Encouraging mass transit there will be key, Van Note said.
“Ultimately, it’s pretty simple,” he said. “You can’t have stuff coming out of the tailpipes. Either you don’t take the ride, or you ride with someone else, ride with other people.”
But mass transit is not going to work in Maine’s rural regions, Van Note said. That means promoting ride sharing, possibly through technology. He said there is “a lot of potential” in people’s empty seats.
Van Note said encouraging electric vehicle usage will be key, but said it “won’t be the predominant mix” in Maine for a long time. He said “range anxiety” may make rural residents especially wary. “If you live in northern Maine and you got to go to the grocery store, you can’t get halfway and not get home,” he said.
Dan Brennan, director of the Maine State Housing Authority: The agency has been working with design and construction communities for 15 years to develop more efficient building technologies and techniques. Continuing to encourage those practices will be key, as will be promoting resiliency, Brennan said.
The authority currently offers a weatherization assistance program to reduce energy consumption. It’s also involved in the governor’s program promoting heat pumps, which are estimated to reduce heating bills between $300 and $600 a year per home. Maine has historically used more heating oil per capita than any other state, 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 U.S. Census data.
Heather Johnson, commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development: When it comes to Maine’s businesses, encouraging partnerships between industries along with more eco-friendly practices will be key, Johnson said.
She pointed to the state’s paper industry, and the opportunity to use byproducts from the mills to make biofuels or cellulose to make plastics that are not petroleum based.
“We already know how to work with trees. We already have the infrastructure to get trees to make products with,” he said. “This is an opportunity to leverage that into solutions for this global plan.”