The effects of climate change are already broadly felt in Maine and across the U.S., from stronger hurricanes, to out-of-control wildfires, to warming in the Gulf of Maine that is pushing seafood central to the state’s economy to other waters.
The four candidates — Republican Sen. Susan Collins, Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon and independents Lisa Savage and Max Linn — all favor relatively strong environmental regulation in some ways, though they have different ideas about scope and details of climate policies.
Collins and Gideon differ less on climate than most Republicans and Democrats do, though it is still a major campaign issue. The incumbent was an early backer of legislation to reduce emissions and stands out among Republicans on the issue, but environmental groups that supported her in the past now back Gideon over issues including judicial appointments.
Here is more about where the candidates stand on climate change and other environmental issues.
On climate, Collins has long stood out in her party as Republican colleagues have increasingly veered into climate change denialism. She was an early backer of emissions reductions and often backs bills to spur clean-energy development. Democrats have not made it into a major campaign issue against her until 2020.
In 2003, she was one of six Republicans to support the Senate’s first but failed effort to restrict emissions of carbon and other heat-trapping gases. Six years later, she backed a carbon pricing mechanism that would have auctioned credits to fuel producers and put revenue toward direct rebates to Americans and clean-energy development, but it gained little traction.
The incumbent’s campaign did not answer questions about whether she would back such a carbon pricing measure now. Collins also voted for a 2014 bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline in a measure that won the support of 14 Democrats but was opposed by President Barack Obama and blocked by a majority of Democrats.
Collins has broken with President Donald Trump on several items, including his 2017 decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accords. She also opposed both of the president’s nominees to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, though both were confirmed. Also in 2017, she voted with Democrats and two other Republicans to preserve Obama-era restrictions on methane emissions. Trump weakened the rules this year.
Environmental groups have cut ties with Collins more recently, beginning with her 2017 vote for Republicans’ tax-cut package. At one point, the senator voted to strip a provision allowing oil and gas drilling in a federal preserve in Alaska, but she backed a final version leaving that in.
The League of Conservation Voters, which endorsed Collins in her 2014 campaign but flipped to support Gideon this time, cited that vote and her backing of what the group called “extreme” judicial nominees including U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Gideon has seized on more than $550,000 in contributions to Collins linked to the oil and gas industries, but it is a relatively small share of the $37 million raised in her career as of June 30 and the total places her 59th among senators or Senate candidates who have served or run since 1990, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Gideon is running on relatively standard Democratic climate policy. She rolled out a “climate agenda” last month centered on a goal of net-zero emissions in the U.S. by 2050. Her agenda includes actions she and other Maine Democrats passed in the past two years, including stricter renewable energy standards and clean-energy investment. She has stopped short of backing the Green New Deal, a massive jobs and clean-energy program pushed by progressives.
In the Legislature, Gideon sponsored a bill in 2016 that aimed to expand Maine’s solar energy capacity tenfold through renewable energy credits and changes to metering policies. The bill was vetoed by former Gov. Paul LePage, but Democrats have made some of those changes since Gov. Janet Mills took over in early 2019.
At the federal level, Gideon supports rejoining the Paris climate accord and has also called for strengthening the law dealing with the levels of contaminants allowed in public water systems, and upholding Obama-era regulations on air pollution that the Trump administration rolled back last year. She wants a renewal of the New Deal-era Conservation Corps and highlights that she would only vote for “qualified” nominees to environmental positions.
Collins has run ads criticizing Gideon for co-sponsoring a fuel tax bill in 2019. It would have hit consumers on the front end. Revenue was supposed to be used to reduce utility bills in an “equitable” manner, but specifics of that part were left mostly undefined. Mills was skeptical of it, and the bill was quickly killed by a committee. Gideon has backed away from the idea of a carbon tax during her campaign.
Savage supports what she describes as a “Demilitarized Green New Deal,” building on a loosely defined agenda from national progressives. Her plan calls for the U.S. to be emissions neutral by 2030 and includes investing in solar power and offshore wind and developing cleaner transit options including high-speed rail.
The Solon teacher argues that such a plan would create jobs in manufacturing and technology and should be paid for through cuts to the military budget, as well as increased taxes on corporations and high earners. It builds on her long standing campaign to convert Bath Iron Works, which almost solely makes ships for the U.S. Navy, into manufacturing green energy technologies.
Savage also calls for the U.S. to lead on a global climate treaty, though she said the Paris climate accord falls short. She supports ending fossil fuel extraction including fracking and offshore drilling and opposes the Central Maine Power corridor, which would bring hydropower from Canada through western Maine. Proponents argue it would help New England states with renewable energy goals, but opponents worry about negative environmental effects.
Linn has made opposition to the CMP corridor a central point of his campaign, arguing that it would be destructive to the region. He recently filed a complaint with utility regulators against the energy company on the basis that the corridor will pose a substantial cost in terms of lost scenic views and recreational opportunities.
Though Linn supports Trump, he said he differs with the president on environmental issues, citing the importance of conservation. He has also called for Maine to be a leader on technological solutions to climate change, including calling for a high-speed rail project extending to northern Maine.