AUGUSTA – Nearly a dozen of the state’s top environmental groups turned out for a legislative hearing Thursday to urge the state to revive its plan to help Maine adapt to a changing climate.

Testifying before the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee, representatives of groups ranging from the Nature Conservancy to the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute asked that the state resume work on the plan, designed to help guide Maine through its looming challenges with climate change.

The effects, according to a University of Maine study, will likely include more rain, rather than snow, more storms that damage beaches and coastal structures, and other changes to Maine as residents and visitors have known it for centuries.

The study concludes that rising temperatures in Maine threaten everything from tourism to farming to forestry, and that the state must plan for changes.

Efforts to develop a climate change adaptation plan were halted by the LePage administration in 2011.

Patricia Aho, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, which produced a report in 2010 that contained initial recommendations, told the committee that the DEP could resume the effort if told to do so — but at a cost.

The department would have to hire at least two full-time employees, she said in her testimony; set aside enough money to work with stakeholders (the initial study had 75); and be able to buy the data it would need to compile a final report.

Supporters of the bill said the situation is urgent.

“This is one of the biggest threats to the future of our children, our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren,” said Rep. Paul McGowan, D-York, a co-sponsor of the climate-change bill.

Before he spoke to the panel, Sean Mahoney of the Conservation Law Foundation said, “We want the state to step back into the role of leader on climate change issues.”

He said the state’s involvement is needed to coordinate the work of agencies at all levels, develop uniform policies and identify solutions that could meet local needs.

Legislators on the committee said they worry that there wouldn’t be enough money to revive the planning effort. But Ivan Fernandez, a University of Maine professor and part of its Climate Change Institute, said the bill “is not a call for massive funding.”

The climate change bill, L.D. 825, was submitted in January by Rep. William Noon, D-Sanford, in response to a story by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting that appeared in November, outlining the state’s retreat from creating a climate-adaptation plan.

That effort began in 2009, when Gov. John Baldacci accepted a study by UMaine’s Climate Change Institute. The institute surveyed the likely effects of gradual warming, rising sea levels and the resulting intensification of storms.

At Baldacci’s request, the Legislature authorized the DEP to begin studying what the state could do to meet the challenges, and a report was submitted to the legislature in early 2010.

With input from businesses, groups and state agencies whose future will be affected by climate trends, the DEP staff outlined 60 recommendations. It also called for a final report with more detailed recommendations and cost estimates.

After LePage took office at the start of 2011, the state halted action on the second report. LePage administration officials said they wanted to “change the focus dramatically” in the DEP to better serve the interests of Maine.

The first report was removed from the state’s website for a time in 2012, but was later restored.

 

The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news service based in Hallowell.

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