Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Ahoy, Governor LePage!
Gov. Paul LePage
Not sure if you can hear me over the wind and the waves, but I can’t let another day pass without congratulating you on that epiphany you had last week before a crowd of transportation industry types:
You finally believe in global warming!
What’s more, now that you’re an ocean-is-more-than-half-full kind of guy, you’ve gone from denying that the Earth’s climate is rapidly changing to embracing it as the second coming for Maine’s frozen economy.
“Everybody looks at the negative effects of global warming, but with the ice melting, the Northern Pass has opened up – the new sea traffic is going across the north,” you told the Maine Transportation Conference on Wednesday. “So maybe, instead of being at the end of the pipeline, we’re now at the beginning of a new pipeline.”
No argument there, Big Guy. The more those Arctic waters stay open, the more Maine’s deep-water ports stand to benefit as jumping-off points for an endless parade of not-so-slow boats to China.
But about this climate change thing. For those of us Mainers who don’t happen to be longshoremen, it’s a wee bit more complicated than a rising tide lifting all supertankers.
What’s that? Stop raining on your Greenhouse Gas Parade?
Believe me, Governor, I take no pleasure in suggesting that rising temperatures will do far more than just unlock frozen sea lanes. The more the planet warms up, the more prepared Maine needs to be for all kinds of potential calamities – from our seafood industry (“Hey, where’s the shrimp?”) to our forests (“Damn you, hemlock woolly adelgid!”) to our tourism industry (“Let’s go mudmobiling!”) to our very transportation infrastructure (“Bridge out – you can’t get there from here.”)
And let’s face it, Governor, prepared Maine is not. At least when you compare our climate-change readiness to, say, our neighbors over in Vermont.
Now I suspect that you’re probably not a big fan of Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, seeing as he’s the Democrat who trounced your Republican buddy Randy Brock, 58-to-38 percent, even after you went over there to campaign on Brock’s behalf back in 2012.
But I’ve got to tell you, Governor, this Shumlin guy is way out in front of you when it comes to recognizing global warming for the game changer it already is.
“I believe that climate change is the most important overall priority that we face as living beings,” Shumlin says in a short video clip atop his state’s “Climate Change Team” website. “We have to get off our addiction to oil as quickly as possible and if we fail to do so, we will leave our children and grandchildren a legacy that is unspeakably horrid.”
Thus Shumlin has created a Climate Change Cabinet of senior state officials charged with “providing comprehensive leadership by coordinating climate change efforts, including the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and reliance on fossil fuels, providing outreach and education as well as implementing climate change adaptation efforts across all state agencies and departments.”
Vermont also has a 10-member Climate Change Team composed of various state agency officials who study everything from “carbon sinks” (healthy, managed forests that absorb excess carbon dioxide from the Green Mountain State’s atmosphere) to a massive, flood-proof, steam-heating system now being built beneath the state capital of Montpelier that will run on wood chips (as opposed to oil) and provide heat and hot water to an array of public and private buildings.
Then there’s the Resilient Vermont Project, born out of the thrashing the state took from the remnants of Hurricane Irene in 2011. The project includes a “Resilient Community Scorecard” by which Vermont municipalities can assess how prepared they will be when (as opposed to if) the next super-storm descends on their state.
“One of the things that’s come out of (Irene) is that state government departments are spending a lot more time talking to each other,” said Justin Johnson, deputy secretary of Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources, when I called him Friday. “If you know things are getting worse and you don’t do anything, it’s not a great service that you’re providing to the voters and citizens who put you there.”
Say what, Governor? Vermonters are a bunch of namby-pamby liberals who’d be a lot better off if they’d elected your buddy Randy Brock?
Easy, Big Guy. Not every state can have a governor who’s supported by only 38 percent of its people.
But enough with singing Vermont’s praises. (Did I mention the public-private Vermont Climate Collaborative?)
Instead, let’s log onto the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s website and see what Commissioner Patricia Aho is doing to prepare Maine for the fast-approaching fallout from an ever-warming planet.
Hmmm ... can’t seem to find anything. Maybe we should go to the search box and type in “climate change.”
Here’s something: A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency progress report for Maine, dated September 2012, that lists 49 action items under the heading “Taking Action on Climate Change and Improving Air Quality.” Each action item includes two boxes – one for the status of the item as of Sept. 30, 2012, the other for “comments or highlights.”
Every single box is blank.
Wait, here’s something else: A two-page “report” by Commissioner Aho to the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee way back in January of 2012. It was supposed to follow up on a resolve passed by the Legislature in 2009 “To Continue Evaluating Climate Change Adaptation Options for the State.”
If I recall, Governor, that’s the initiative lawmakers passed the year before you took office. Oh, right – you told your Cabinet from Day One you had zero interest in pursuing it.
But hold on. Here’s a ray of hope in that paper-thin report by Aho. Under the heading “Implementation,” she alludes to a “Planning for Climate Change” website maintained by the Maine State Planning Office.
Call me a nitpicker, but that website would be a heckuva lot more accessible if you hadn’t eliminated the entire State Planning Office back in the summer of 2012.
I’ve got to tell you, Governor, my enthusiasm for your embrace of global warming is beginning to evaporate.
In fact, the more I dig through these bureaucratic weeds looking for some hint of genuine concern about climate change, the more I understand why Brent Littlefield, your political mouthpiece, was so quick last week to throw cold water on your rapture over the melting Arctic ice cap.
Littlefield’s spin: It’s all about your quest, come hell or high water, to miraculously transform Maine’s economic landscape. Global warming, once a liberal fairy tale, has suddenly become Maine’s newfound economic development tool.
“Certainly,” Littlefield added, “the governor was not making a statement here about environmental policy.”
Nor will you anytime soon, right, Big Guy?
You’re too busy tilting at icebergs.
Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: