Gov. Mills has promised to make addressing global warming a priority for her administration, rightly noting that “climate change is hammering our state.”

We agree. And one great step for Gov. Mills to take is to join with our partners in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic region and create a market-based program to limit transportation emissions.

Pollution from transportation now accounts for 52 percent – a majority – of Maine’s economy-wide emissions. Transportation is also a leading source of local air pollution that every day dirties our air and harms our health. While pollution from electricity has declined over 73 percent since 2002, pollution from transportation is on the rise.

Fortunately, new technologies such as electric vehicles have the promise to reduce transportation emissions and save money for Maine drivers. With contemporary battery electric vehicles getting over 200 miles per charge, and a growing selection of plug-in SUVs and pickup trucks coming on the market, electric vehicles can be a solution for drivers in all areas of the state.

Moreover, new analysis shows that people in rural places like Maine are the ones who stand the most to benefit from the transition to clean transportation technologies such as electric vehicles.

It’s not hard to understand: People in small towns, outer suburbs and rural areas drive more miles, they repair their vehicles more frequently, they produce more carbon emissions per capita and they spend more money on gasoline. That’s why, compared to urban drivers, people living in the suburbs of Portland and in more rural areas across Cumberland County stand to benefit much more by switching to an electric vehicle.

In Cumberland County, drivers can save over $900 a year, compared with less than $350 in annual average savings for a driver in Suffolk County, Massachusetts. Overall, the average rural driver in Maine will save $950 per year and cut carbon emissions by 4.9 metric tons a year by choosing an electric vehicle over a comparable conventional gas-powered vehicle.

This year, Maine has an opportunity to help lead the region toward clean transportation solutions. In December, nine Northeast and mid-Atlantic states agreed to design and create a market-based program over the next year that would limit transportation emissions and invest in clean transportation.

Maine was not one of the states on that agreement – but a different governor was running things last year.

This proposed program will build on the successful “cap and invest” model of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. RGGI works by setting an overall limit, or cap, on pollution. Big polluters, such as power plants, are required to purchase allowances based on their emissions. By limiting the number of allowances available, RGGI creates an enforceable limit on overall emissions.

RGGI also generates funding. Here in Maine, between 2012 and 2017, Maine invested over $54 million from RGGI. Most of this money is then invested in efficiency programs through Efficiency Maine. These investments will save Mainers money – over $275 million over the life of the projects. That’s why RGGI has not only successfully reduced emissions but also has helped to grow the economy and save consumers money.

An expansion of this program model to transportation fuels could help states like Maine and Vermont develop a regional clean-transportation strategy targeting small towns, incorporated villages and rural counties. Such a strategy should look both to electrify our vehicles and to provide more alternatives to driving, through expanded public transportation, pedestrian and biking infrastructure and walkable community development.

Beyond the impact on drivers, the transition to clean transportation will benefit the rural economy. Nearly all the money that we spend on gasoline and diesel fuel ultimately leaves our towns and our region for other parts of the world. As electric vehicles replace the internal combustion engine on our roads, there will be more money in our pockets, which means more jobs and more local development. Overall, clean transportation could save Maine drivers almost $20 billion by 2050.

The election of Gov. Mills is both literally and figuratively a breath of fresh air for Maine. We hope that the Mills administration will be bold when it comes to addressing Maine’s energy and transportation challenges.