AUGUSTA — Gov. Janet Mills urged members of the Legislature on Friday to approve her initiative to create a climate change council to help Maine residents and businesses plan and prepare for the impacts of carbon emissions.

Supporters lined up to offer more testimony on the bill’s behalf – but the measure also met opposition from industry figures who raised concerns about granting too much authority to the executive branch to set climate policy.

Mills, a Democrat, testified before the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, emphasizing the need for increased diversification of Maine industries and reiterating her goal of rapidly growing the state’s sources of renewable electricity.

“More ticks, less cod, fewer herring and scallops, lobsters moving north, sap houses facing shorter seasons. Doctors and nurses warning about growing asthma rates in children. Seniors warned to stay indoors as ozone rates climb,” Mills said, rattling off some of the impacts Maine is already struggling with.

The governor pointed out that Maine sends $5 billion a year out of state to buy heating fuel for homes and run vehicles, and some of that money could be redirected into the Maine economy if the state developed its own renewable energy sources and improved efficiency.

She proposed the council, which would include nearly 30 members, in April, after a previous announcement that she was setting a goal that 100 percent of the state’s electricity would come from renewable sources by 2050. The cost of forming and running the council has not been determined yet, but language in the bill authorizes the council to receive not only taxpayer funding but also support from private and nonprofit organizations and foundations.

The council’s creation is one of a series of steps Mills has taken on climate issues, including putting solar panels on the lawn of the governor’s official residence in Augusta, the Blaine House.

Mills’ response to climate change is a sharp departure from that of her predecessor, Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who has said he is skeptical about the role of humans in climate change. LePage also frequently clashed with environmental activists and advocates during his two terms in office.

In addition to the renewable energy sourcing goals, Mills is proposing that the state set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. The state’s current statutory goal is a 10 percent reduction in emissions from 1990 levels by 2020.

The most recent data from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection showed a 15 percent reduction in greenhouse gases emissions – most notably, carbon dioxide – between 1990 and 2012. Maine lost ground between 2012 and 2015, however, as an uptick in emissions from transportation, electricity generation and residential sources brought that reduction to 11.7 percent from 1990 levels.

If approved by the Legislature, the Maine Climate Council would recommend strategies to the Maine DEP, which would then develop rules to ensure compliance with the levels.

Some Republicans on the committee Friday questioned whether Maine could have any effect on global changes by changing its ways or policies.

“In other words, we comply, we do it all in this state,” said Rep. Thomas Skolfield of Weld. “What impact will that have on the ultimate changes that are projected to take place?”

Sen. Brownie Carson, D-Brunswick, the committee’s Senate chairman and a co-sponsor of Mills’ initiative, said it would be difficult to gauge whether Maine could have a definable impact on sea-level rise or global climate change.

But Carson said developing new technologies, conserving resources and converting as much as possible to renewable energy would make a difference, if other states were taking similar steps.

“If we all move forward together, then we can together make the kind of changes that our grandchildren will look back and say, ‘They did their part,'” Carson said.

Dozens of people, including lobstermen, scientists, farmers and others, testified in support of creating the council.

Opponents to the bill said they support the general idea of the council and the need to prepare and plan for climate change. But they were critical of language in the bill that gives state regulatory agencies the authority to act on recommendations from the council without legislative oversight and involvement.

Under the proposal, the council’s recommendations could be imposed through rule-making processes at either the Department of Environmental Protection or the Department of Transportation.

Steven Hudson, a lobbyist for the Industrial Energy Consumer Group, said Maine’s large industries already have made substantial improvements to their fuel consumption and emissions, within the limits of current technology.

“We think you should focus first on ensuring all sectors have achieved equivalent reductions before you come back to other sectors asking them to do more,” Hudson said. “We think it is essential that the Legislature review major substantive rules when they are proposing to affect large sectors of the Maine economy.”

As proposed, the panel would include most of Mills’ Cabinet members as well as more than 15 representatives of the fisheries, forestry and agriculture industries, climate scientists and mitigation experts, manufacturers, organized labor, the energy sector representatives and tribal governments.

The council would be a permanent working group – rather than a time-limited task force – responsible for updating the state climate action plan, which was first adopted in 2004. That plan established official goals and is intended to guide policy decisions on energy, transportation, and mitigating and/or adapting to a changing climate.

The bill setting up the council will be the subject of a work session before the committee next week.

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