Gov. Janet Mills is urging Congress to make federal climate and energy policies more responsive to the needs of smaller states and rural communities as they work to become more resilient to a changing environment.

In a letter sent to leaders of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, Mills recapped some of her administration’s recent actions, including setting ambitious new goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and expanding renewable energy.

Gov. Janet Mills addresses the Climate Action Summit in the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters on Sept. 23. Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

“Like many rural states, capacity and financial constraints are constant obstacles for state and local governments in meeting the needs of rural and lower income communities,” Mills wrote to committee Chairwoman Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Florida, and ranking member Rep. Garret Graves, R-Louisiana. “As such, Maine’s people and economy stand to benefit when federal engagement and cooperation align with state goals.”

Established just days after Democrats retook control of the House of Representatives, the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis is a special panel charged with compiling a list of public policy recommendations for Congress by next March. The committee is comprised of nine Democrats and six Republicans.

The committee has held meetings throughout the year on climate issues, one of which in September drew international attention as Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg told members, “I don’t want you to listen to me, I want you to listen to the scientists.”

Climate change has become another partisan issue in Washington, D.C., fomented in part by President Trump’s vocal skepticism of the role that humans are playing in those changes despite overwhelming scientific evidence.

The Trump administration has sought to undo or undercut many of the climate-related policy initiatives of President Obama, including policies aimed at reducing emissions from fossil fuel-burning power plants and automobiles. In recent weeks, Trump has also targeted everything from high-efficiency light bulbs and low-flush toilets to the wind power industry.

Trump has also withdrawn the United States from the 2015 Paris Climate Accord that set goals for greenhouse gas emission reductions.

Mills is among the governors who have pledged to continue working toward those goals, however, and in her letter she wrote that “Maine welcomes existing federal cooperation and would encourage additional engagement.”

A Democrat who made addressing climate change a top focus of her 2018 campaign, Mills worked with the Democratic-controlled Legislature earlier this year to set new goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050 and building toward obtaining all electricity from renewable sources by 2050.

In her letter to committee leaders, Mills laid out more than 20 steps that she said the federal government can take to help states such as Maine prepare for and adapt to the changing climate. Addressing the climate crisis is particularly important for Maine, Mills wrote, because “our fishermen, our farmers, and our foresters are already seeing the impacts of climate in shifting species distribution, increased precipitation and changing pests.”

Mills requested continued support for – or renewed congressional commitment to – development of offshore wind power technology, federal tax incentives for renewable energy, and expanding weatherization programs as more Mainers switch to heat pumps.

The governor wrote that Congress should shift more of the federal government’s disaster and infrastructure investment funding toward pre-disaster mitigation and climate adaptation. She also endorsed reforming the federal National Flood Insurance Program, which offers home or business insurance in areas not covered by private insurers, to better address sea level rise and climate adaptation.

For instance, Mills said, the Federal Emergency Management Agency could be used to incentivize local buy-out programs for flood-prone properties which can then be converted to publicly accessible open space or ecological reserves.

Many of her proposals were aimed at helping smaller states and rural communities.

Mills said climate adaptation strategies developed for cities or urban areas are often impractical or unaffordable for rural areas. She also requested that officials allow more flexibility in federal grants to allow for regional collaboration and to ensure that smaller communities can compete for funding.

“Small and rural communities often lack the staff capacity to manage federal grants and lack the funds to meet local match requirements on federal grants,” Mills wrote. “This results in federal funding more frequently landing in larger and wealthier communities.”

 

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