ROCKPORT — As Mainers take to the roads, skies and tracks for the holidays, ‘tis the season to contemplate resolutions for the New Year and beyond. While most envision exercising more, quitting smoking or spending more time with loved ones, Gov. Mills, the Maine Legislature and the Maine Climate Council are grappling with how to reduce the state’s climate pollution and transportation costs in an economical, efficient and equitable manner.

Transportation is responsible for more than half of Maine’s carbon dioxide emissions through the combustion of imported gasoline and diesel. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Maine falls in the top 10 states for money spent per capita on energy, with the highest proportion of energy spending going to transportation. Gasoline and diesel fuel prices can be extremely volatile because of global, national and regional constraints, which brings additional economic uncertainty to Mainers. These issues, along with aging transportation infrastructure, creates a challenge for clean and cost-effective transportation throughout the state.

A recent survey of voters indicates that 73 percent of rural Maine residents support the creation of a clean transportation fund, and a majority of rural Maine residents are willing to pay more to improve their mobility and quality of life. A well-designed transportation policy will deliver benefits for all and center our most vulnerable citizens. In a rural state with an aging population, equity considerations need to be front-and-center when developing transportation policy in Maine.

Maine should be moving toward a transportation system with cleaner vehicles and fuels, transit options that are better suited to meet the needs of its rural communities and resilient transportation infrastructure that can stand up to mud season and more frequent storms. By working on a regional, cooperative basis, Maine can achieve its transportation goals in a faster, more efficient way to enhance economic productivity, reduce reliance on fossil fuels and address the state’s largest source of greenhouse-gas emissions while reducing the transportation pollution we breathe.

One new initiative could help Maine decrease transportation pollution, lessen price risk and invest in new transportation options, including incentives for electric cars and trucks, electric vehicle charging infrastructure, better public transit and more accessible communities for walking and biking. On Dec. 17, the Transportation and Climate Initiative, a regional collaboration of 12 Northeastern and mid-Atlantic states and the District of Columbia, released a draft regional policy proposal to address rising transportation pollution and the need for greater investment in a clean transportation future.

Analysis released with the proposal shows that regional action to reduce transportation pollution will deliver economic, health and environmental benefits. Under the most ambitious pathway analyzed, the region would see a 25 percent reduction in CO2 emissions from vehicles, $10 billion in health savings from reduced tailpipe pollution – in 2032 alone – and nearly $2 billion in proceeds for Maine to invest in clean, equitable transportation solutions from 2022 to 2032, according to Acadia Center’s analysis. The regional approach is intended to help build a strong clean-energy economy by minimizing reliance on fossil fuels while promoting sustainable economic growth. The modeling shows it would do just that, adding jobs and revenue to the Maine economy.

Gas tax revenues have declined and a pollution pricing program will provide an important mechanism for necessary new transportation system investments. The Northeast has demonstrated that such a regional partnership works under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-invest program that not only reduced CO2 emissions from power plants by almost 50 percent, but also has generated over $100 million for Maine homes and businesses in cost-effective energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements.

Launching this program will be a major accomplishment at a substantial scale: The Transportation and Climate Initiative region, were it a single country, would represent the world’s third-largest economy. Maine can leverage its position in that group to advance what would be the most significant climate policy in recent years. And, given the projected economic, health and environmental results, that would be a New Year’s resolution worth keeping!

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