Peter Dugas is a tenacious citizen lobbyist and active member of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. He has built support from influential people and organizations for effective climate legislation in Congress, and his work continues with a sense of urgency. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Peter Dugas is known as a “grasstops” climate advocate, as opposed to a grassroots advocate. He is a volunteer with Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a national nonpartisan advocacy organization working to enact federal policies to address climate change, and his job is to engage in high-level policy discussions with Maine’s congressional delegation.

He’s done it so well over the past three years, that Dugas, 46, of Portland is one of this year’s Source award winners.

A peer describes Dugas as “a tenacious citizen lobbyist,” who embraces the role of an ordinary everyday citizen working side-by-side with policymakers to bring about real change. “We live in a time of diminished civic engagement. Citizens have largely forgotten the role they can play in policymaking,” his friend Sam Saltonstall wrote in a nomination letter. “Peter is an exception. By sharing his knowledge about climate policy and, through that effort, building support for a strong, effective climate mitigation bill, Peter uses the tools of democracy on a personal level to lay groundwork for legislation that could save millions of lives over the coming decades. In my book, he’s an unsung hero.”

Unsung no more, Dugas respectfully declines the title of hero. He says there are many people just like him who are equally, if not more worthy of the award.

But he is honored to accept it for his work with the Citizens’ Climate Lobby because he is proud of the organization and sees its work in advocating for the passage of the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act as critical to dealing with climate change. “What I love about this group is how viciously nonpartisan they are and how respectful they are across the aisle,” he said. “They realize we’re all in this together and we have to start a lot of conversations with a lot of different groups.”

And that is what Dugas does well. With a degree in physics and engineering from Brown University, he has understood the existential threat of climate change since his undergraduate days, when a professor impressed upon him the likelihood we would “extinguish ourselves through our own doing” if we didn’t quickly change our relationship with the climate. “I’ve been freaked out since then,” he said.

He makes his living as an owner-landlord in Portland, who did all he could as an individual to mitigate climate change by investing in energy-efficiency upgrades to his building. But that only goes so far. As a citizen volunteer, he widens his sphere of influence.

His job today is to engage with state legislators, municipal leaders, faith leaders, civic organizations, business people and ordinary folks – and high-level people like Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins of Maine, both of whom sit on the Climate Solutions Caucus, a bipartisan caucus of federal legislators. His mission is building public support for the Carbon Dividend Act, which aims to reduce U.S. carbon pollution to net zero by 2050, and convincing King and Collins to support it. He talks to anyone, anywhere, anytime – in board rooms and at municipal meetings, in coffee shops and on Zoom.

Maine has everything to lose, he says. “You cannot think of a quintessential Maine industry that is not threatened by climate change – shrimp, lobsters, timber, blueberries. We have a ton to lose from unmitigated climate change and a ton to gain from an equitable and business-friendly solution.”

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