As people across the state were preparing for the upcoming holidays in December, there was one thing they were certainly not prepared for: a major winter storm.

On Dec. 18, more than 400,000 people were without power in Maine. What followed was a multi-day effort to deliver power back to the state, taking six days to bring that astronomical amount to just over 500 customers. In addition to the widespread power outages that plagued people during the height of the holiday season, flooded roads, cars and houses became a headache for the state and a danger to the public.

Although total damage assessments are not yet calculated, Maine’s Department of Transportation has begun soliciting bids for infrastructural repairs; the overall costs are estimated to be between $10 and $12 million. Intense storm events like these are becoming commonplace these days, with two major storm events (only a week apart) rocking Maine in the month of January alone. There are certainly many lessons to be learned from the state’s response to these emergencies, but there is a greater underlying issue that has been painfully exposed: a critically under-resourced state government in times of a worsening climate crisis.

Certainly, it is important to acknowledge the existing ambitious response to climate change developed by a diverse, intergenerational and bipartisan coalition of environmental advocates. The state has received national recognition for its Maine Won’t Wait climate strategy, which outlines initiatives to achieve our emission reductions targets (45% reduction of 1990 levels by 2030; 80% by 2050) and engages various stakeholders in the process. This subsequently spawned several pieces of key legislation and programs, and fueled a greater movement around policymaking that went beyond the ambitions of the original initiative. Some accomplishments over the past several years included:

• Establishment of Maine Climate Corps;  

• Increased funding for public transportation;  


• Increased number of electric vehicles and charging stations; 

• Statewide climate education curriculum; 

• And a streamlined process for offshore wind development.

Despite this series of legislative and regulatory successes, an accumulating number of responsibilities has placed immense pressure on state agencies. This increasing responsibility comes from not only the policies to mitigate the climate crisis, but also from the necessary responses needed for its worsening effects: consider the burden state agencies had to take regarding this most recent storm.

The cause of this growing dilemma is clear: one out of every six positions within state agencies remain unfilled.

Key positions are left open within the Departments of Environmental Protection, Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry, and Marine Resources. If these departments are assuming the bulk of responsibility for climate action implementation and adaptation, how are they expected to do so effectively and efficiently? The answer is that they won’t be able to. Even pre-existing laws and regulations have become difficult to enforce as agencies confront a lack of staff and resources.


Mainers need a robust response to the climate crisis, which will continue to create weather events our state isn’t ready for. Specifically, our younger generations deserve this response. The young people of our state will bear the brunt of the effects of climate change, whether that may be through air and water quality, intensifying storms or severe infrastructural damage. To inadequately respond to these events because the state is not providing proper resources for agencies to do their job is an injustice.

It is evident the issue of chronic understaffing and under-resourcing must be resolved given the stakes at hand. Thankfully, the solution is simple: increased compensation and more staff.

As of 2020, Maine state employees were paid, on average, 15% below their New England counterparts. It comes down to simple economics: as compensation increases, so does the demand for those positions.

As a young Mainer currently enrolled at the University of Maine School of Law, I would be inclined to take a position in state government if I were fairly compensated and supported. It is not just myself who agrees. Both in the legal field and in environmental sciences, many in my generation would jump at the chance for good-paying public sector job opportunities, particularly because many of us are passionate about working on governmental issues.

Besides the issue of fair compensation, the state must also consider creating more staff positions in agencies, once previous ones are filled. Even when all currently open positions are filled, agencies will not have enough capacity to adequately address all these new responsibilities. More staff will be necessary to ensure an effective and efficient response to all the climate-related laws that have been passed in the previous several years.

As we reflect on the state’s response to the detrimental effects of the most recent storm, it becomes clear that the operations of the state government need to be adequately supported. Not only do young Mainers deserve appropriate responses from their government against the now yearly “100-year storms,” they want to be part of the solution. But they also want a livable wage. As the Legislature considers what to do with yet another surplus in the budget this coming year, an effort to fully fund and staff our agencies must be on the table. The more we delay, the more the compounding consequences Mainers will face.

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