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Wednesday, Oct. 13 at 6:30-8 p.m.
Climate Change & Maine

Climate change continues to affect Maine’s environment and economy, from warming and increasingly acidic waters in the Gulf, to threatened forests in the north and west, to advancing tick populations everywhere.

After completing a historic legislative session where more than a dozen bills were passed to address climate change, the state now stands poised to receive nearly $300 million from the federal government to implement those measures. Are we ready?

Gov. Janet Mills’ Climate Action Plan directs the lion’s share of the money – $150 million – to broadband expansion. The rest is divided among a dozen agencies and organizations. Are there gaps? Which new policies will have the most impact? How vulnerable is the plan if there’s a change in the Blaine House next year?

Join Carol Coultas, Press Herald business projects editor, as she moderates an in-depth discussion with panelists Jeff Marks, executive director of the Acadia Center, and Maureen Drouin, executive director of the Maine Conservation Alliance and Jonathan Rubin, economist and director of the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center, as they discuss Maine’s response to climate change.

To better understand Maine’s history with climate change, check out these resources. The Georgetown Climate Center helped provide the framework for this timeline:

2003: Under Gov. John Baldacci, the Legislature charged the Department of Environmental Protection with developing a mitigation plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This directive led to the development of the 2004 Maine Climate Action Plan.

2009: The Legislature directed DEP
to develop adaptation options for the state in order to prepare for climate impacts. In response, DEP created a coordinating committee composed of representatives from the private and public sector to develop recommendations for adaptation action. This committee was subdivided into four working groups centered around Maine’s built, coastal, natural and social environments.

2010: In February, the coordinating committee highlighted the need for adaptation planning; data, monitoring and assessment; information and awareness; and planning and coordination. The committee presented its report, People and Nature Adapting to a Changing Climate: Charting Maine’s Course, to the Joint Standing Committee on Natural Resources of the 124th Maine Legislature. The 2010 plan includes 118 goals to help prepare Maine for climate impacts.

2011: Jan. 5, new governor Paul LePage is sworn in. While mayor of Waterville, he acknowledged in an interview with Morning Sentinel that he was skeptical about global warming, saying, “I just don’t know how severe it is and I’m not sure how much we as human beings contribute to it. Scientists are divided on it.”

2013: Gov. LePage sent a letter to the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection to establish the Environmental and Energy Resources Work Group to identify climate change vulnerabilities facing the state’s built and natural environment and create strategies to coordinate complex solutions across agencies. The working group was composed of five state agencies and a representative from the governor’s Energy Office. The governor asked the group to create a comprehensive list of agency actions “that address or respond to observed climate changes in the environment, mapping of natural resources or the study of impacts to industry consequent of environmental change factors” and then recommend how to improve coordination across agencies to increase efficiency.

2014: In September, the Environmental and Energy Resources Work Group submitted its report and recommendations. The recommendations called for continuing on-going activities within state departments and agencies on monitoring, mapping, modeling, mitigation and messaging, and enhanced coordination and partnerships. The 32 recommendations are here, starting on page 35.

In November, Gov. LePage vetoed legislation that would have provided climate change guidelines for state agencies based on the 2010 legislative report. The House failed to override the veto.

2019: In June, Gov. Janet Mills signed into law “An Act to Promote Clean Energy Jobs and to Establish the Maine Climate Council.” The act states that the impacts of climate change have created an “emergency within the meaning of the Constitution of Maine” and find that the law is “immediately necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health and safety.” To address the state’s climate emergency, the act includes multiple provisions related to climate adaptation and resilience. Specifically, the act created the Maine Climate Council to advise the state’s governor and legislature on ways to mitigate, prepare for, and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Sept. 23 – Gov. Mills addresses the United Nations and vows Maine will be carbon neutral by 2045.

Sept. 2020: The Press Herald publishes a six-part series on climate change focused on the Gulf of Maine and how its ecosystems – and the people who rely on them – are caught in the cross-hairs.

2020: In December, the Maine Climate Council released Maine Won’t Wait in accordance with the 2019 law. Maine Won’t Wait is a four-year climate action plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to build community and environmental resilience, and to spur transformational economic growth and opportunity.

2021: Jan. 15 – The Maine Climate Council submits its annual report to the Legislature, noting the Maine Won’t Wait plan and detailing a number of climate change priorities the governor planned to seek in the upcoming legislative session, including advancing cost-effective clean energy development and generation; a process to incorporate sea level rise projections into current regulation; to phase down the use of ‘climate super pollutants’ known as HFCs; to put Maine’s target to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045 into law; to advance a process to propose incentives for small woodlot owners to support sustainable forestry management and sequester carbon emissions; to also advance a process to lay out a clean transportation roadmap; and to launch a pilot program for community-level climate resiliency planning to inform broader efforts in coming years.

In June, Mills signs one of the first laws from the Maine Won’t Wait plan. The law directs state-level departments and agencies to conduct a review of their laws and regulations to incorporate considerations of a relative sea-level rise of 1.5 feet by 2050 and 4 feet by 2100. Additionally, this law directs them to identify ways to enhance community resilience to flooding and other climate impacts.

In July, the Natural Resources Council of Maine heralded the work of the legislative session calling it one of the most productive ever in terms of policies and action supporting Maine’s environment, noting in particular $50 million to increase energy efficiency in Maine homes; a new mandate that the Public Utilities Commission include within its mission the responsibility of acting on climate; progress in developing offshore wind energy; and two new financing mechanisms for clean energy and energy efficiency investments.

Aug. 9 – Mills releases an update on Maine Won’t Wait funding disbursements from the anticipated $300 million from the American Rescue Plan and the Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan. Half of that is earmarked for broadband expansion to provide greater access to virtual work, education and health care, and help reduce commuting miles and costs.

Sept. 29 – Mills releases another update with another $51 million added to Maine Won’t Wait action plan

Dec. 1 – One year in, Maine’s climate plan moving forward, fueled by unexpected federal windfall, published by the Portland Press Herald.

Additional resources:

Acadia Center, is a nonprofit, policy center that advocates for clean energy throughout the Northeast. Its Maine Climate and Clean Energy plan is here.

The Maine Environmental Priorities Coalition is an organization of 36 environmental groups that identifies legislative and policy priorities.

The Great Plains Institute and The Nature Conservancy released a report calling for reform of the how Maine regulates power utilities and proposes a Decarbonization Initiative.

Natural Resources Council of Maine’s plan to address climate change lays out strategies to transition to a clean energy future.

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