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In New Report, Janet Mills Starts Maine Down Path To 80% Carbon Emissions Reduction By 2050

Robert F. Bukaty
Associated Press
In this March 19, 2019 file photo, the blades of wind turbines catch the breeze at the Saddleback Ridge wind farm in Carthage, Maine.

After more than a year of work by hundreds of Mainers, Gov. Janet Mills’ Climate Council released a roadmap on Tuesday for the state’s efforts to stall the worst effects of climate change and adapt to those that can’t be avoided.

At the same time that Maine faces a pandemic-driven budget crisis, Mills proposed some potentially costly down payments on a carbon-neutral future.

The 112-page report was unveiled in an online meeting of participants sheltering from both the COVID-19 virus and a damaging storm that several said typified the volatile weather events that climate change will make more frequent.

“I’ve experienced the fear that many of my peers feel when they think about their futures,” says Ania Wright, a student at the College of the Alantic and the youth representative to the council. “Just now during this meeting I received a string of texts from a worried friend about the flooding outside her apartment: a dangerous mix of high tide and a powerful storm. And this plan is gives me hope that another world is possible for future generations.”

Titled Maine Won’t Wait, the document lays out a four-year path toward legislative goals of reducing Maine’s carbon emissions below 1990 levels in two phases: by 45% within the next decade, and 80% by 2050.

It prioritizes the reduction of transportation-related emissions, responsible for 54 percent of this state’s fossil-fuel pollution. That’s followed by reduced heating and cooling emissions, which account for another 12 percent of Maine’s global-warming contributions. Policies encouraging wider adoption of electric vehicles, heat pumps and building weatherization are prominent.

“I think of whether in the not-too-distant future my grandchildren will live in a Maine that I would not even recognize,” Mills says.

To help avert that outcome she says she will propose legislation in the coming session that echoes the report’s recommendations, including taking advantage of low interest rates to float bonds for green transportation infrastructure, broadband buildout, weatherization investments and to protect public water and water treatment systems against storms and sea-level rise.

And Mills says such capital investments would spur the state’s economic recovery, with new opportunities for a state workforce that’s been hammered by the pandemic.

“Thousands of Maine people are still facing real economic hardship due to this pandemic. So to get Maine families back to work, to spur economic growth and to meet our state’s climate targets as outlined by this plan, I’m setting a goal to more than double the number of Maine’s clean energy and energy efficiency jobs by 2030,” she says.

That would mean roughly 30,000 jobs, Mills says, for electricians, efficiency contractors, heat pump installers and workers in renewable energy power generation, storage and transmission. She’s also proposing what could be less capital-intensive policy measures, including predicted sea-level rise in state planning standards for instance, contracting for new renewable energy or tightening efficiency standards for household appliances.

The report and Mills’ proposals are drawing praise from environmentalists and their allies in the Legislature.

“When she was rattling off all those things I was like, ‘Oh my God, I gotta know what this is,’” says Rep. Lydia Blume, a York Democrat who chairs the legislature’s coastal and climate action caucus.

Blume was also one of the many lawmakers, scientists, industry representatives, activists and other stakeholders who participated in the council’s efforts to find consensus around the climate challenge.

“There’s a lot of things going on with this report. It’s about public engagement. It’s about elevating the idea of climate change and its effects in the public sphere as well. So there’s a lot going on here. And I think it’s doing it very well,” she says.

Others, while supportive of the plan, are also concerned about finding the billions of dollars that could really spur the large-scale investments required to meet what scientists say is the urgent need for rapid CO2 reductions.

“The one area where I would like to see a lot more specificity and a lot more clarity is around funding,” says Democratic state Rep. Seth Berry, who co-chairs the Legislature’s Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology.

Like many observers, Berry says that in Maine, focusing on lowering the costs of clean energy will be the most effective strategy. He says there is little political appetite in Augusta for measures that could punish consumers for using fossil fuels, such as a so-called carbon tax. But he — and the new report — also say that equitable versions of such measures should at least be considered.

A Columbia University graduate, Fred began his journalism career as a print reporter in Vermont, then came to Maine Public in 2001 as its political reporter, as well as serving as a host for a variety of Maine Public Radio and Maine Public Television programs. Fred later went on to become news director for New England Public Radio in Western Massachusetts and worked as a freelancer for National Public Radio and a number of regional public radio stations, including WBUR in Boston and NHPR in New Hampshire.