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A deep dive into Maine's response, one county at a time.

At Orono event, Gov. Mills says Maine is making ‘unprecedented strides’ on climate measures

Gov. Janet Mills attends an event at the Blaine House, Thursday, June 17, 2021, in Augusta, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty
Gov. Janet Mills attends an event at the Blaine House, Thursday, June 17, 2021, in Augusta, Maine.

Last December, the Maine Climate Council released a lengthy "action plan" for achieving ambitious climate goals. Since then, the state has made significant progress on some fronts but still faces sizable hurdles on others.

On Wednesday, Gov. Janet Mills gathered on the University of Maine campus in Orono to mark the one-year anniversary of the report and to highlight new initiatives that she said will help communities prepare for — and adapt to — the changing climate.

While the chilly wind and melting snow made it feel like a typical early-December day in Maine, headlines of record-setting heat waves and cold spells, destructive storms and other unprecedented weather events over the past year have underscored that the climate is changing globally — and locally.

"Sea level rise is accelerating. Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99% of the world's oceans, which probably everyone in the state now knows all about,” said Ivan Fernandez, a faculty member at UMaine's Climate Change Institute and a member of the subcommittee that provides scientific and technical advice to the Maine Climate Council. "We experience increasing frequency and intensity of storm events, and heat waves, drought, ticks and Lyme disease as part of our daily lives, and more. We live it everyday. This is not something that we are talking about in the future."

Since the state released its "Maine Won't Wait" action plan last year, Maine has experienced both drought and destructive rainstorms, and the second-warmest summer on record.

But Mills and climate council members say Maine has made "significant positive progress" toward those goals, which include obtaining 80%of electricity from renewable sources by 2030 and installing 100,000 new electric heat pumps by 2025.

Mills noted that 28,000 heat pumps were installed between July 2020 and June of this year. Generation of solar energy systems has increased four-fold in Maine since 2019. And more than 5,000 electric or hybrid vehicles are now on Maine roads — a 90% increase in two years but still a tiny fraction of the more than 200,000 electric vehicles that last year’s report said would be needed. Emissions from cars, trucks and other vehicles account for more than 50% of Maine’s greenhouse gas emissions.

"Maine is not waiting any longer,” Mills said during a press conference. “We are making unprecedented strides to embrace clean energy, to reduce carbon emissions, to strengthen our economy and to help communities fight at every level the greatest danger of our time: Code Red for humanity."

That phrase, "Code Red for Humanity," was the central theme of a report this year from scientists on the United Nations' International Panel on Climate Change, which warns that nations need much more aggressive emissions reductions to avoid worldwide climate catastrophe.

Mills and state lawmakers set official goals of reducing Maine's carbon dioxide emissions — partly from cars, trucks and SUVs — by 45% in the next decade. In a tiny but symbolic first step, Maine's first fully electric school bus began shuttling kids on Mount Desert Island this year.

To mark the report's one-year anniversary, Mills also announced that her administration will provide nearly $25 million to municipal and tribal governments to start or enhance their own climate action plans as well as take on climate resiliency projects.

As manager of the small Aroostook County town of Easton, Jim Gardner says climate change threatens the resilience of the potato industry that is the backbone of his area's economy. And speaking during Wednesday’s press conference, Gardner said collective action must be taken.

"The issue of climate change is too large for any of us to tackle on our own. It requires strong partnership to build a resilient Maine,” Gardner said.

The climate council's progress report will be reviewed by lawmakers during next year's legislative session.