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On Conservation Day, Maine Democrats warn of November 'threat' to state's climate progress

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Nicole Ogrysko
/
Maine Public
Cole Cochrane with Maine Youth Action spoke Thursday, July 28, 2022 at a trailhead at the Hammond Hill Conservation Area in Augusta.

Maine Democrats and environmental groups say the state has made progress on its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare local towns for the impacts of climate change.

But on World Conservation Day, Democrats say they view the possibility of a third, non-consecutive term for former Gov. Paul LePage as a threat to that progress.

LePage is challenging incumbent Democrat Janet Mills and Independent Sam Hunkler in November.

"The work that we've done is a huge step forward," said state Rep. Lydia Blume, D-York. "However, we've got to continue doing what we're doing. And going backwards is really not an option."

Blume was one of a handful of Democrats and environmental activists who gathered Thursday morning at the Howard Hill Conservation Area in Augusta, which became a flashpoint in the debate over Maine's Land for Future program during LePage's tenure.

LePage had held up voter-approved bonds for the conservation program, prompting a months-long debate with state lawmakers.

Environmental activists praised the state's four-year climate action plan, as well as a slew of new laws that state legislators have passed in recent years, which created a climate corps, established a climate education program and funded other initiatives.

Cole Cochrane from Maine Youth Action said young people have recently had a voice in drafting those policies. But he worries they'll lose the chance entirely if LePage wins a third non-consecutive term.

"We are facing a dire future as the climate crisis worsens," Cochrane said. "And having a governor that will ignore the issues will have huge long-term impacts, impacts that my generation are going to face."

Democrats on Thursday cited LePage's support for offshore oil drilling and the list of environmental regulatory rollbacks that he proposed during his first days in office as liabilities.

When asked about the former governor's environmental record, campaign spokesman Brent Littlefield pointed to a $900,000 settlement that Maine reached with Chevron over a decades-long oil leak on the Penobscot River while LePage was in office. And he said that Maine should be focused on what he believes is the real problem, an economic recession that will challenge whoever becomes the next governor.