Maine Gov. Janet Mills presented a bill on Tuesday to create a 27-member climate change council charged with dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning Maine to what she describes as a “low-carbon economy.”
But the panel will not evaluate the purported carbon reduction benefits of a controversial transmission line project that Mills supports.
Mills unveiled her climate council bill by echoing the clarion call she used during her inauguration speech in January. She described climate change as an existential threat to Maine’s economy, its environment and way of life.
“In the not-too-distant future my grandchildren and yours could reach my age and live in a Maine that we would not recognize. So we must act,” she said.
The governor also referenced a recent 150-page document published by the federal Environmental Protection Agency that advised states on how to plan for natural disasters that are expected to increase in frequency and intensity because of climate change.
“This report comes from an administration that’s failing to lead on climate change, leaving the heavy lift to the states,” she said.
The Democratic governor’s criticism of the Trump administration’s inaction on climate change aligns with a the wave of climate-related bills introduced in other states this year — nearly 400 in 36 states, according to a database from the National Conference of State Legislatures.
State Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Jerry Reid says the targets in Maine’s bill are similar to those introduced in other states.
“And we think they’re both ambitious,” he said. “Appropriately ambitious, but also achievable.”
Mills says her climate council would play a key role in executing Maine’s response. She has previously stated a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% and generating 100% of the state’s power from renewable sources by 2050.
The climate council — made up of the governor’s cabinet, legislative appointees and representatives from natural resources industries and other interest groups — would then be tasked with advising and overseeing Maine’s plan.
The council would not have direct authority to write laws, but it could propose legislation.
The governor’s bill also requires the creation of rules to evaluate whether its strategies, including proposed energy projects, are helping Maine meet its carbon reduction goals.
Hannah Pingree, who heads the governor’s innovation office, said the analysis of energy initiatives will be based on science and data.
“We imagine a fair amount of modeling, especially in the electricity and transportation sector, about, ‘if we do this, what will the result be?’” she said. “This obviously is something that’s going to happen this fall so it won’t impact current projects.”
By current projects, Pingree was referring to a question about Central Maine Power’s proposal to build a power line through western Maine to deliver hydropower from Quebec to Massachusetts.
CMP’s proposal is contentious, dividing environmental groups and the governor’s supporters.
Mills supports the project, citing a study by London Economics Institute, and touted by CMP, that it will reduce regional carbon emissions by 3.6 million metric tons each year.
Opponents, however, don’t trust those numbers.
State Sen. Brownie Carson, a Democrat from Harpswell, is sponsoring a bill that would require an independent study of the project’s carbon reductions. Mills opposes Carson’s bill and said that while the carbon benefits of future projects will be evaluated, the dispute over CMP’s reduction claims is settled in her view.
“I’m not going to get into that dispute, but there’s data available now on that project that I think is sufficient,” she said.
Carson, who attended the governor’s climate council announcement, said he supports it. He said he disagrees with Mills about the projected carbon reduction benefits of the CMP project, but he views the issue separately from the governor’s new climate proposal.
Carson’s bill could soon come up for a vote in the Senate. A public hearing on the governor’s bill will likely take place in May.
Originally published 5:08 p.m. April 30, 2019.