Maine Lawmakers Consider Local Version Of Green New Deal

Mar 21, 2019

Maine lawmakers and the Sierra Club are beginning their push for a local version of the Green New Deal, currently under consideration in Congress.

The state and federal proposals share the same name and many of the same goals: namely tackling climate change while also transitioning the economy to create manufacturing jobs in the renewable energy sector. But the proposals differ significantly on how to get there.

For years think tanks and policymakers have been talking about ways to simultaneously address climate change and overhaul the economy. But it wasn't until recently that environmentalists and lawmakers came up with a new brand designed to capture the urgency and sweep of the problems they hope to solve. Just as Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal created public-works and financial programs to help the United States recover from the Great Depression, the Green New Deal aims to tackle what the Sierra Club's Zak Ringelstein described as the existential crisis of the 21st Century.

"A Green New Deal is a bold transformation to tackle the twin crises of climate change and inequality," said Ringelstein, a Democrat who challenged U.S. Sen. Angus King last fall.

In broad strokes, the goals of the federal and Maine initiatives are similar. Both create targets to dramatically reduce climate warming greenhouse gas emissions, and both transition electricity-generation away from fossil fuels and toward renewable sources. Both also contain what are arguably societal goals that align with the progressive agenda — a heavy reliance on government programs to guarantee high-paying jobs in clean energy, establishing healthy food and clean air and water as basic human rights and ending racial and income inequality.

The difference between the proposals is in the approach.

The federal bill is a non-binding resolution. It calls on the federal government to take specific steps, but lacks the force of law compelling the government to do so.

Conversely, the Maine bill creates a task force to come up with a local Green New Deal.

"Sometimes it's hard in this building to get excited about another board or another committee. In fact, sometimes committees in the past are where good ideas go to die," said Democratic Sen. Shenna Bellows, of Manchester, a co-sponsor of the bill.

Bellows says a task force may not seem inspiring, but the Maine bill brings together scientists, labor unions, businesses and someone under the age of 21 to represent the state's youth.

Democratic Rep. Chloe Maxmin of Nobleboro, the bill's sponsor, says the task force is designed to make sure the resulting recommendations and policy has input from all of the constituencies the Green New Deal would affect.

"We wanted to make sure that the folks sitting at the table and creating these programs come from diverse backgrounds with diverse identities and from different issue areas so that it's not just one perspective focusing on how we're going to make this transition," Maxmin said.

If passed, the bill would require the task force to report its recommendations by January of next year.

Maxmin, who won her election in a traditionally red district by campaigning in part on climate issues, says the deadlines and task force makeup reflect the exigency of the problem.

"The climate crisis is so urgent and so time-bound in a way that many other political crises are not,” she said. “The other thing is that the folks who are on the task force have an inherent stake and interest in making this transition swift and just and equitable because all that we care about and all that we depend on revolves around how we tackle the climate crisis.”

The task force approach will likely inoculate Maxmin's bill from the partisan furor over the federal proposal, at least in the short term.

A bungled policy rollout has made the federal Green New Deal a target for attacks from conservatives, who have asserted that the proposal will curb cow flatulence to the point that Americans will no longer be allowed to eat ice cream or hamburgers. Another Republican congressperson mocked the proposal's light rail system, saying the trains would be powered by unicorn tears.

The release of Maxmin's bill hasn't drawn much criticism, but that could change when the proposal has a public hearing in April.

Originally published 2:06 p.m. March 21, 2019.