Maine's New Climate Action Plan Calls For Lowered Emissions, Land Conservation, Job Creation

Nov 13, 2020

The Maine Climate Council has voted to adopt recommendations for the state’s Climate Action Plan. The document is meant to guide the state toward reaching its climate and carbon goals.

While the work is ongoing, conservationists say it’s a big step. Eliza Donoghue, director of advocacy and staff attorney at Maine Audubon, spoke with Maine Public host Jennifer Mitchell about the plan.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Mitchell: So the governor’s office set some climate goals, and I believe it’s to reduce emissions by 45% by 2030, and then at least 80% by 2050. Can you talk a little bit about what some of the concrete strategies are going to be?

Donoghue: I’ll focus on the ones that are near and dear to Maine Audubon’s heart as a wildlife conservation organization. So one of the great things, in addition to thinking about what we can do to increase beneficial electrification in Maine, reduce vehicle miles traveled — transportation is an incredible emitter, the top carbon emitter in the state of Maine. The Climate Action Plan also recognizes the really important role that our natural lands play in both sequestering carbon and also making our communities more resilient to carbon. Some of the strategies in the Climate Action Plan include working to conserve at least 30% of Maine’s lands — our working farms, our working forests — by 2030. And particularly conserving lands that are really high in sequestering carbon, like our salt marshes, older forests, things like that. Those are some of the strategies within the Climate Action Plan that are of particular interest to Maine Audubon.

So the goals are one thing and implementing a plan can take some time. How long will it take to actually get all those pieces together to make this happen and get the plan rolling?

The plan has kind of a four-year shelf life, then it will be updated. But there are some specific targets within it that will be implemented over time in order to achieve our goals. So a lot of stuff needs to be done in the short term. For instance, putting into statute and regulation what some projections are on sea level rise, so that we can better plan from a land use capacity where we’re going to put new development, where communities are going to be to increase their infrastructure, etc. But really, this is going to be something that goes on for years and years, though, I’m hopeful and many others are hopeful that we’re going to really front-load a lot of this stuff, because we don’t have time to waste.

Regarding that, though, is there any concern that this plan is only good as long as there’s an administration that’s going to be favorable to it? Gov. Janet Mills won’t be governor forever, and 2050 is a long way off.

I think that’s a very valid concern. But I think what is most remarkable about this plan is that it’s a consensus document that was pulled together. The Climate Council itself was made up of over 30 individuals that represent a very wide variety of stakeholders, industries and regions in Maine. And the hope is, because it’s consensus, because of the careful process that went into making the plan what it is, it’s durable. It’s has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with the reality of climate change, what science is telling us about the projections of what’s going to happen to our climate, and the reality that these are the things we need to do to keep the worst of the worst from happening.

What about the economic plank of the plan? We hear a lot about green energy being a really fast growing sector. Are there employment benefits here that folks on both sides of the aisle probably would want to hear about? And with Maine’s demographic challenges, would we realistically be able to meet those demands?

That’s something that that plan spends quite a bit of time on: really helping to underscore the employment opportunities that are associated with renewable energy infrastructure, with some of the changes that are gonna be necessary in our transportation sector. And I think that it’s something that really appeals to a lot of Maine people. The drafters of the plan, the Maine Climate Council, really focused on making sure people understood that this is about not only preventing the worst of the worst as far as climate change, but this is an opportunity for Maine to really improve itself. That they’re places where when we spend money, we are really investing in our state in investing in new jobs and opportunities.