Mills: Maine Is 'Making Up For Lost Time' In Dealing With Climate Change

Sep 20, 2019

The Conservation Law Foundation says Maine Gov. Janet Mills "walks the walk" when it comes to climate change. Recently she slammed the Trump administration's move to restrict states' ability to regulate their own air quality.  Maine Public's Morning Edition host Irwin Gratz spoke with Mills about what steps she's taken - beyond creating a climate council - to deal with climate change in Maine.

MILLS: We've done a lot, taken a lot of steps in terms of addressing climate change because I think we've lost time and lost opportunities here. But we're making up for lost time. Among other things what we've done first of all is to reverse the moratorium on wind power that the previous administration issued, because I think wind power - and particularly offshore wind - is a huge opportunity for Maine to be ahead of the curve.

Secondly, we reversed our involvement with the governor's coalition to encourage offshore drilling for oil and gas. We were the only Atlantic coastal state to say this was an OK thing. We enacted some of the most aggressive renewable portfolio standards legislation in the country. We set a goal of increasing the number of charging stations for electric vehicles and increasing the number of electric vehicles across the state. We drew down some of the Volkswagen of America settlement funds and applied those to the Efficiency Maine Trust in order to buy or help lease and buy electric vehicles for non-profits and for individuals and small businesses. And, you know, they’re coming out with pickup trucks now that are all electric. So that'll be exciting for my part of the state. We approved and signed into law the net metering legislation that had been, I think, vetoed in the past to promote residential solar, and we lifted the cap on community solar. So, we're encouraging solar development across the state of Maine.

GRATZ: Gov. LePage, of course, was objecting to some of those alternative energy sources because he worried about their higher costs to consumers. Have the financial realities changed enough to make more of these alternatives more attractive?

They have. We know that there are still federal credits - I think it's 30 percent tax credits right now for solar. And people should take advantage of that. They can bring down their electricity bills over time, depending on what kind of facility or house you have. You talk about the finances of clean energy and the finances of addressing climate change - think about the $5 billion a year that Maine people send out of state to international fossil fuel companies because of our dependency on fossil fuels for heating. And one thing I agree with the prior administration on was the value of heat pumps, and we set a goal of increasing the number of heat pumps by 100,000 in the coming years, and encouraging homeowners and businesses alike to invest in that.

You make it sound extremely attractive. But where do you expect to get pushback on some of these initiatives?

Well, we've been partnering with the automobile people. They were at the press conference a few weeks ago where we announced the use of the VW settlement funds. They're all in favor of promoting and marketing electric vehicles and hybrids because it's good for the bottom line - the prices are coming down.

So, in terms of pushback we did talk to all members of the industry when we sat around the table this spring and talked about the renewable portfolio standards and that legislation. And I think we accommodated most of the interests that had any objections, including the biomass industry and the large consumers and producers, and I think we accommodated their interests.

Even if Maine is successful, of course, as you probably are aware some effects of global warming have already occurred, and the scientists say that more will likely come no matter what. Maine is, at the moment, behind northern New England states in helping municipalities invest in the infrastructure needed for resilience against sea level rise. Are you prepared to do more in that area?

Yes, resilience is one of the major goals of the Climate Council - Climate Change Council - that we're creating, making appointments to, right now. And they'll be looking at transportation electrification and resiliency of coastal communities, in particular. And when you're building or rebuilding a pier you're going to have to make it a few feet higher to accommodate potential rise in the sea level. And we do want to buttress our shore land - coastal properties are potentially at risk.

Are there any initiatives the state can do that would help with that?

Right. When we do bond issues for transportation we have that in mind as well, making sure that where we are repairing or rebuilding roads or building new roads that we take that into consideration, where we're building or rebuilding working waterfront facilities piers and the like that we're taking that into consideration as well. I want to make sure that my grandchildren and their grandchildren have the same kind of Maine, that they're able to enjoy the outdoors, enjoy our coastline and be able to raise their families and support themselves in the same kind of clean environment that we have today.  

My last question is are people really going to be able to do that to meet the goals that you've laid out? Are Mainers going to have to give up anything?

Hmmm…interesting question. You know, I guess we'll hear about anything people think they're going to be giving up as we go along. We’ll have public hearings, we've had public hearings on these bills. I get letters every day from young people who are deeply concerned about the environment, deeply concerned about climate change. You know, for somebody my age why should I care because I'll be dead in 10, 20 years or something, but younger people do care and that's why I care too.

You know, something that Wendell Berry said, “Hope then to belong to your place by your own knowledge of what it is that no other place is. And by your caring for it as you care for no other place.” I care deeply about this place we call the state of Maine, and my children care deeply about it, and the people I hear from every day care deeply about it. I don't think anybody has written me a letter saying, “Don't bother about climate change.” People want to look to the future. People want to diversify our economy. People want jobs.

Governor Mills, thank you for the time. We really appreciate it.

Thank you, Irwin.

This interview is part of a week-long reporting project “Covering Climate Now” by Maine Public and more than  300 media outlets around the world. The series comes in advance of the United Nations Climate Action Summit on Monday Sept. 23 in New York. More information at MainePublic.org/climatenow.