Scientists, activists and people working in Maine’s natural resources-based economy are backing a bill designed to dramatically reduce Maine’s greenhouse gas emissions over the next 30 years.
The proposal is an update to the state’s 2004 climate action plan and one of the first major pieces of climate change legislation that could become law in more than eight years. While the bill has widespread support, some industries warned that it could have a negative effect on their businesses.
The bill targets aims for an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, hoping to get them below 1990 levels by 2030 and a 100 percent reduction by 2050.
Its sponsor, Democratic Rep. Ralph Tucker, of Brunswick, told the Environmental and Natural Resources Committee that he won’t benefit if Maine is fortunate enough to meet those ambitious goals.
“For me personally, in 2050, I will be dead,” he said.
The audience chuckled, but Tucker’s deadpan remark was meant to make a point.
“But this brings up the key point in this debate, doesn’t it? The nub of the problem is how do we balance the short-term interests of individuals and corporations in the near future against the long-term interests of our children and the future of humanity,” he said.
That tension – between present needs and wants of people and economies living the status quo and the dire warnings about a future of unmitigated greenhouse gas emissions – is central in the global climate change debate.
Elements of that tension were also on display Wednesday as lawmakers took testimony on Tucker’s bill and other proposals designed to restart Maine’s bid to be a leader on climate change.
Ivan Fernandez, with the University of Maine Climate Institute, said Mainers are already feeling the effects of a warming planet.
“In Maine today we have warming temperatures, shorter winters, less snow, a longer growing season, rising sea levels, the fastest warming oceans on the planet, intensifying storms, an increasing uncertainty and variability in the weather that burdens communities and businesses across Maine. Most of these trends are accelerating,” Fernandez said.
And those changes have affected Bill Mook, who has operated an oyster farm on the Damariscotta River for over three decades.
Mook says it wasn’t long ago that many believed Maine’s harsh winters would offset the effects of warming waters and ocean acidification, which can degrade and kill shellfish. But he says steadily warming waters have gotten to a point that he has add pH to the water at his hatchery so that younger oysters develop strong shells.
“Just like people take Tums for an acid stomach after a spicy meal, we must always use a buffer to raise the pH of the water we use in our hatchery to grow larvae. If we don’t do this it’s very simple, we lose money,” he said.
Farmers, lobsterman and others in Maine’s natural resources-based economy echoed Mook’s experience, telling lawmakers that reducing emissions was critical to preserving and growing their livelihoods.
But others were skeptical.
Representatives from Maine’s paper industry worried that aggressive emission targets would scuttle their investments to convert systems to natural gas, which in 2016 surpassed coal to lead the nation in sources for electric generation. Michael Martunas, an environmental officer for the concrete manufacturer Dragon Products in Thomaston, issued a dire warning should the emissions bills become law.
“Dragon’s positions on these bills is very simple. If either bill is enacted, our cement plant will close and approximately 500 jobs supported by the plant will either cease to exist or lose revenue provided by Dragon,” Martunas said.
Martunas acknowledged his fears are largely spurred by the emissions bill lack of specificity.
Tucker’s bill orders the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to update Maine’s 2004 climate action plan, but it does not say how the state should meet the new greenhouse gas reduction goals. The details will be left to the DEP, who will convene with stakeholders and then report on whether the state is meeting its goals.
And supporters say an update to the climate action plan is long overdue since climate change legislation stalled during the eight years of the LePage administration.
Skeptics wondered why Maine should lead on emissions reduction when it’s considered more of a receiver than a producer. Some asked why Maine should act alone.
“We could not act alone if we tried,” said Dylan Vorhees with the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
Vorhees said that Maine would join over a dozen states enacting similar emission reduction targets. And while the Trump administration has dropped out Paris Climate Agreement, Vorhees says Maine and other states will be joining a global effort.
“It would be inaction that would make Maine the outlier. Every country in the world, with the exception of the United States at the federal level, has committed to a global framework to limit temperature increases to safe levels,” he said.
Vorhees also noted that the emissions bill dovetails with Democratic Gov. Janet Mills’s plan to reduce emissions and work toward 100 percent renewable electricity generation.
The governor recently announced that she hoped to introduce a detailed proposal soon.