AUGUSTA – Gov. Janet Mills unveiled her proposal Tuesday for a Maine Climate Change Council that would recommend ways to meet ambitious goals on lowering the state’s greenhouse gas emissions and increasing renewable energy generation.
Mills wants to create a more than 30-member council – representing government, scientists, environmentalists and a cross-section of Maine industries – to advise the governor and Legislature and to track the state’s progress on climate issues.
Mills made the proposal in a bill that will be considered by the Legislature alongside a mix of other climate-related bills. The Mills administration bill would also set official goals of obtaining 80 percent of electricity consumed in Maine from renewable sources by 2030 and from 100 percent renewable sources by 2050.
“This is an issue that impacts every part of our state and every part of our economy,” Mills said during a State House news conference. “We will need an all-hands-on-deck approach to determine the best solutions for our state and to take immediate actions.”
Maine is already experiencing the effects of climate change as warming ocean waters affect species important to the fishing industry and more moderate conditions on land allow invasive species to spread into the forests. Warming temperatures also will affect Maine’s winter tourism economy, maple syrup production and cold-loving wildlife species, but could also present new opportunities for farmers and other industries.
The Climate Change Council, as proposed, would include most of Mills’ Cabinet members as well as more than 15 representatives of the fisheries, forestry and agriculture industries, climate scientists and mitigation experts, manufacturers, organized labor, the energy sector representatives and tribal governments.
The council would be a permanent working group – rather than a time-limited task force –responsible for updating the state “climate action plan” first adopted in 2004. That plan establishes official goals and is intended to guide policy decisions on energy, transportation, and mitigating and/or adapting to a changing climate.
A Democrat elected last November, Mills campaigned on pledges to embrace renewable energy and to focus on how a changing climate is affecting Maine’s oceans, forests and communities. That stands in stark contrast to her predecessor. Republican Gov. Paul LePage was skeptical of humans’ role in climate change and clashed with environmental activists and Maine’s renewable energy community throughout his eight-year tenure.
In addition to the renewable energy sourcing goals, Mills also is proposing the state set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. The state’s current statutory goal is a 10 percent reduction in emissions from 1990 levels by 2020.
The most recent data from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection showed a 15 percent reduction in greenhouse gases emissions – most notably, carbon dioxide – between 1990 and 2012. Maine lost ground between 2012 and 2015, however, as an uptick in emissions from transportation, electricity generation and residential sources brought that reduction to 11.7 percent from 1990 levels.
If approved by the Legislature, the Maine Climate Council would recommend strategies to the Maine DEP, which would then develop rules to ensure compliance with the levels.
“The goals, they are in line with the goals that several other states have adopted,” DEP Commissioner Jerry Reid said. “We think they are both appropriately ambitious but also achievable.”
Maine is already part of the multi-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative that set up the nation’s first caps on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and established a market trading system for the emissions credits. That program has been credited with helping reduce emissions throughout the Northeast, along with energy market changes that have led to a switch to cleaner-burning natural gas over oil or coal.
However, Maine’s rural nature means the state faces additional challenges in further reducing emissions levels.
Between 2002 and 2015, emissions from Maine power plants declined 73 percent while emissions from Maine’s business and residential sectors fell 37 percent and 14 percent, respectively. But emissions from cars, trucks, planes, boats and other vehicles in Maine were flat, resulting in the transportation sector’s share of emissions rising from 40 percent to 52 percent during that period, according to state and federal data.
The governor’s bill likely will receive a warm reception in the Democratic-controlled Legislature. It may get a chillier response from some in the Republican caucus concerned about future climate-related regulation harming businesses.
However, Mills requested Republican Sen. David Woodsome of Waterboro to serve as lead sponsor of the legislation.
“I do not see this environmental issue before us as a Democratic or a Republican issue, but rather as a human, economic and physical world condition that has been developing for hundreds if not thousands of years, and we are contributing to the issues,” Woodsome said during the news conference with Mills.
“These issues need to be addressed by everyone today for tomorrow,” said Woodsome, a retired teacher and former chairman of the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. “You can stand on the sidelines and be a Monday morning quarterback, or you can get involved and be at the table.”
Lawmakers are considering a number of bills related to climate change, some of which could be combined with or incorporated into the administration’s proposal.
One measure that appears unlikely to make it into Mills’ final bill, however, is a proposal to require an independent analysis of the long-term greenhouse gas emissions impact of Central Maine Power’s proposal for a 145-mile high-voltage transmission line through western Maine from Quebec.
Mills, who supports the controversial transmission line proposal, said the climate council will “look to the future” and that she believes studies conducted for CMP on greenhouse gas impacts are “sufficient.”
Hannah Pingree, who is playing a key role in Mills’ climate change agenda as the head of her Office of Policy and Management, said the council will use data and climate modeling to make its recommendations.
“This is obviously something that will start happening this fall, so it won’t impact current projects,” Pingree said. “But certainly, how we meet this goal requires pretty specific modeling about changes in the electricity sector, transportation sector, agriculture and everything we’re doing in Maine.”
Mills’ bill will be scheduled for a public hearing in a legislative committee on a future date.
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