AFL-CIO and 160 local labor unions back Maine’s Green New Deal: “It’s basically an economic and job growth strategy for Maine.”

400 students from King Middle School gather at Portland City Hall plaza in Maine after they marched from the school to promote climate change awareness. (Credit: by Gordon Chibroski/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
400 STUDENTS FROM KING MIDDLE SCHOOL GATHER AT PORTLAND CITY HALL PLAZA IN MAINE AFTER THEY MARCHED FROM THE SCHOOL TO PROMOTE CLIMATE CHANGE AWARENESS. (CREDIT: BY GORDON CHIBROSKI/PORTLAND PRESS HERALD VIA GETTY IMAGES)

The Maine American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), which represents over 160 local labor unions across the state, announced its support Tuesday for the state’s recently introduced Green New Deal legislation.

This is the first Green New Deal-branded proposal to be backed by a state AFL affiliate.

“We face twin crises of skyrocketing inequality and increasing climate instability. Climate change and inequality pose dire threats to working people, to all that we love about Maine and to our democracy. The work of moving towards a renewable economy must be rooted in workers’ rights and economic and social justice,” Matt Schlobohm, executive director of the Maine AFL-CIO, said in a statement, emphasizing the need for workers and unions to “have a seat at the table in crafting bold climate protection policies.”

This endorsement comes after members of the Energy Committee of the national arm of AFL-CIO expressed more hesitancy for the federal Green New Deal resolution proposed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), calling it “not achievable or realistic.”

Millennial state Rep. Chloe Maxmin (D), who was endorsed by the youth-led Sunrise Movement during the 2018 midterm elections, first introduced the “Act to Establish a Green New Deal for Maine” in March. 

The legislation sets a date certain by which Maine would reach 80% renewable electricity (by 2040).  The bill would also ensure provision of solar power to schools, set up a task force for job and economic growth, and guarantee a just transition in the shift towards a low-carbon economy.

“From the very first conversation that we had… labor was involved,” Maxmin said. For the past year, Maxmin has been speaking with constituents who voiced a “deep need for economic growth,” she said, noting that this bill is “very specific to Maine and rooted in rural and working communities.”

The goal, she said, was to “bring in voices that are traditionally not part of this conversation.”

In a statement to ThinkProgress, Sunrise executive director Varshini Prakash celebrated labor unions’ support for the state initiative, calling the broader idea of a Green New Deal “America’s biggest union job creation program in a century.”

Across the country, states and cities are seizing on the interest generated by the Green New Deal and introducing their own ambitious climate proposals. The federal version — currently a resolution, not a piece of legislation — calls for meeting 100% of the country’s power demand with renewable, emissions-free sources in around a decade, all while using the transition to create jobs and enshrine social justice principles, like equal access to education and universal health care.

Local level efforts vary in their focus and ambition. Often, initiatives are exclusive to the power sector; as of last month, at least 19 states are considering or have already set 100% clean or renewable electricity targets. But others are working to capture the full spirit of a Green New Deal — which means incorporating social justice tenets into the plan.

Last week, Minnesota introduced its own Green New Deal bill built on close collaboration between youth activists and state lawmakers. Officials and activists in New Mexico, New York, Illinois, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, as well as the city of Los Angeles, have all used Green New Deal language to frame and market their clean energy and climate initiatives.

A key component of any Green New Deal is its timeframe. As the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned last fall, without dramatic change to cut greenhouse gasses, global emissions are set to rise to a level that would usher in catastrophic consequences in just over a decade.

In Maine, global warming of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures means more flooding along the coasts and inland, as well as increased drought and extreme heat. Scientists have found that the Gulf of Maine is already warming faster than 99% of the world’s oceans, disrupting fishery patters and, in turn, the fishing industry.

LD 1282, “An Act to Establish a Green New Deal for Maine,” reflects the urgent need for economic renewal in our rural state. It grows out of the concerns for good jobs, growing industries, lowering property taxes, renewable energy incentives, and protecting our environment, upon which so much of Maine’s industry and culture depends.

Our bill is fundamentally different from the one under discussion in Congress because it is targeted legislation, not a broad resolution. While the facts of climate science require a transition to renewable energy, the question for our state is: how do we ensure that this transition is fair and equitable for all while creating economic opportunity? These commitments must be the foundation of a Green New Deal for Maine.

The bill calls on Maine to move to 80% renewable energy electricity consumption by 2040, support solar power for schools to reduce costs, and create a Task Force for a Green New Deal that focuses on economic growth, job growth, and renewable energy growth. It establishes the Commission on a Just Transition to ensure that the shift to a low-carbon economy benefits all residents fairly and equitably. This bill was crafted with deep involvement from the labor community, and we’re building a movement for all Mainers.

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By Todd Griset of Preti Flaherty Beliveau & Pachios LLP, Mar 13, 2019

As Congress considers “Green New Deal” resolutions sponsored by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey, some state legislators are proposing their own Green New Deal concepts. Newly-released legislation under consideration by the Maine State Legislature would establish a “Green New Deal for Maine”. Here’s a look at the bill known as LD 1282, An Act To Establish a Green New Deal for Maine.

LD 1282 includes four main parts:

  • Part A amends the law establishing Maine’s renewable portfolio standard, to require that by 2040, each competitive electricity provider must demonstrate that at least 80% of its portfolio of supply sources for retail electricity sales in Maine is accounted for by renewable resources. Part A also revises Maine’s statutory goals for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to include a long-term goal of reducing emissions to 75% to 80% below 2003 levels by 2040.
  • Part B establishes an 11-member “Task Force for a Green New Deal” to create a plan to advance environmental sustainability, renewable energy and economic growth for Maine. The law would require the plan to include a strategy to achieve the increased renewable portfolio standard specified in Part A, plus a strategy for job creation, retention, and training, and a residential energy strategy, each meeting certain defined criteria.
  • Part C requires the Public Utilities Commission and the Efficiency Maine Trust to propose legislation to establish a voluntary, virtual net metering program to facilitate the installation of solar photovoltaic energy systems on kindergarten to grade 12 public school buildings, with the program to begin no later than December 31, 2021.
  • Part D creates a new 13-member “Commission on a Just Transition to a Low-carbon Economy” to ensure that Maine’s transition to a low-carbon economy “benefits all residents fairly and equitably, with consideration for their sources of employment, levels of income and historical experience.” The new Commission would be required to submit an annual report examining “principles of environmental justice, information about income inequality as it relates to environmental harm, professional training opportunities and investments and racial-specific and ethnic-specific effects of past, present and future trends in energy production and consumption”, as well as options for accelerating the transition to beneficial electrification in the rail and automotive sectors.

LD 1282’s prime sponsor is Representative Chloe Maxmin. The bill is co-sponsored by Senators Shenna Bellows and Justin Chenette, and Representatives Seth Berry, Jeffrey Evangelos, Allison Hepler, Craig Hickman, and Henry Ingwersen. The bill has been referred to the legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology. As of March 13, 2019, the committee had not yet scheduled a public hearing on the bill.

Other states are considering their own Green New Deals through executive and legislative action. In January 2019, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his inclusion of a state-level “Green New Deal” in New York’s 2019 executive budget; the Connecticut General Assembly is considering H.B. 5002, An Act Concerning the Development of A Green New Deal; and the Rhode Island House considered a resolution (H.R. 5665) to study the benefits of a Green New Deal for Rhode Island. While the details vary from state to state, common themes in these initiatives include increasing renewable electricity requirements, reducing carbon emissions, and promoting jobs and social welfare.

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An Act To Establish a Green New Deal for Maine

Be it enacted by the People of the State of Maine as follows:

PART A

Sec. A-1. 35-A MRSA §3210, sub-§3-B  is enacted to read:

3-B.  Portfolio requirements; renewable resources.   No later than January 1, 2040, as a condition of licensing pursuant to section 3203, a competitive electricity provider in this State must demonstrate in a manner satisfactory to the commission that no less than 80% of its portfolio of supply sources for retail electricity sales in this State is accounted for by renewable resources. The commission shall adopt rules to implement this subsection. Rules adopted pursuant to this subsection are routine technical rules as defined in Title 5, chapter 375, subchapter 2-A.

Sec. A-2. 38 MRSA §576, sub-§3,  as enacted by PL 2003, c. 237, §1, is amended to read:

3. Long-term reduction.   In the long term, reduction sufficient to eliminate any dangerous threat to the climate . To accomplish this goal, including reduction to 75% to 80% below 2003 levels may be required by January 1, 2040.

PART B

Sec. B-1. Task force established. The Task Force for a Green New Deal, referred to in this Part as “the task force,” is established to create a plan to advance environmental sustainability, renewable energy and economic growth for the State.

Sec. B-2. Task force membership. The task force consists of 11 members as follows:

1. The Director of the Governor’s Office of Policy and Management, or its successor agency, who serves as chair; and

2. Ten members appointed by the Governor as follows:

A. One representative of the Public Utilities Commission;
B. One representative of the Low-income Home Energy Assistance Program administered by the Maine State Housing Authority;
C. One member with expertise in climate science;
D. One member representing the interests of renewable energy producers;
E. One member who is under 21 years of age representing youth of the State;
F. Two members representing the interests of labor; and
G. Three members representing the business community, including one from a business located in a coastal county and one from a business located in an inland county. For the purposes of this paragraph, “coastal county” means York, Cumberland, Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Waldo or Knox County, and “inland county” means any county of the State that is not defined as a coastal county.

Sec. B-3. Meetings; compensation; staffing. The task force shall meet at times and places called by the chair. Members of the task force serve without compensation. The Governor’s Office of Policy and Management, or its successor agency, shall provide staffing services to the task force within existing resources.

Sec. B-4. Duties. The task force shall develop a plan to advance environmental sustainability, renewable energy and economic growth for the State. The plan must contain, but is not limited to, the following strategies and must include draft legislation necessary to implement each strategy:

1. A renewable resources strategy, including specific benchmarks and a pathway to achieve 80% reliance on renewable resources to supply electricity in this State by 2040, in accordance with the Maine Revised Statutes, Title 35-A, section 3210, subsection 3-B;

2. A high-quality job creation, retention and training strategy including:

A. Major investments in upgrading, rebuilding and developing the State’s infrastructure;
B. Maintenance and expansion of existing manufacturing and industrial facilities, including paper mills;
C. A comprehensive approach to encourage apprenticeship and training programs in rural and urban communities of the State for jobs that contribute to preserving, sustaining or enhancing environmental quality, commonly referred to as green jobs; and
D. Ensuring workers have a voice in these jobs through collective bargaining rights; and

3. A residential energy strategy, including subsidies for the installation of solar energy systems and heat pumps by low-income consumers eligible for the Low-income Home Energy Assistance Program, and tax credits for the installation of solar energy systems and heat pumps by other residential consumers.

Sec. B-5. Report. No later than January 15, 2020, the task force shall submit a report documenting the plan developed under section 4, including any necessary implementing legislation, to the Governor, the Joint Standing Committee on Innovation, Development, Economic Advancement and Business, the Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology and the Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources.

PART C

Sec. C-1. Public Utilities Commission and Efficiency Maine Trust to submit virtual net metering proposal for public school solar energy systems to the Second Regular Session of the 129th Legislature. No later than January 1, 2020, the Public Utilities Commission and the Efficiency Maine Trust shall submit a report including draft legislation to the Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology to establish a virtual net metering program to facilitate the economical installation of solar photovoltaic energy systems on kindergarten to grade 12 public school buildings. The draft legislation must create a voluntary program available to interested public schools seeking to have a cost-effective source of solar electricity installed by professionals certified by the State. The program must allow participating schools to begin using virtual net metering for solar photovoltaic energy installations no later than December 31, 2021.

PART D

Sec. D-1. 5 MRSA §12004-I, sub-§74-J  is enacted to read:

74-J.  

Public Utilities Commission on a Just Transition to a Low-carbon Economy Expenses Only 35-A MRSA §123

Sec. D-2. 35-A MRSA §123  is enacted to read:

§ 123.  Transition to low-carbon economy

1.  Commission established.   The Commission on a Just Transition to a Low-carbon Economy, referred to in this section as “the commission,” is established for the purpose of ensuring that the State’s transition to a low-carbon economy benefits all residents fairly and equitably, with consideration for their sources of employment, levels of income and historical experience.

2.  Commission membership.   The commission consists of 13 members as follows:

A.  Three members appointed by the President of the Senate:

(1) A person with direct experience as a member of a community or demographic group with limited access to renewable energy or energy efficiency due to the lack of economic means to pay for such installations or measures;

(2) A person with knowledge of issues surrounding reducing the carbon intensity of the transportation sector; and

(3) A person with direct experience as an advocate for climate justice issues in the State;

B.  Three members appointed by the Speaker of the House:

(1) A person with direct knowledge of the effects of the carbon-based economy on the members of the federally recognized Indian tribes in the State;

(2) A person with at least 10 years’ experience as a worker in an industry affected by the transition to a low-carbon economy; and

(3) A person representing organized labor in the State;

C.  Three members appointed by the Governor:

(1) A person with direct experience in the installation of residential renewable energy or efficiency measures;

(2) A person with direct experience managing state energy efficiency incentive programs for low-income persons; and

(3) An economist or person with experience in economic analysis at a college or university in the State who has expertise in studying the contribution of carbon-reducing initiatives to economic growth and job creation, or a closely related discipline;

D.  The Director of the Efficiency Maine Trust;
E.  The Commissioner of Labor or the commissioner’s designee;
F.  The chair of the Public Utilities Commission or the chair’s designee; and
G.  The Director of the Governor’s Energy Office or the director’s designee.
3.  Duties; member compensation.   The commission shall assist the Public Utilities Commission in the evaluation of energy programming, including, but not limited to, programs of the Efficiency Maine Trust and the Maine State Housing Authority, with particular focus on whether the program benefits are equitably distributed to persons in the State who are most adversely affected by the transition to a low-carbon economy, persons who are members of demographic groups who have historically been so affected or persons who have insufficient household income to participate in energy efficiency or renewable energy programs. Members of the commission serve without compensation, except reasonable expenses incurred when participating in commission meetings and activities.
4.  Meetings; staffing.   The commission shall meet at least 6 times each year. The Public Utilities Commission shall provide staffing services to the commission. If the Public Utilities Commission incurs costs for staffing, research or other reasonable and necessary expenses relating to the commission that cannot be absorbed within the Public Utilities Commission’s budget, those costs must be paid from the oversight and evaluation fund established pursuant to section 10120, subsection 3.
5.  Report.   The commission shall submit to the Legislature no later than January 15th of each year a report on the State’s progress toward a just transition to a low-carbon economy. The report must examine principles of environmental justice, information about income inequality as it relates to environmental harm, professional training opportunities and investments and racial-specific and ethnic-specific effects of past, present and future trends in energy production and consumption. The report must also examine options for accelerating the transition to beneficial electrification in the rail and automotive sectors. Prior to submission of each annual report, the commission must hold at least 4 public listening sessions at different locations around the State that are convenient to those who are most affected by the economy’s economic reliance on fossil fuels and who have the most at stake during the transition to a low-carbon economy.

SUMMARY

This bill does the following.

Part A requires competitive electricity providers to demonstrate, by 2040, that their portfolios of supply sources for retail electricity sales in this State are 80% accounted for by renewable resources. It also amends the State’s goals for long-term reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Part B creates the Task Force for a Green New Deal, which consists of 11 members including representatives of State Government, climate science, renewable energy, youth, labor and business. The task force is charged with creating a plan to advance environmental sustainability, renewable energy and economic growth for the State. The plan must include, but is not limited to, a renewable resources strategy to achieve 80% reliance on renewable resources for electricity supply by 2040; a job training strategy, including a training program to prepare workers for green jobs; and a residential energy strategy that provides incentives for installation of solar energy systems and heat pumps. The task force is required to submit a report on its plan by January 15, 2020 to the Governor, the Joint Standing Committee on Innovation, Development, Economic Advancement and Business, the Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology and the Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources.

Part C requires the Public Utilities Commission and the Efficiency Maine Trust to submit a report by January 1, 2020 that includes draft legislation to establish a virtual net metering program to encourage installation of solar photovoltaic energy systems on public school buildings.

Part D creates the Commission on a Just Transition to a Low-carbon Economy. The commission includes 13 members. The purpose of the commission is to ensure that the State’s transition to a low-carbon economy benefits all residents fairly and equitably. The commission is required to submit an annual report to the Legislature.

April 23 update:The bill’s goal is to put Maine on a path to carbon neutrality while adapting the economy to create new green jobs.

It would create a task force with the responsibility of making a plan on how to best do that.

The bill would also require electricity providers to commit to having 80% of their retail electricity be from renewable sources by 2040.

“This is a bill that truly came out of conversations with my constituents when I was knocking on doors last year,” said Maxmin. “It’s rooted in rural and working Maine and meant to build a strong foundation that everybody can stand on as we fight for climate justice.”

“This bill is really centered on equity, about thinking about the poorest and most marginalized people of Maine and how we can reduce poverty while building a sustainable and livable community here in Maine,” said Paige Nygaard, who spoke in support of the bill.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, has been one of the leaders pushing a national Green New Deal and says it’s encouraging that Maine is taking action on a state level.

“It may be a little slow on the federal level, but to see my home state that’s actually moving forward and doing these things… I think it’s great,” said Pingree. “There’s a lot that has to be done, and I think in Maine we feel it particularly acutely.”

Opponents say Maine is already addressing the energy issues brought up in this bill and that it’s creating an unnecessary new commission.

“It’s mostly a duplication of existing programs — things that are going on already,” said Rep. Jeffrey Hanley, R-Pittston, who sits on the Energy, Utilities, and Technology committee. “To me, it’s a piece of legislation that we don’t need. And the things that it’s trying to promote, a lot of them are already in progress.”

The bill faces further work in committee before a vote.

In These Times

Maine lawmakers will hold a hearing for “An Act to Establish a Green New Deal for Maine”—a new climate and jobs bill that has the notable support of Maine’s AFL-CIO, the first state labor federation to endorse a Green New Deal-themed piece of legislation. The bill calls for 80 percent renewable electricity consumption by 2040, solar power for public schools, the creation of a task force to study economic and job growth, and a commission to help facilitate a just transition to a low-carbon economy. Its backing from a coalition of over 160 labor unions offers an instructive lesson for other states looking to build union power to tackle a warming planet.

The bill is the brainchild of Chloe Maxmin, a 26-year-old state lawmaker elected in November, and the first Democrat to ever represent her district. Maxmin, who has been an environmental activist since she was 12 years old, and co-founded the Harvard fossil fuel divestment campaign while in college, said she knew if she was voted into office she would approach climate politics in a different way.

One of the criticisms of the national Green New Resolution sponsored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) is that it lacked a broad coalition of supporters when it was first introduced. But Ocasio-Cortez and Markey’s political strategy, they’ve explained, is to use the aspirational framework as an organizing tool over the next two years, to bring more key partners on board.

Maxmin, by contrast, sought to bring allies into her coalition prior to going public with the legislation, and Maine labor and environmental groups did not have a deep history of working together before. “I’ve been an organizer for a long time, and to build power and to really create something inclusive I knew it had to be inclusive from the beginning,” she told In These Times. “The traditional strategies that we’ve used around climate and climate policy just have not really gotten us very far.”

Maine has some unique characteristics: It is the most rural state in the nation, the whitest (roughly ­tied with Vermont), and the oldest. It’s also, as of 2019, one of just 14 states where Democrats control all three branches of state government.

While she knows her bill will be associated with the federal resolution, Maxmin stresses that hers should be understood as targeted legislation, specifically tailored to her state’s needs. “Of course, there are national parallels with not only the name but also echoing the themes of economic justice and opportunity, but it’s a very Maine-specific bill, and not meant to cover every component of the climate crisis,” she said.

Matt Schlobohm, the executive director of the Maine AFL-CIO, praised Maxmin for her deliberate efforts to “create a policy that was ambitious, aspirational and do-able” for working-class people. Maine’s labor community, which has about 12 percent union density, has not historically focused on climate issues or climate justice. Schlobohm thinks this legislation is a real chance for unions “to build trust and develop their analysis and capacity” in a meaningful way.

The bill sets less ambitious targets than the national Green New Deal resolution, which, among other things, calls for 100 percent renewable energy in 10 years, and includes language around reducing emissions from transportation and agricultural sectors. While the Maine Sierra Club supports the legislation, Maxmin acknowledged that some environmental activists have criticized her bill for not going far enough.

“Our approach was targeted legislation focused on economic and job growth in Maine,” she said, pointing to the solar projects for schools, and the jobs-focused task force which would report on its findings by next January. Like the state’s opioid task force which has paved the way to new state policies, Maxmin said she expects to be able to introduce more specific job legislation generated by the task force’s research next year. “There are other [environmental] bills going through the State House around transportation and agriculture,” she said. “This [bill] is for workers, low-income Mainers, and economic growth in Maine.”

Haley Maurice, a junior at Bowdoin College involved in the Bowdoin Climate Action group and a student leader with the national Sunrise Movement, has been involved in discussions with Rep. Maxmin to shape the bill. (Sunrise also endorsed Maxmin’s bid for office.)

“We started meeting in early February, and [Rep. Maxmin] was just really forward in saying we need young people involved,” she said. “I’ve been very impressed by her adamant belief in the democratic nature of the bill and in making sure that everyone who is affected by this is considered and at the table.”

Maurice said that while “other climate bills proposed in the Maine legislature have very ambitious timelines,” this is the first bill she believes really prioritizes how the energy transition will take place, and constitutes “a very strong starting point” for Maine. The legislation outlines requirements for a commission to study and track progress towards a low-carbon economy, particularly for those most adversely impacted: people from demographic groups that have been historically affected, and people who are low-income and cannot participate in energy efficiency programs.

Moreover, Maurice doesn’t think a state bill on a less ambitious timeline is at odds with the work that she and her Sunrise colleagues are pushing for on the national level. If anything, Maurice said, it just reinforces why the federal government needs to also be involved in the process.

“When you say we need 100 percent renewable energy by 2030, and we need a faster timeline, you need to think about the burden that places on Mainers here,” she said. “And if state bills have a slower timeline than what science is saying we need, I don’t think that is necessarily contradictory to our values. States need to push forward in the ways we can now while ensuring these transitions are happening in an equitable way, and we need a federal Green New Deal to bolster the work of the states.”

The Maine AFL-CIO’s support for the bill is an important milestone, as labor remains divided on the Green New Deal nationally. While the AFL-CIO’s Energy Committee responded critically to the Green New Deal resolution, unhappy with both some of its specific language and its lack of specifics, other labor organizations have started to mobilize in support. In late March the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor approved a resolution in support of “a Green New Deal or similar effort” to address climate change and economic inequality. In mid-April, Sara Nelson, the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants, which represents 50,000 flight attendants across 20 airlines, wrote an op-ed in in support of the Green New Deal, and the general urgency of tackling climate change.

Schlobohm said if he were to give advice to environmental leaders about how to organize effectively with labor, he’d encourage them to make deliberate efforts to understand unions, and engage them in a good-faith process. “And I think just the basic organizing 101 of showing up for each other,” he said. “There’s a lot of strikes and picket lines these days. Do environmental organizations show up at teacher strikes and grocery worker strikes? The same question should be asked of unions, but I think there’s just opportunity to build solidarity in this moment.”

For his labor allies, Schlobohm says the energy transition is going to happen, so it can either happen “with us or to us” and “one option is far superior than the other.”

Ultimately Schlobohm feels optimistic about the future of climate-labor organizing, says there are lots of opportunities for “win-wins”—and points to the recent organizing done by climate and labor groups in New York.

“There are renewable energy policies moving in every state in the country,” he said. “And every single one of those policy frameworks has the opportunity and levers for job quality and labor rights standards.”

Rachel M. Cohen is a journalist based in Washington D.C. Follow her on Twitter @rmc031

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May 2019 update

Janet Mills proposes 27-member climate change council charged with dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning Maine to what she describes as a “low-carbon economy.”

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Gov. Janet Mills enters the House of Representitives before addressing a joint session of the Legislature at the State House in Augusta on Feb. 11.

Maine Gov. Janet Mills presented a bill on Tuesday to create a 27-member climate change council charged with dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning Maine to what she describes as a “low-carbon economy.”

But the panel will not evaluate the purported carbon reduction benefits of a controversial transmission line project that Mills supports.

Mills unveiled her climate council bill by echoing the clarion call she used during her inauguration speech in January. She described climate change as an existential threat to Maine’s economy, its environment and way of life.

“In the not-too-distant future my grandchildren and yours could reach my age and live in a Maine that we would not recognize. So we must act,” she said.

The governor also referenced a recent 150-page document published by the federal Environmental Protection Agency that advised states on how to plan for natural disasters that are expected to increase in frequency and intensity because of climate change.

“This report comes from an administration that’s failing to lead on climate change, leaving the heavy lift to the states,” she said.

The Democratic governor’s criticism of the Trump administration’s inaction on climate change aligns with a the wave of climate-related bills introduced in other states this year — nearly 400 in 36 states, according to a database from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

State Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Jerry Reid says the targets in Maine’s bill are similar to those introduced in other states.

“And we think they’re both ambitious,” he said. “Appropriately ambitious, but also achievable.”

Mills says her climate council would play a key role in executing Maine’s response. She has previously stated a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% and generating 100% of the state’s power from renewable sources by 2050.

The climate council — made up of the governor’s cabinet, legislative appointees and representatives from natural resources industries and other interest groups — would then be tasked with advising and overseeing Maine’s plan.  The council would not have direct authority to write laws, but it could propose legislation.

The governor’s bill also requires the creation of rules to evaluate whether its strategies, including proposed energy projects, are helping Maine meet its carbon reduction goals.

Hannah Pingree, who heads the governor’s innovation office, said the analysis of energy initiatives will be based on science and data.

“We imagine a fair amount of modeling, especially in the electricity and transportation sector, about, ‘if we do this, what will the result be?’” she said. “This obviously is something that’s going to happen this fall so it won’t impact current projects.” By current projects, Pingree was referring to a question about Central Maine Power’s proposal to build a power line through western Maine to deliver hydropower from Quebec to Massachusetts.

CMP’s proposal is contentious, dividing environmental groups and the governor’s supporters.

Mills supports the project, citing CMP’s claims that it will reduce regional carbon emissions by 3.6 million metric tons each year.

Opponents, however, don’t trust those numbers.

State Sen. Brownie Carson, a Democrat from Harpswell, is sponsoring a bill that would require an independent study of the project’s carbon reductions. Mills opposes Carson’s bill and said that while the carbon benefits of future projects will be evaluated, the dispute over CMP’s reduction claims is settled in her view.

“I’m not going to get into that dispute, but there’s data available now on that project that I think is sufficient,” she said.

Carson, who attended the governor’s climate council announcement, said he supports it. He said he disagrees with Mills about the projected carbon reduction benefits of the CMP project, but he views the issue separately from the governor’s new climate proposal.

Carson’s bill could soon come up for a vote in the Senate. A public hearing on the governor’s bill will likely take place in May.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.