Maine’s Climate Action Plan is appropriately titled Maine Won’t Wait. With record-breaking temperatures and wildfires in the western U.S., deadly floods in Germany, and a heatwave sweeping across Siberia, it is abundantly clear that the planet can’t wait any longer for the necessary widespread, global, and transformative actions required to address the mounting impacts of climate change. That’s why the Natural Resources Council of Maine is pleased that Maine lawmakers took this assignment seriously this year, enacting a slate of important measures to promote clean energy and reduce pollution.
Building on several important clean energy bills passed in 2019, the Legislature and Governor Janet Mills advanced bills that will help homeowners reduce energy costs, curb high-polluting chemicals, accelerate Maine’s transition to clean energy, and build more resilient communities.
Although lawmakers considered and ultimately passed dozens of climate action and clean energy bills, here are our Top 10 most significant actions that have become law:
- Accelerating Weatherization and Energy Efficiency As part of the American Rescue Plan (COVID Relief) funding provided to Maine, lawmakers allocated (LD 1733) $50 million for energy efficiency upgrades, especially for low-income and older residents, as well as renters; and to assist local governments, schools, community organizations, and businesses in investing in projects to reduce energy costs. These funds will result in more than $100 million in lifetime energy savings, weatherize more than 3,000 homes, and support close to 500 jobs.
- Responding to Sea-level Rise Lawmakers passed a governor’s bill (LD 1572) that requires state agencies to review the laws and rules they administer and determine which need to be changed to incorporate science-based projections of 1.5 feet of sea-level rise by 2050 and 4 feet by 2100, as recommended in Maine’s Climate Action Plan. Agencies need to complete this review and make recommendations to the Legislature by January 2022. This requirement will help make coastal communities more resilient to the impacts of sea-level rise.
- Curbing High-polluting Chemicals The Legislature enacted a bill (LD 226) to phase out potent, high-polluting greenhouse gases known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are used for air conditioning, refrigeration, and other applications. These chemicals have hundreds of thousands times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide. Starting in January 2022, it will be illegal to sell or install in Maine any products that use HFCs for air conditioning, refrigeration, foam, or aerosol propellants.
- Requiring the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to Consider Climate Change as Part of Its Mission With enactment of LD 1682, the PUC must now actively help the state reduce greenhouse gas pollution. This is a big deal and calls on the PUC to help Maine achieve the modern, reliable electrical grid of the future that we need to decarbonize transportation and heating. The law also requires the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future to prepare a study on methods for incorporating equity considerations into decisions by the Maine DEP, Public Utilities Commission, and other agencies, and provide that study to the Legislature by next February.
- Stronger Energy Efficiency Standards This new law (LD 940) requires that eight commercial and residential appliances and products (including computers and monitors) meet stricter efficiency standards, which will help Maine households and businesses reduce both carbon pollution and utility bills. This bill alone is projected to reduce energy costs by as much as $9 million annually by 2025.
- New Financing Programs to Spark Clean Energy Projects Legislators created two new finance mechanisms for clean energy and energy efficiency investments:
- A law (LD 340) that will allow municipalities to establish, through local ordinances, programs that enable commercial property owners to finance their energy efficiency and renewable energy projects through assessments on the property
- A law (LD 1659) that will create a Clean Energy and Sustainability Accelerator at Efficiency Maine to leverage low-cost, private-sector capital to support clean energy, energy efficiency, clean transportation, and climate resiliency projects. Creative financing programs like these were endorsed in Maine’s Climate Action Plan because they have been a big success in other states.
- Divestment from Fossil Fuels With passage of LD 99, Maine became the first state in the country to order the state pension system to divest from fossil fuel holdings within five years. Specifically, the law directs the Board of Trustees of Maine’s Public Employees Retirement System to divest from fossil fuel stocks and securities by 2026, consistent with their fiduciary obligations. The Board also must post publicly accessible information about its equity investments and disclosure of environmental performance metrics in an annual environmental, social and governance report.
- Progress on Offshore Wind to Power the Future The Legislature has directed (LD 336) the PUC to secure a 20-year power purchase agreement for the electricity from a deep offshore floating wind power research array with expected capacity of 144 MW. Lawmakers also established (LD 1619) an Offshore Wind Research Consortium to assess and provide advice on the opportunities and challenges associated with floating offshore wind power projects in the Gulf of Maine and how to avoid and minimize impacts. In addition, the bill prohibits wind energy projects from state waters within three miles of the shore.
- Grant Program to Protect Infrastructure from Climate Change As part of the American Rescue Plan (COVID Relief) funding provided to Maine (LD 1733), lawmakers provided $20 million to help protect infrastructure from climate change through creation of an “Infrastructure Adaptation Fund” to support local, regional, and state infrastructure projects that address risks posed by climate change. These funds will help protect at-risk infrastructure and leverage other public and private funds that benefit public safety.
- Create a Maine Healthy Soils Program This new law (LD 437) creates a Healthy Soils Program at the Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry to promote climate-friendly agricultural practices like cover crops, reduced tillage, and rotational grazing to increase carbon capture while preventing soil erosion and improving the water and nutrient holding capacity of farmland. These cost-effective methods can also help farms be more resilient through droughts and extreme weather events.
These legislative actions and others that didn’t make the Top Ten List—like $8 million in new funding for electric vehicle charging stations and $21 million for high-speed broadband internet (which can help achieve energy savings and emission reductions by reducing vehicle miles traveled through remote work), are a promising down payment on Maine’s efforts to address climate change and will contribute vast economic and environmental benefits for decades to come.
But it’s important to recognize that Maine’s work has just begun. Future governors, legislatures, residents, and businesses will have to do even more to mitigate and prepare for the worst impacts of climate change in the years ahead. This is particularly true about Maine’s transportation sector, which accounts for 54 percent of Maine’s current carbon emissions.
Going forward, the governor and Maine Legislature will need to focus more attention on the state’s growing transportation challenges and legacy of underinvestment in public transit and active transportation projects that encourage biking and walking. Maine will need to prioritize projects and initiatives that not only reduce Maine’s carbon pollution but also better address the health and mobility needs of all residents—especially Mainers living in rural and underserved communities. Transportation initiatives that:
- Increase the capacity and frequency of bus, rail, ride share, and other public transportation services across the state, with the aim of doubling public transportation ridership in Maine by 2030;
- Expand sidewalks and bikeways, and repair existing roads and bridges to enhance public safety, support increased walking and biking, enhance mobility, and reduce traffic congestion; and
- Increase zero emissions (primarily electric) vehicle infrastructure and purchase incentives, with the goal of boosting zero emissions car and truck sales in Maine to 70% by 2030 and 90% by 2035.
Maine’s Climate Action Plan and the work of the Maine Climate Council created a strong framework for tackling climate change. Governor Mills and the Maine Legislature have done a good job in 2021 of following through and initiating many of the actions required to implement the state’s plan. The Top Ten Climate and Clean Energy Accomplishments from this year are worth celebrating. And we still have a lot more work to do in the years and decades ahead as we seek to capture the opportunities of a clean energy future and reduce the impacts of the climate crisis that already is wreaking havoc around the globe.
—by Pete Didisheim, NRCM Senior Director of Advocacy
Banner photo: Sunrise at Pemaquid by Wendy Weiger