By Sean Faircloth and Ethan Strimling, Special to the BDN
Bangor Daily News op-ed
Climate change is an urgent threat. That fact doesn’t change regardless of who is in the White House.
In 2015, the U.S. finalized one of the most historic, bipartisan policies to tackle climate change, the Clean Power Plan. In fact, both of our U.S. senators, Susan Collins and Angus King, support the plan. Yet, the plan is under threat in the federal court, and the U.S. Supreme Court has put its implementation on hold while the lawsuit plays out. Moreover, one of the people suing the Environmental Protection Agency over the Clean Power Plan is President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to head the agency, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.
But climate change cannot be ignored. It is an environmental concern and an economic issue. Extreme weather and sea level rise fueled by climate change threaten businesses and homes in our communities, and it has a dramatic impact on outdoor tourism, which provides more than $5 billion in economic benefit to Maine every year.
The majority of Mainers understand this fact, and many people in our communities have experienced the devastating impacts of climate change first-hand from our fishermen who can no longer bring in a catch, children with asthma and farmers affected by drought. In fact, the majority of Mainers support bold climate action and solutions like the Clean Power Plan and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a northeastern cap-and-trade program that raises money from selling allowances to emit carbon and uses the money to help businesses and homeowners save energy and money through energy efficiency technologies and weatherization. That revenue is a major funding source for Efficiency Maine, which used that money to help save Maine businesses and residents $167 million in energy costs between 2013 and 2015.
Maine and the eight other member states have shown that carbon pollution can be cut while strengthening the economy. It is an example for how the rest of the country can do the same. It would be a big political mistake to rollback these programs nationally and in Maine. But the interests of industry are powerful, and we cannot rely on federal and state governments alone to protect the health and vitality of our beloved communities.
It is local governments that are on the front lines of recovery after extreme weather, straining local resources and costing taxpayers billions, and it is local governments that will take the leadership reigns to spur climate action. As mayor of Portland and as the former mayor in Bangor, we have made important steps forward on climate change and energy in 2016 and commit to do even more in 2017 and beyond.
This past summer in Bangor, we implemented EnergySmart Bangor, a program that offers additional savings to homeowners to participate in Efficiency Maine’s Home Energy Savings Program. This makes the programs more affordable for Bangor homeowners, especially low- and moderate-income residents, a segment of the public that often doesn’t have the opportunity to invest in weatherization and renewable energy. In fact, the program spurred a 43 percent increase in participation in the program in Bangor between July and September over the same period in 2015. We hope that other cities will take up this model.
In Portland, we have a climate action plan committing to ambitious goals to reduce our energy usage and clean up our transportation. We also have signed on to the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda, a commitment spearheaded by the mayors of Houston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia.
In the past year, we have taken steps toward our climate action goals, including starting a community solar farm on the Ocean Avenue landfill property, which will generate enough energy to power City Hall. The council also passed a benchmarking measure that will require large businesses and residential buildings to track their energy usage to promote greater energy efficiency.
Despite the challenges that lie ahead, clean energy is cheaper than ever, and no one can change that public opinion strongly favors renewable energy sources over dirty fossil fuels. The election may be long over, but the fight over our clean energy future is only beginning. We must take action, and as elected leaders of Bangor and Portland, we are committed to the leadership of our communities.
Sean Faircloth is a member of the Bangor City Council, and he completed his term as mayor in November. He served 10 years in the Maine Legislature and founded the Maine Discovery Museum in Bangor. He is author of two books, one about the increased legislative influence of the religious right and an adventure fantasy for children encouraging geography knowledge and a multicultural perspective. Ethan Strimling is the mayor of Portland. He is a former state senator and the former executive director of LearningWorks, a community educational nonprofit based in Portland’s West End.