Maine’s conservation ethic continues to drive economic growth
July 26, 2023 (Augusta, ME) — This year’s legislative session was another demonstration of Maine’s continued leadership on clean energy, with a signature bill that boosts offshore wind and continued momentum on measures that will help achieve Maine’s climate action goals while reducing energy costs, creating jobs, and enhancing the resilience of local communities.
Lawmakers also passed new laws aimed at protecting the rich array of wildlife in Maine and providing sorely needed support for local redemption centers by modernizing the popular Bottle Bill.
The state’s leading environmental advocacy organization, the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), praised Governor Janet Mills and lawmakers for coming together to strengthen the health of Maine’s communities by contributing to a clean environment for years to come.
“Maine’s strong conservation ethic continues to define our way of life and drive economic growth,” said NRCM CEO Rebeccah Sanders. “Thousands of Mainers spoke up and took action to protect our environment, strengthen the resiliency of local communities, and accelerate a more equitable clean energy future. Legislators listened to these voices by passing exciting new policies that recognize Maine’s environment and economy are inextricably linked.”
The following actions during the 2023 legislative session will strengthen Maine’s environment for future generations:
Building More Affordable, Reliable Clean Energy Sources
- Launched a new clean energy industry for Maine by directing the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to procure 3GW of responsibly developed offshore wind in the Gulf of Maine by 2040, with strong standards for good-paying jobs, protecting wildlife, increasing equity, and supporting Maine’s commercial fishing industry.
- Supported new offshore wind port development with strong labor standards and $12 million budgeted for deep-water port infrastructure that will result in billions of dollars in private sector investment and thousands of new jobs.
- Authorized the Northern Maine Renewable Energy transmission line, which is expected to deliver 1000 MW of wind power to the New England energy grid. Directed the PUC to pursue contracts for additional renewable energy to ensure that the transmission line is fully utilized.
- Promoted development of solar energy farms to repurpose land no longer usable for traditional agriculture, including farmland impacted by PFAS contamination. The PUC is directed to pursue a competitive procurement of large-scale solar energy projects on such lands, with the likelihood of adding hundreds of additional megawatts of clean energy to the grid.
- Reformed Net Energy Billing to continue momentum on small and medium-sized solar projects that lower costs for local schools, towns, businesses, and homeowners. Directed state government to access existing federal funding to deliver savings to low- and moderate-income residents.
- Invested in the Maine Offshore Wind Research Consortium, ensuring that scientists, state regulators, fishermen, and other stakeholders continue working together on strategies for responsible offshore wind power development in Maine.
Expanding Access to Healthier Transportation Options
- Reinvigorated Maine’s public transit system by strengthening the role of the state to support local transit operators, employers, commuters, and state climate goals. Expands the Public Transit Advisory Council to include a broader array of rural and urban stakeholders and requires biennial reporting on transit needs and solutions. Substantial increase in transit operating funds provided in biennial budget ($5 million/year instead of ~$1.2 million).
- Added electric bikes (e-bikes) to the Efficiency Maine rebate program to provide Mainers with an affordable transportation option for reducing carbon pollution and avoiding using cars for short trips.
- Authorized the Department of Transportation to develop 31 miles of the Mountain Division Trail between Standish and Fryeburg by removing State-owned inactive railroad track and building a 10-foot-wide multi-use trail, subject to funding and permitting.
Saving Money by Conserving Energy
- Created a Green Schools Program and staff leadership at the Department of Education to support schools that want to invest in clean energy technology and energy efficiency projects. Also helps schools leverage significant new federal funding opportunities, from clean school buses to new clean energy opportunities.
- Transferred $2.8 million to continue the Maine Housing low-income heat pump program, which was slated to run out of funding due to record energy costs and LIHEAP funding needs this past winter.
A More Accountable, Equitable Electric Grid
- Improved transparency of political spending by utilities with tighter reporting requirements, adding lobbying, grassroots lobbying, unapproved educational spending and contributions to charities, political action committees, and trade associations to the list of expenses that utilities cannot charge to ratepayers.
- Encouraged advanced energy storage by directing the Governor’s Energy Office to develop a Maine Energy Storage Program to procure up to 200 MW toward a state goal of 400 MW of energy storage capacity by 2030.
- Contracted for a design proposal for a distribution system operator to optimize markets, operations, and investments in Maine’s grid to achieve the state’s climate and clean energy goals.
- Appointed an expert ombudsman to improve grid access for distributed energy resources. The point person at the Public Utilities Commission will provide information to anyone seeking interconnection to the grid, help track and mediate disputes with the utilities, and convene working groups as needed to streamline the integration of solar and storage across Maine’s distribution grid.
Fostering More Resilient Communities
- Increased state investment to $3 million a year for the state’s Community Resilience Partnership Program and added program management capacity. The Community Resilience Partnership provides grants and technical support to Maine communities planning for climate resilience and emission reduction projects, with more than 140 cities, towns, and tribal governments already participating.
- Provided $80,000 to the Department of Environmental Protection to enhance coastal monitoring programs, which are crucially needed for data collection programs the state needs to respond to and manage climate impacts.
- Invested $7.5 million in the State Infrastructure Adaptation Fund to support municipal culvert grants, as well as planning and matching dollars to leverage federal resilience, adaptation, and culvert grants.
Improving Recycling and Reducing Toxic Pollution
- Modernized Maine’s Bottle Redemption Program with a new law that simplifies the program, making it more efficient, while incorporating technology advances and investments to expand the use of refillable containers.
- Saved jobs and businesses that are critical to the Bottle Bill by passing emergency legislation to increase the handling fee to 5.5 cents, up a penny from when the fee was last increased in 2020, with an additional increase to 6 cents per container on September 1.
- Acted to reduce mercury pollution and save energy by prohibiting the sale and distribution of new mercury-containing light bulbs starting in January 2026.
Protecting Threatened Wildlife and Clean Water
- Provided additional protection for Common Loons from lead poisoning from fishing gear by banning painted lead jigs weighing one ounce or less or measuring two-and-a-half inches or less in length, starting in September 2024.
- Added eight species to Maine’s Endangered and Threatened Species Lists, providing more protection to the Bank Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Bicknell’s Thrush, Blackpoll Warbler, Saltmarsh Sparrow, tricolored bat, Ashton’s cuckoo bumble bee, and marginated tiger beetle, which all have experienced significant population declines.
- Provided initial funding for the Lake Water Quality Restoration and Protection Fund to help protect lakes at risk from algae blooms and authorized the Fund to receive funding from other public and private sources.
- Provided $33 million for Resilient Water Infrastructure Programs, which will serve as state matching funds for federal drinking water and wastewater programs – providing a significant boost to community projects, protecting public health, water quality, and the environment.
- Approved changes to Maine’s mining law in response to interest in new minerals that had not been accounted for in the current law. The Department of Environmental Protection will develop rules to protect water quality by requiring extensive sampling and analysis of certain types of ore, such as lithium-containing minerals, in advance of any possible mining activities to prove that the ore is inert, as well as water quality monitoring to ensure that the sampling accurately determined that extraction would not pose a risk to water quality or human health.
“As the legislative session came to a close, Maine’s environment once again emerged as a big winner,” said NRCM Advocacy Director Pete Didisheim. “Passage of the offshore wind bill may long be remembered as one of the most consequential actions Maine has ever taken to generate clean energy and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, but lawmakers also passed many other significant measures that reinforce Maine’s brand as a state that balances our environment and our economy.”
Many of the bills enacted in the 2023 legislative session were priorities of Maine’s network of nonprofit public health, environment, and social service organizations, including groups that comprise the Environmental Priorities Coalition.
Corporate lobbyists were also pushing several proposals to undermine Maine’s progress toward a clean energy future and healthier communities. Legislators came together to defeat bills that would have:
- Terminated Maine’s ban on single-use plastic shopping bags.
- Blocked the development of offshore wind power that will provide Mainers with more affordable, reliable clean energy.
- Limit local choice by preventing towns from adopting policies that save money, conserve energy, and reduce reliance on expensive oil and gas.
- Implemented the most aggressive rollback of solar energy in the country by undermining community projects currently underway to save money for towns, schools, local businesses, and homeowners.
- Eliminated the Public Utilities Commission’s mandate to act on climate and hold utilities accountable for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
For the second session in a row, legislation that would have advanced tribal sovereignty for the tribes in Maine was delayed or defeated due to opposition from Governor Mills.
“The environmental community remains a steadfast supporter of the Wabanaki people’s quest for full sovereignty so they can be treated as fairly and equitably as every other tribe in the nation,” said NRCM CEO Rebeccah Sanders. “Achieving full sovereignty is a moral imperative that we will not give up on.”