Seven hours of testimony provide a glimpse into the scope and impact of proposals to rein in greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, factories and motor vehicles.
By Kevin Miller, Staff Writer
Portland Press Herald news story
AUGUSTA — Maine scientists, fishermen and environmentalists urged lawmakers Wednesday to embrace a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent and begin work on a new “action plan” to address climate change.
But while manufacturers and energy producers welcomed the proposed discussions, they warned against setting unrealistic requirements on industries that have already dramatically reduced emissions.
“Before you set a limit on emissions and a timeline for that, first find out where you are,” said Tony Buxton, an attorney representing the Industrial Energy Consumers Group.
After years on the political back burner, climate-related issues are once again on the policy agenda in Augusta. Democratic legislative leaders, who have majorities in both the Maine House and Senate, and Gov. Janet Mills have made it a top priority amid growing scientific evidence that climate change is already affecting Maine fisheries, farms and woodlands.
Lawmakers heard nearly seven hours of testimony Wednesday on two bills that would set a goal of reducing statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 or 2050. Both measures as well as a third bill would also direct the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to update the state’s 15-year-old “climate action plan” that offered strategies for reducing emissions to 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.
None of the bills specify how the state would achieve those additional reductions but, instead, would rely on the Maine DEP to craft regulations with input from a diverse set of interests. But supporters said a new road map is needed for Maine to achieve its share of the goals established by the 2015 international Paris Climate Agreement and embraced by the Mills administration.
“We have met the goals we set in 2003 and 2004 for 2020, but perhaps that was just low-hanging fruit,” said Rep. Ralph Tucker, D-Brunswick, sponsor of the bill to reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2050. “But I am convinced that, if we really try, we can rise to the occasion and continue the remarkable progress we have made so far.”
A DEP official called an 80 percent reduction by 2050 “appropriate” and said the goal – along with an update to the 2004 climate action plan – will be “fully embodied” in a forthcoming bill from the governor’s office.
“The department agrees that policymakers and stakeholders should undertake the work described in these bills but we recommend it be done by work groups of the governor’s Climate Council,” said Melanie Loyzim, deputy commissioner at the DEP.
South Thomaston lobsterman David Cousens said while climate change has likely contributed to the five-fold increase in lobster landings, he believes “we’re at the tipping point now” as water temperatures rise and invasive species move in. Cousens said he worries whether his sons will be able to continue lobstering as populations of the iconic crustacean creep farther up the coast into cooler Canadian waters.
The former Maine Lobstermen’s Association president also took a swipe at President Trump’s repeated claims that climate change is a hoax driven by “fake science.”
“I don’t know what ‘fake science’ is but I know when I was in high school or college, we based all of our information on science,” Cousens told members of the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee. “I believe that 99 percent of the scientists in the world are right, and the 1 percent that says it’s a hoax are not.”
Recent research has shown that the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than almost anywhere else in Earth’s oceans.
Andrew Pershing, chief scientific officer at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland, pointed to the loss of the lobster fisheries in Rhode Island and southern New England to show that “there is only so much warming that lobsters can take.”
Pressed by a lawmaker on Maine’s tiny contribution to global climate emissions, Pershing described climate change as “the ultimate tragedy of the commons” that will require contributions from everyone, large and small.
“You need to have leadership and you need to have very clear goals, and that’s what I am most excited about with this bill,” Pershing said.
Maine has made significant progress over the past 15 years in reducing some greenhouse gas emissions but not in all sectors, falling behind in transportation.
Power plants and large, industrial facilities such as paper mills reduced emissions by 73 percent between 2002 and 2015, in part, by switching from oil to natural gas. Maine’s participation in the nine-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative – the nation’s first cap-and-trade program for carbon dioxide emissions – has also encouraged efficiencies while generating hundreds of millions of dollars for equipment upgrades and home weatherization.
Emissions from cars, trucks, planes and other components of the transportation sector remained flat during that time, however, and accounted for 52 percent of all emissions in Maine in 2015.
Manufacturers and representatives from energy-intensive industries urged lawmakers to remember their dramatic reductions when setting future goals. Simply imposing a further 80 percent reduction in industrial emissions, they warned, could have cataclysmic impacts on those companies.
“Please don’t ask us to do more until other sources have done similar levels” of reductions, said Scott Beal, environmental security manager for Woodland Pulp in Baileyville, which spent $16 million to switch to natural gas.
The most foreboding comments came from Michael Martunas, environmental compliance manager at Dragon Products Company, a Thomaston cement manufacturing plant with 107 employees.
Martunas warned that an 80 percent reduction is simply unachievable because greenhouse gases are emitted by the components of concrete, not as a result of fossil fuel combustion for energy. But Americans will still need to buy cement from somewhere, even if Dragon goes out of business.
“If either bill is enacted, our cement plant will close and approximately 500 jobs supported by the plant will either cease to exist or lose revenue provided by Dragon,” Martunas said. “Furthermore, shuttering our plant and impacting the lives of 500 Maine families will have no substantial impact on Maine’s, America’s or global greenhouse gas emissions.”