Bipartisan votes on many bills highlight strong conservation ethic
NRCM news release
April 26, 2022 (Augusta, ME) — The Maine Legislature yet again delivered significant progress on a broad range of environmental issues that will benefit Mainers across the state, according to an analysis by the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM).
NRCM praised Governor Janet Mills and lawmakers for coming together to enact a wide range of new laws that will further enhance the health of Maine’s environment, people, and communities, including new laws to protect hundreds of miles of Maine rivers, conserve biodiversity by expanding Maine’s ecological reserves, curb out-of-state waste at the Juniper Ridge Landfill, mitigate impacts caused by PFAS (“forever chemicals”) contamination, and continue to address climate change.
“The strong bipartisan support for several environmental priorities clearly reflects the strong conservation ethic of Maine people, regardless of where they live.” said NRCM’s advocacy director Pete Didisheim. “Although this was the short legislative session, lawmakers produced another long list of accomplishments to protect Maine’s land and waterways, address climate change, and reduce pollution.”
“Taken together, these new laws build on the long legacy of bipartisan action by Maine lawmakers, on behalf of Maine people, to protect the environment that is so vital for our economy and quality of life,” concluded Didisheim.
Action on Climate and Clean Energy
- Enacted a new utility accountability law that requires the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to establish a scorecard with metrics for evaluating performance of Maine’s electric utilities, with mandatory penalties for poor performance and divestiture as the ultimate penalty for consistently failing to perform.
- Enacted a bill to require the PUC to lead a grid planning process to modernize Maine’s electrical grid for clean energy, energy storage, sophisticated energy efficiency measures, and electrification of transportation and heating, with the plan tied to Maine’s climate goals and Climate Action Plan.
- Approved $2.09 million in funding for grants to school districts to create and implement teacher training, professional development, and pilot programs for interdisciplinary climate education. The bill also authorizes the Department of Education to receive funds for these purposes from other public and private sources.
- Allocated $3.5 million to Efficiency Maine Trust for the state’s electric vehicle (EV) incentive program.
- Established a goal that 50% of the State’s new light-duty vehicles purchased by 2025 be plug-in hybrid or zero-emission vehicles by 2025 and 100% by 2030. County and municipal governments have a goal for light-duty vehicle acquisitions of 100% plug-in hybrid or zero-emission vehicles by 2035, to the extent practicable.
- Implemented recommendations of a state agency report regarding sea-level rise, including consideration in natural resource agency regulations of the effect of science-based projections of at least 1.5 feet of sea-level rise by 2050 and 4 feet of sea-level rise by 2100.
- Set a goal that Maine achieves carbon neutrality by January 1, 2045, with net greenhouse gas emissions not exceeding the amount of carbon dioxide sequestered by Maine’s forests.
- Approved $231,310 to support a Maine Climate Corps Program and Maine Service Fellows Program, to support local projects addressing climate mitigation and resiliency.
- Provided funding for a senior planner and three forester positions at the Maine Forest Service to provide training and education to landowners on climate-friendly forest management practices.
Action on Waste and Forever Chemicals
- Closed a loophole in Maine law that has allowed other states to dump hundreds of thousands of tons of construction and demolition debris (CDD) in Maine’s Juniper Ridge Landfill. The bill requires increased recycling as part of the processing of in-state-generated CDD and requires that any future expansion of a solid waste facility is not inconsistent with ensuring environmental justice for the community in which the facility or expansion is proposed.
- Approved $60 million for a Fund to Address PFAS Contamination to address public health and economic impacts caused by land spreading of sludge contaminated with PFAS.
- Banned the spreading of sludge or compost material from any municipal, commercial, or industrial wastewater treatment plant or septage system.
- Required a report on methods of treating leachate collected at the State-owned Juniper Ridge and Dolby Landfills to reduce the concentration of PFAS.
- Banned the sale or distribution of pesticides to which PFAS chemicals were intentionally added.
- Allocated $3.2 million to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for laboratory equipment to increase the capacity for sample testing and analysis of PFAS.
- Allocated $3 million to the Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry to clean up and mitigate threats of PFAS contamination affecting agricultural producers and the food supply, to provide support to affected farms, to support critical PFAS research, and to allow DEP to respond to PFAS concerns and issues as they arise.
- Required that any plastic beverage containers sold in the state include post-consumer recycled content of 25% starting in 2026 and 30% starting in 2031.
Action on Water and Land
- Increased protection for more than 800 miles of rivers and streams through water classification upgrades. The 20 river and stream segments across 9 counties host some of the state’s top freshwater habitat for native brook trout, endangered Atlantic salmon, and other species.
- Expanded Maine’s system of ecological reserves by allowing the Bureau of Parks and Lands (BPL) to acquire additional ecological reserves to protect representative examples of Maine’s biodiversity and habitat types.
- Defeated bill language that would have blocked science-based river restoration projects, including through selective removal of obsolete and harmful dams.
- Provided the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Sipayik with more control over clean drinking water supplies by enabling the Tribe to seek alternative water sources on tribal land without State approval and giving the federal government primary regulatory authority over water for the Tribe.
- Expanded the membership and purposes of the Interagency Task Force on Invasive Aquatic Plants and Nuisance Species to include identification of possible legislation to further address the threat to Maine lakes from invasive species, and a biennial report, with the first report due by January 15, 2023. The Task Force is required to involve stakeholders in the conduct of its work, including from lake protection organizations.
- Protected public lands by requiring BPL to adopt rules that establish an objective evaluation process for determining if a proposed activity on public land would cause the land to be reduced or the uses of the land to be substantially altered, which would require approval by a two-thirds vote of both the Maine House and Senate.
- Established the Maine Redevelopment Land Bank Authority to assist municipalities in the redevelopment of blighted, abandoned, and environmentally hazardous properties to return them to productive use.
Action for Affordable Housing and Equity
- Established a Housing Opportunity Program to modernize Maine’s housing and zoning policies, to enable more density of development that will help address affordability and access to housing while reducing the prospect for ever-increasing vehicle emissions—already the largest source of Maine’s greenhouse gas pollution.
- Provided increased access to the PUC’s proceedings, including with funding, to diversify intervenors, and require DEP to develop rules to ensure that individuals in environmental justice populations and frontline communities are provided with fair and equitable access to DEP decision-making.
Many of the bills enacted in the 2022 legislative session were priorities of Maine’s active network of nonprofit public health, environment, and social service organizations, including groups that comprise the Environmental Priorities Coalition.
“We’re grateful to lawmakers for listening to the thousands of Mainers who made their voices heard for a cleaner, healthier environment, even during another challenging legislative session in which the Legislature and the public conducted much of their work remotely,” said Didisheim.