NRCM news release
July 21, 2021 (Augusta, ME) — The Maine Legislature delivered significant progress this year on a broad range of environmental issues that will benefit Mainers across the state, including new laws that will conserve thousands of acres of land, invest in upgrades for State Parks, weatherize thousands of homes owned by low-income Mainers and older residents, strengthen local recycling programs, implement key elements of Maine’s Climate Action Plan, reduce toxic pollution, and address contamination of farmland and drinking wells from “forever chemicals.”
The state’s leading environmental advocacy group, the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), praised Governor Mills and the bipartisan majorities in the Legislature who came together to make Maine’s environment a big winner during this year’s legislative session.
“Despite challenges caused by the pandemic, legislators did a remarkable job preserving the healthy air, clean water, and unique environment that Maine people value as defining features of our state,” said NRCM’s advocacy director Pete Didisheim. “Although 2019 was among the most successful legislative sessions for environmental bills in decades, 2021 was arguably even more productive on measures to promote clean energy, address climate change, reduce pollution, and strengthen recycling. Lawmakers of both parties played vital roles in protecting Maine’s environment for today and future generations.”
“Taken together, the new laws build on the long legacy of bipartisan action by the Maine Legislature, on behalf of Maine people, to protect the environment that is so vital for our economy and quality of life,” concluded Didisheim, who credited some of the accomplishments to money made available from the federal COVID rescue fund and Maine’s improving fiscal conditions.
Landmark Investments in Land Conservation and State Parks
- $40 million for the Land for Maine’s Future (LMF) program in the state budget will make funding immediately available to conserve land for recreation, farmland preservation, working waterfronts, public access, and working forests. These are the first funds provided for Maine’s successful and popular LMF program since 2012 and will protect thousands of acres, with an increased focus on projects that address climate change, save deer-wintering areas, and promote community-focused recreation.
- $50 million for infrastructure and facility improvements at Maine State Parks, which have experienced record-setting visitations during the pandemic. This is the biggest infusion of sorely needed funding to address a backlog of maintenance needs in decades.
Bold Action on Climate and Clean Energy
- $50 million to accelerate energy efficiency upgrades for Maine homes, especially for low-income and older residents, as well as renters; and to assist local governments, schools, community organizations, and businesses invest 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.
- Strengthened energy efficiency standards for eight residential and commercial appliances that will reduce both carbon pollution and utility bills, saving as much as $9 million annually in reduced energy costs by 2025.
- Banned high-polluting chemicals known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are potent greenhouse gases used for air conditioning, refrigeration, and other applications. These chemicals have hundreds of thousands of times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide.
- Adopted science-based sea-level rise projections into Maine law, requiring state agencies to propose changes to laws and rules they administer to address projections of 1.5 feet of sea-level rise by 2050 and 4 feet by 2100.
- Advanced the development and analysis of offshore wind energy by directing the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to approve a power purchase agreement for a deep offshore floating research array. Established an Offshore Wind Research Consortium to analyze and provide advice for comprehensive planning, while also protecting state waters within three miles of the shore from wind energy development.
- Required the PUC to include within its mission the responsibility of acting on climate change by helping Maine meet its statutory greenhouse gas emissions reduction requirements.
- Created two new finance mechanisms for clean energy and energy efficiency investments: 1) A law that allows 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; and 2) A law 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.
- 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.
- Created 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 our farmland. These methods can also help farms be more resilient through droughts and extreme weather events.
- Provided $20 million for protecting 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.
- Provided $2.25 million for municipal resilience planning and implementation grants to address risks posted by climate change.
- Provided $8 million to expand a statewide network of publicly accessible electric vehicle charging stations located at local businesses and municipalities. The funds will be administered by the Department of Transportation in collaboration with Efficiency Maine.
- Directed the PUC to pursue a large clean energy development and transmission line procurement that would, if it proves cost-effective, connect as much as 1,200 MW of renewable energy projects in Aroostook County with the New England energy grid.
- Provided $21 million for broadband (in addition to the $129 million from the American Rescue Plan Act Critical Infrastructure Fund) to help achieve high-speed internet broadband access for communities across Maine. This investment will benefit education, health care, and economic development, and was a priority in Maine’s Climate Action Plan to help achieve energy savings and emission reductions, including by reducing vehicle miles traveled through remote work.
Tackling Plastic Pollution and Reducing Waste
- Enacted a first-in-the-nation bill that requires manufacturers of packaging waste to help pay for recycling of packaging materials in Maine. The Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for Packaging law will make local recycling programs more effective and reduce costs for municipalities, as Maine joins with more than 40 jurisdictions worldwide that have already adopted similar policies.
- Enacted a bill to reduce plastic pollution caused by the intentional release of balloons by adding balloons in the definition of litter and establishing a fine for the release of 16 or more balloons. Balloon releases have occurred at events that can celebrate or honor individuals in other, less-polluting ways.
- Created a new program to enable Mainers to dispose of unused medications safely and for free at convenient locations statewide. Maine has been a national leader in enacting EPR laws like this one to reduce waste and protect the health of people and the environment.
Cleaner Water for Maine People and Wildlife
- Provided $25 million to improve public drinking water systems and protect public health through mitigation of lead in drinking water at schools and daycare facilities, mitigation of PFAS in drinking water, and investments in treatment facilities, improved piping and storage tanks, and water supply infrastructure.
- Provided $22 million for investments in municipal wastewater infrastructure, which will leverage significant additional federal funding, helping address a large backlog of necessary improvements in water treatment plants, reducing pollution to Maine waters, reducing the burden for local ratepayers, and supporting construction jobs.
- Providing $3 million for a Small Community Grant Program to reduce water pollution and protect public health and fisheries through repairs and replacement to old septic systems.
- Reducing risks caused by arsenic pollution by establishing a well water testing program for low-income residents to provide free testing of arsenic in private residential water supplies, and also requiring landlords of residential buildings to test for arsenic in private drinking water every five years, starting in 2022.
- Required healthier drinking water by establishing a limit of 20 parts per trillion for six types of PFAS in drinking water, significantly lower than the federal government’s current “advisory level” of 70 parts per trillion for just two PFAS compounds. All public water utilities as well as schools and daycare facilities using private wells must begin testing for PFAS by the end of next year and take steps to remediate any elevated levels.
- Provided $3 million to improve fish passage and healthier rivers and streams through a competitive grant program that matches local funding to upgrade of municipal culverts at stream crossings.
Reducing Toxic Pollution and Addressing “Forever Chemicals”
- Banned the use of neonicotinoid pesticides (neonics) for residential landscaping and lawn care because of the threat they pose to bees and other pollinating insects.
- Banned the use of any pesticide containing chlorpyrifos, a neurotoxic pesticide associated with neurodevelopmental harm in children.
- Banned the use of glyphosate and dicamba pesticides within 75 feet of school grounds because of the risks these chemicals pose to children.
- Banned the sale of products containing so-called “forever chemicals” (PFAS) by 2030. These toxic chemicals pose a serious health risk to children and pregnant women. Starting in 2023, manufacturers must report all uses of PFAS to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and the sale of carpets or rugs and fabric treatments that contain intentionally added PFAS are prohibited. The sale of firefighting foam containing PFAS was also banned.
- Required oil tank facilities to conduct continuous fence-line monitoring at tank farm facilities, measuring for hazardous air pollutants, including Benzene, Xylene, and other chemicals known to cause health risks.
- Provided $5 million for treatment of drinking water, environmental testing, and management of contaminated wastes caused by perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
- Provided $30 million for abating, cleaning up, or mitigating the threats posed by PFAS affecting agricultural producers in the state and the food supply, providing support to affected farms and supporting critical PFAS research necessary for farm viability.
- Established 11 permanent and 6 temporary positions at the DEP to help test more than 500 sites where PFAS-contaminated wastewater treatment plant sludge may have contaminated land and water.
- Banned the aerial application of PFAS chemicals, extended the statute of limitations for lawsuits involving PFAS pollution to six years after the pollution is discovered rather than six years after it first occurred, and directed the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to research crops that can safely be grown on farmland contaminated with PFAS.
Lawmakers also easily defeated measures that would have rolled back Maine’s common-sense environmental laws and policies, including bills that would have terminated the net energy metering program that is successfully increasing solar energy development in Maine; repealed Maine’s ban on single-use plastic bags, which are a significant source of plastic pollution; terminated any and all development of offshore wind as a source of clean energy; blocked Maine from collaborating with other states on ways to reduce carbon pollution from cars and trucks; and capped the amount of public land in Maine.
Many of the bills enacted in the 2021 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 an unprecedented legislative session in which the Legislature and the public faced challenges caused by the pandemic,” said Didisheim.