Climate change affects our public health and welfare, and threatens Maine’s nature-based economy.
By Tony Owens and Russell Black
Portland Press Herald op-ed
We are two different people: a Republican farmer and legislator from rural western Maine and a Democratic physician from Cape Elizabeth. But as different as our backgrounds are, our concerns about climate change bring us together.
Climate change affects our public health and welfare, and increasingly threatens the nature-based economy Maine relies on.
Climate change isn’t coming – it is here now. We are amid a string of record-breaking hot years: Fourteen of the last 15 years have broken records. Unless we take action today, these changes will only increase and intensify in years to come.
One of us is a physician with nearly four decades of experience. I see shifts in diseases directly attributable to climate change. I now screen patients for tick-borne illnesses unheard of when my practice began. Ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, babeosis and, of course, Lyme disease are all transmitted by an ever-expanding population of ticks. Mosquito-borne illnesses are on the rise as well, spreading deadly viral infections, including Eastern equine encephalitis and West Nile virus.
Sadly, Maine is downwind from many dirty power plants, so we are sometimes called the tailpipe of America. This toxic brew contributes to Maine’s having one of the highest rates of childhood asthma in the nation. On warm “bad air days,” doctor’s office visits spike and affected patients arrive in my Emergency Department. The cost is both huge and avoidable. Looking into the sad, scared eyes of patients and parents also takes its toll.
We must and can do better. The Clean Power Plan is projected to eliminate 90,000 asthma attacks and 3,500 premature deaths annually.
One of us is a farmer, a maple syrup producer, a logger and a state representative for Wilton and southern Franklin County. The changes I’ve seen in Maine’s weather are becoming more disruptive and more frequent.
Forty years ago, we used to tap for maple sap in mid-March. Now we tap in February and sometimes even earlier. The best sap production needs cold nights and warm days to run – we used to see that consistently. Today, we’re experiencing long periods that are either too cold or too warm.
Changes are obvious in farming as well. We are seeing fewer dry days and longer periods of rain, which makes it harder to produce dry hay within a shrinking window of opportunity.
Increasingly intense rainstorms are also mucking up the wood access roads on my land. Culverts and water bars specifically designed to handle rushes of water are no longer sufficient to withstand the large, severe, sudden downpours we are seeing today.
Overall, the weather changes I see in Maine are changing the way I farm – for the worse. The weather patterns I was once able to rely on are now unpredictable and more severe.
In September, we flew together to Washington, D.C., and met with Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King to share our concerns about climate change and stress the need for their leadership in supporting the Clean Power Plan.
Before our visit, the Environmental Protection Agency released the final version of the plan, establishing the first-ever national standards on carbon pollution from power plants, the largest source of climate-changing pollution in this country. The goal of the plan is to reduce these carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent by 2030. The historic but achievable plan gives us hope that the U.S. is finally addressing climate change.
Maine and our neighbor states haven’t waited for action from Washington. We put limits on carbon pollution from power plants several years ago through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which puts us on course to meet or exceed targets in the Clean Power Plan.
It also helps us reduce energy bills by providing funds to Efficiency Maine to help Mainers invest in energy efficiency. Economists have concluded that Maine’s energy costs are lower and our economy is stronger as a result of that initiative. That’s “Maine smart.”
We would like to thank Sens. Collins and King for recently voting against a bill that would have repealed the Clean Power Plan. The vote demonstrated their leadership in Washington, their support for climate change action, and their commitment to the interest of Maine citizens.
We hope they will both continue to stand up to powerful interests, defend the Clean Power Plan and fight for strong climate leadership in Washington. This is an issue that can bring people of diverse backgrounds together for solutions that benefit us all.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS Tony Owens, M.D., is a Democrat, a resident of Cape Elizabeth and a physician. Russ Black is a Republican, a resident of Wilton, a state representative and a farmer.