By Lisa Pohlmann, Special to the BDN
Bangor Daily News Op-Ed
I’m proud and thankful to be in Maine, where many of our leaders are environmental champions, where citizens care deeply and make their voices heard in policy decisions and where the beauty that surrounds us is a daily reminder of why protecting and restoring Maine’s environment matters.
We face great uncertainty about what the Trump administration will do about environmental issues. Threats of ripping up the Paris climate accord and gutting the Environmental Protection Agency are frightening as we consider Maine’s future.
Mainers know that the protection of our environment is critical to our economy and way of life. We cannot prosper with polluted air and water.
We are the end of the tailpipe for polluted air flowing east on the jet stream. Not long ago, our rivers were treated as open sewers, creating fumes that peeled the paint off nearby houses. Fortunately, Maine leaders such as Sens. Edmund Muskie and George Mitchell led their congressional colleagues to pass the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act. With those tools, we’ve made great strides to improve our rivers and clean up our air.
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We must vigilantly defend and enhance these laws to address new threats to our air and water. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the Clean Air Act requires the EPA to set standards to reduce carbon pollution, which causes climate change. The EPA has proposed the Clean Power Plan to curb the biggest source of carbon emissions: power plants. This plan is the centerpiece that made U.S. leadership possible on the landmark Paris climate accord.
Although several members of Congress, backed by their polluter allies, relentlessly attack EPA’s standards, Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King have repeatedly voted against proposals to block federal action to protect our climate. We are depending on them to keep supporting the Clean Power Plan and reject efforts to reverse our progress on clean energy and climate solutions. Maine people are behind them. A recent poll showed that the majority of Mainers believe climate change already is having harmful effects in Maine, and a majority would be very concerned if lawmakers supported rollbacks of environmental laws.
Currently, the transition to a more energy-efficient and clean energy economy is underway, and states and towns are leading the way. In Maine, residents, businesses and municipalities are saving money by improving energy efficiency, and it creates jobs for our neighbors, too. This year, we can strengthen the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative — our region’s plan to reduce power plant carbon emissions and invest in energy efficiency. A recent poll shows Maine people of every stripe and political party overwhelmingly support reducing power plant carbon pollution through the initiative by 5 percent per year from 2020 to 2030. Doing so helps to capitalize on our most cost-effective and powerful tool to reduce carbon pollution, while reducing energy costs and boosting energy efficiency.
Most Mainers want the state to do more to encourage solar power, a limitless energy supply that will lower electric rates for everyone and create hundreds of jobs in urban and rural communities. We need to catch up with our New England neighbors in solar installations by enacting an effective solar policy. That starts with not going backward: Mainers oppose the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s proposed rollback of net metering.
We are at a critical juncture. Climate change will not wait for political regimes to change. We have to keep moving forward quickly. We must be even more organized — make calls and write letters to our congressional delegation and legislative representatives and participate in hearings at town halls, the State House and in Washington, D.C.
We need more voices, too. Listen to neighbors or co-workers, and seek common ground. In Maine, it can never be “us” versus “them.” There is a lot we can agree upon, and the protection of our shared environment is an obvious place to start. We all need clean air and clean water. We can all find a way to protect them, especially when clean energy technologies bring us sorely needed jobs.
I am thankful to be in Maine and look forward to working together — no matter what comes our way — to protect the woods, waters, wildlife and climate we cherish and on which we depend.
Lisa Pohlmann is the executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine.