Residents of So. Portland, Portland and Bangor Generated Least Global Warming Pollution Per Commuter
PORTLAND, ME- The fastest growing communities in Maine, largely on the outer fringes of Portland, are contributing disproportionately to the global warming pollution caused by commuting according to Driving Global Warming, a report released today by Environment Maine Research & Policy Center and the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
The town-by-town rankings underscore long-standing concerns that the distance between where Mainers live and work, due to the growth of residential development in formerly rural areas, poses major challenges to efforts to reduce global warming pollution. The average commuter living in Naples, Lyman or Waterboro travels 17-19 miles to work and produces 7,000 pounds of carbon dioxide pollution each year, while the average commuter from Bangor, Portland and So. Portland travels 4-6 miles and generates less than 2,500 pounds of carbon dioxide pollution per year.
Meanwhile, on a per capita basis, commuters to some college towns and mid-coast communities release less global warming pollution than most other towns and cities. The average commuter to Orono and Rockland travels five miles to work, well below the state average of nine miles. Indeed, living closer to work may be the best way to cut global warming pollution from commuting. On top of those shorter commutes, many residents in Orono and Waterville don’t use cars to get to work, at the rate of 24 and 13 percent, respectively. Transit availability is one factor in cutting commuting pollution, but not the only one. Only three percent of commuters living in Portland take transit to work, despite extensive bus transit in the city.
“The good news is that you can ‘get there from here’ commuting daily, but this report shows how you do so helps determine how much global warming pollution you make,” said Jennifer Andersen of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Cars and trucks are the largest source of global warming pollution in Maine and the more of this pollution we generate, the more our ski and maple syrup industries are at risk.”
“This data gives us a revealing look at one of the most pressing environmental and public health problems of our generation,” said Matthew Davis of Environment Maine. “Fuel economy in cars and trucks is declining and sprawling growth is putting the state and region on a collision course with global warming. We have to reduce pollution from the transportation sector, and we have to start now.”
The report uses recent US Census data to look for the first time at commuting pollution on a town-by-town level. As the region’s governors enter the next phase of a two-year effort to cap global warming pollution from power plants, the report shines a spotlight on what is actually the biggest and fastest-growing contributor to global warming: the transportation sector.
Maine’s vehicle miles traveled (VMTs) were the highest in New England and rose at the second-highest rate of 10 percent from 1998 to 2003, according to research conducted last year. Maine has initiated a VMT Working Group as part of the Maine’s Climate Action Plan, but has yet to come forward with recommendations.
Commuting is directly responsible for approximately nine percent of the state’s carbon dioxide emissions. And, the report’s authors argue, decisions that influence commuting—such as where to live and where to work—influence the trips people make for other purposes as well.
“The New England Governors will be meeting in the spring to assess their progress cutting global warming emissions. Maine needs to take action to cut car travel,” added Davis.
Fortunately, the state recently adopted standards for global warming emissions, which will cut global warming emissions from new cars by 30 percent by 2016. However, without a plan to encourage workers to live near their place of work, discourage sprawl and shift more commuting trips to transit and carpools, Maine will have a hard time reducing carbon dioxide emissions from transportation.
Additionally, Maine residents commuting to Boston generate more global warming emissions than commuters traveling to any other out-of-state town. Indeed, if Boston were a town in Maine, it would rank 20th on the list of communities whose Maine workers generate the greatest amounts of inbound global warming emissions, at 10,540 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. Amtrak’s Downeaster rail service had not started when this Census data was collected, but it is likely that this has cut the emissions of Boston-bound commuters.
The report authors recommend that the state get a handle on the transportation sector’s contribution to global warming pollution by:
- Ensuring cars and trucks in Maine produce less global warming pollution per mile;
- Investing in transportation alternatives, including:
- expanding rail service to Brunswick and beyond,
- bolstering bus service such as the ZOOM shuttle, and
- encouraging telecommuting, and ride sharing through the Go Maine program;
- Encouraging transit-oriented development and downtown redevelopment;
- Putting the brakes on sprawling residential development in rural areas; and
- Holding large workplaces accountable for the emissions they generate
“If we do these things, and stay on track to cut pollution from power plants, then we’ll be on the road toward meeting Maine’s global warming pollution reduction goals,” said Andersen.
The Natural Resources Council of Maine, with more than 9,000 members and supporters, is the state’s leading advocacy organization working to curb air and global warming pollution, protect and restore the quality of rivers, reduce poisonous chemicals threatening the health of people and wildlife, and conserve Maine lands, now and for future generations. www.nrcm.org
Environment Maine is dedicated to protecting Maine’s air, water and open spaces. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public and decision makers, and help Maine residents make their voices heard in local, state and national debates over the quality of our environment and our lives.