Senator Ned Claxton, Chair
Representative Ronald Martin, Chair
Joint Standing Committee on State and Local Government
My name is Dylan Voorhees and I am the Climate & Clean Energy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. Thank you for allowing us to present this testimony. We support this common-sense legislation, which would integrate critical scientific information about our changing climate into municipal planning. Doing so will reduce risks and costs for property tax payers along our coast.
Maine scientists, planners and others have understood for some time that sea level rise from a warming climate poses a considerable risk to Maine’s extended coastline. We have the second-longest coastline on the eastern seaboard (after Florida), and large portions of our coast are low-lying. Much of our population—and therefore our built infrastructure—is located close to the coast. Furthermore, our coastal economy, from tourism to fisheries, is extremely important to Maine’s economy and traditional values.
Sea-level rise is an established scientific fact, whether you consult the literature from the international scientific community or from the University of Maine. And unfortunately for us, the severity of sea-level rise projections have only increased over the past decade. Below are some key findings about sea-level rise from four well-respected scientific institutions.
In its 2015 update to its “Maine’s Climate Future” report, the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute stated:
- Today, sea level is rising at a rate much faster than any time in the past 5,000 years.
- Global sea level is projected to rise an additional 0.5 to 2.0 feet or more by 2050. Scientists consider these ranges of estimates to be conservative, with other estimates of global sea level rise notably higher—an equivalent of 3.3 feet or more by mid-century.
- The last time temperatures increased by 3.5–5.5 °F (which international climate models predict for Maine by 2050 under “business-as-usual” scenarios), the accompanying melting of portions of Greenland and Antarctica resulted in an eventual sea-level rise of more than 16 feet, suggesting that current estimates of sea-level rise for the projected warming by 2100 may be on the low end.
The National Climate Assessment is the country’s top interagency review of climate change science and impacts. The Fourth Assessment was published in 2018. The chapter on the Northeast includes these disturbing projections on sea level rise:
Projections for the region suggest that sea level rise in the Northeast will be greater than the global average of approximately 0.12 inches per year. According to Sweet et al. (2017), the more probable sea level rise scenarios—the Intermediate-Low and Intermediate scenarios from a recent federal interagency sea level rise report—project sea level rise of 2 feet and 4.5 feet on average in the region by 2100, respectively. The worst-case and lowest-probability scenarios, however, project that sea levels in the region would rise upwards of 11 feet on average by the end of the century… Furthermore, the strongest hurricanes are anticipated to become both more frequent and more intense in the future, with greater amounts of precipitation. Thirty-two percent of open-coast north and Mid-Atlantic beaches are predicted to overwash during an intense future nor’easter type storm, a number that increases to more than 80% during a Category 4 hurricane. (emphasis added)
The scientific basis for a response to sea-level rise is clear. It is also obvious that an enormous amount of private and public property lies close to current coastlines. These include roads, bridges, schools, wastewater treatment plants, all of which are paid for by taxpayers. On NRCM’s website you can find maps of several Maine communities with illustrations of what different levels of sea level rise would mean.
The Risky Business Project focuses on quantifying and publicizing the economic risks from the impacts of a changing climate. The project is led by a bipartisan committee that include George Schultz (Treasury Secretary and Secretary of State for Ronald Reagan) and Henry Paulson (Treasury Secretary for George W. Bush), and Maine’s own former Senator Olympia Snowe. According to the 2014 Risky Business report:
“While the Northeast region of the U.S. is expected to experience a sizeable increase in temperatures and average number of extremely hot days over the course of the century, the region’s major climate impact will be sea level rise and its effect on coastal infrastructure.” (emphasis added)
Several responses are called for, at multiple levels of government—including actions to reduce climate-changing carbon emissions which, if unchecked, will mean we experience the most extreme degree of sea-level rise.
The simple step of incorporating consideration of sea-level rise into municipal comprehensive plans is one of the most basic and common-sense responses. This bill would not dictate what specific actions coastal communities should take, merely that they should consider and address rising seas in the ways that make sense to them.
In 2014, Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection issued an excellent report on adapting to climate change. One of the recommendations was for the Department to “develop application submission requirements to address sea level rise as a consideration in design and review for all projects within 250 feet of a coastal wetland…” What the DEP report recommendation and this legislation have in common is that they start by integrating more complete information into our planning and development decision-making.
In conclusion, we could hardly put it more clearly than Risky Business committee member Olympia Snowe: “What Risky Business shows us is that climate change poses measurable risks to our economy, and that some of these risks are quite severe. Our coastal communities are especially vulnerable to sea level rise and storm surge. But the risks get even worse if we don’t act to make our coastal infrastructure more resilient, and begin to mitigate the risks through reducing emissions.”
 Fernandez, I.J. et al. 2015. Maine’s Climate Future: 2015 Update. Orono, ME: University of Maine. http://climatechange.umaine.edu/research/publications/climate-future
 USGCRP, 2018: Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II [Reidmiller, D.R., C.W. Avery, D.R. Easterling, K.E. Kunkel, K.L.M. Lewis, T.K. Maycock, and B.C. Stewart (eds.)]. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA, 2018. https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/
 Risky Businesses: The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States. June 2014. http://riskybusiness.org/reports/national-report/regions/northeast