by Dylan Voorhees, NRCM Clean Energy Project Director
Hello, my name is Dylan Voorhees and I am the Clean Energy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM.) NRCM is a nonprofit membership organization founded in 1959 and dedicated to protecting, restoring, and conserving Maine’s environment, now and for future generations. We have over 12,000 members and activists. Improving air quality, promoting clean energy and advocating for action on climate change are high priorities for NRCMâbecause they are high priorities for Maine.
The EPA’s proposed carbon pollution standards for power plants are essential to protecting Maine people and environment. Maine’s environment is tied to our culture and economy in unique ways, making it especially critical that we address climate change and power plant air pollution as quickly and effectively as possible.
So far, over 8,200 Maine people have commented to the EPA in support of these proposed carbon standards. That is an enormous number for our rural state. But this abstract quantification belies the fundamental fact that climate change is already negatively impacting real people in Maineâtheir lives and their livelihoods.
Last week EPA’s Administrator for Region I (New England) came to Maine to participate in and listen to a panel of diverse Maine leaders talking about climate changeâprompted by these proposed standards. I’d like to share a few of their words so that you can have a sense of how much people in Maine have at stake.
Harry Dwyer is a master logger and licensed forester from Fayette, Maine who works in the woods for his own small forestry business. Harry doesn’t earn a salary, his pay comes from the time he spends logging the woods. He said:
“I don’t think climate change is a future problem. I think we are in the midst of it right now, and I’ve been absorbing the economic costs of lost work time when heavy rain shuts us down or when we are waiting for the ground to freeze to start a logging job.
“Ten or fifteen years ago, no one had to worry about deer ticks [carrying Lyme disease] in Central Maine. Now I’m picking ticks off hours after I get home. They just weren’t here because we used to have those cold winters that kept them at bay.
“I am a parent, and the world we hand off to our children matters more to me than the lost work time and the economic cost of these things. Our asthma rates, especially childhood asthma are far higher than is morally or ethically defensible. If you have ever laid awake at night listening to your child struggle to breath, and had to go everywhere with an inhaler, wondering at what point are you going to head to the hospital because the inhaler and nebulizer are not helping, then you will agree that these rules are long overdue.”
Harry is one of the Maine people caught in the crossfire of warming and pollutionâa vulnerable spot that will only get worse. The impacts of loss of traditional winter, declining habitat for industrial softwood species, and increased invasive pests pose an enormous threat to the forest products industry in Maine. On top of that, his son is one of over 23,000 kids in Maine suffering from asthmaâMaine has one of the highest rates in the country, perhaps because we sit downwind of so many coal plants and other industrial polluters.
Indeed, these rules are important because they will help reduce the effect of climate warming on smog formation, which fuels childhood asthma attacks and other respiratory illness. Dr. Peggy Pennoyer was also a panelist at last week’s Climate Leaders Roundtable in Maine. She said:
“As a specialist in asthma, I see the health effects of air pollution daily on children and adults.”
But what she and many other physicians in Maine are really worried about is the situation getting worse. She cited a recent study by the Union of Concerned Scientists that predicted 15,000 additional cases of serious respiratory illness in Maine by 2020 if warming trends are allowed to continue.
Doctors, nurses, scientists and other experts say that carbon pollution is dangerous for children and the elderly especially. By advancing these standardsâalong with clean air safeguards that address mercury, soot, smog and other pollutantsâthe EPA is holding polluters accountable and protecting Maine families and others.
I said Maine’s culture and economy are uniquely tied to having a clean environment. This isn’t just about our forests. Tourism is one of our biggest sectors, and people travel to Maine for clean air and beautiful coasts. Smog and climate change put these at risk. Believe it or not, Maine has the longest coastline of any of the lower 48 states (that’s because our deeply wrinkled coasts cram many miles of ocean front into a very tight space.) Concerns about sea-level rise and erosion of coastal ecosystems and beaches are, again, not abstract. Communities up and down our southern coasts are struggling to hold onto beaches that are washing into the seaâwith the real risk that tourism dollars wash away along with the sand.
Our marine environment is also essential to our large commercial fishing sector, including a $375 million dollar lobster and shell-fishing industry. The acidification of our oceans as a result of unlimited carbon pollution could be an existential threat to this sector and the traditional way of life it entails. According to Professor Mark Green, one of Maine’s scientific experts on ocean acidification, excess carbon dioxide dissolving into our oceans has already raised the acidity pH of the ocean by 30%. This could increase to 300% within the next 50+ years. This is a huge threat to animals with calcium shells; not “merely” clams and oysters, but an entire food web that depends on tiny microorganisms, from salmon to whales. Professor Green, who also owns a small shellfish business himself, is already finding evidence of impacts from corrosive seawater and acidic mudflats.
Right now, with no national limits on industrial carbon pollution from power plants, most polluters are free to dump unlimited amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. This is unacceptable to states like Maine.
While we congratulate and applaud the EPA for these standards for new power plants, it is even more essential that standards for existing power plants come next. That is what the people of Maine need in order to preserve our way of life, our natural resource based economies, and protect the health of children.
In fact, Maine and other northeastern states have taken action themselves to limit carbon pollution from existing power plants through the innovative and highly successful Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI.) This market-based initiative is demonstrating that well-designed carbon pollution policies can be incredibly economically beneficial. Because of the way this program is designed, independent assessments have shown that Maine’s economy will see a net benefit of $92 million as a direct result of RGGI. (Region wide the economy will see a $1.6 billion net benefit.)
The new power plants we build today will of course become the fleet of “existing” power plants our children will inherit for 30-40 years to come, along with the air and the climate that we are leaving.
My six year old daughter asked me this week why I was travelling to Washington, DC. She has a vague sense of what I do, so she asked “Are you going to clean the air, daddy?”
“Yes, I’m trying,” I answered. “But to do that I have to persuade our leaders to make sure that we have less pollution.”
That’s why I’m hereâon her behalf, and on behalf of the members of NRCM and the people of Maine to support these rules and insist that we have strong carbon pollution standards from here out, and plead our elected officials let these and future rules move forward. Thank you.