Senator Breen, Representative Pierce, and members of the Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs. My name is Pete Didisheim, I am the Advocacy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, and I appreciate the opportunity to testify in support of the Governor’s Change Package to LD 221.
We strongly support the proposed initiatives in the change package for the Governor’s Energy Office, Office of Policy Innovation and the Future, Department of Environmental Protection, and the Office of the Governor. These proposed staff increases and investments will contribute to the protection of Maine’s environment, the state’s transition to clean energy, enhanced policy development and analysis, increased responsiveness to renewable energy permitting and the challenges presented by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination, and significant steps in the implementation of Maine’s Climate Action Plan, Maine Won’t Wait.
Governor’s Energy Office Initiatives
At a time when Maine and the nation are planning for arguably the most significant transformations of our energy system in the past century, we believe that the Governor’s Energy Office is significantly understaffed and under-resourced. For that reason, we are particularly pleased by the proposed initiative that would provide the following:
- Two Public Service Coordinator II positions for legal counsel and other support for legal and grid modernization This request will help ensure that the Energy Office can provide the level of support needed as technical, policy, and legal issues are developed, discussed, and debated concerning our electrical grid.
- Two Public Service Coordinator II positions and funding in support of a Research Consortium, which could be highly valuable as part of Maine’s science-based approach to the clean energy transition.
- One limited-period Public Service Coordinator II position to provide power sector transformation studies, as called for by the Maine Climate Action Plan. This work is critical for helping analyze the technical and cost-effective approaches to decarbonizing our power systems.
Office of Policy Innovation and the Future
The Office of Policy Innovation and the Future (GOPIF) has done an excellent job over the past year providing the staff support and leadership for the Maine Climate Council and development of Maine’s Climate Action Plan, Maine Won’t Wait. That change package includes critical funding that will assist in implementing the Climate Action Plan, including through the following initiatives:
- Funding for green communities’ emissions reduction planning, technical assistance, and grants for community climate projects, which will support the excellent work being done at the municipal level across the state to identify and reduce carbon emissions.
- Two Public Service Coordinator II positions and one Public Service Coordinator III position to provide support for partnerships with Maine’s cities and towns for resiliency planning, which will help the state and communities develop policies and plans to help adapt to sea-level rise and other climate impacts already impacting Maine.
- Funding for Municipal Resilience Planning and Implementation Grants, which will help ensure that towns have funds to develop climate resiliency plans.
Department of Environmental Protection
Staffing levels at the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) have declined significantly over the past decade, even as the Legislature has tasked the Department with new responsibilities, contamination of drinking water wells by per-fluoroalkyl and poly-fluoroalkyl (PFAS) demand immediate attention, and the development of renewable energy projects and development in general have dramatically increased workload for the licensing and permitting staff. Last year the Legislature was on the verge of approving additional staffing for DEP’s Land Bureau to address the surge in land license applications, but those positions and resources fell victim to the Legislature’s sudden adjournment. We strongly support all the Change Package initiatives for the Department of Environmental Protection, which include:
- One Environmental Specialist IV position to manage climate plan rulemaking on hydrofluorocarbons, appliance standards, and sea-level rise, which is critical for DEP to manage rule development and implementation of these high priority legislative actions that contribute to implementation of Maine’s Climate Action Plan.
- Provides one-time funding to support the state forest carbon mapping project, which also supports an important recommendation of the Climate Action Plan. The project will involve analyzing carbon density of Maine’s forests to assist DEP in calculating carbon sequestration. This information is critical for developing programs to incentivize land use strategies that promote carbon sequestration.
- One Senior Environmental Engineer, one Environmental Engineer position, one Assistant Environmental Engineer, and three Environmental Specialist positions to support land use licensing, which is critical for timely processing of permit applications for renewable energy and other permits pending and expected at the DEP. The DEP received more land license applications in 2020 than in the last 10 years. Having the staff to process these applications is critical for economic recovery, especially considering the federal stimulus money allocated to Maine and additional funding expected from a federal infrastructure bill.
- Seventeen positions (including technicians, planning, engineers, environmental specialists, a GIS coordinator, hydrologist, chemist, and public service coordinator) to enable the DEP to bring urgent technical attention to the challenge of PFAS contamination (“forever chemicals”) of farmland and drinking water wells across Maine. These positions are necessary to investigate more than 700 sites in Maine where PFAS-containing wastes were spread on land, and to effectively leverage the proposed $25 million in remediation funding.
- Funding for a competitive grant program that matches local funding to upgrade municipal culverts at stream crossings, to help address culverts that are too small to handle heavy precipitation events (increasing with climate change), could result in road damage because of washouts, and/or block fish passage necessary for sea-run fish to access spawning habitat.
- One-time funding to support treatment of drinking water, and testing and management of contaminated wastes caused by PFAS.
Office of the Governor
We also support the proposed initiative to create two special assistant policy positions in the Governor’s Office. With the dismantlement of the State Planning Office nearly ten years ago, the Governor’s Office has had significantly less staff capacity to support policy development, coordination, and management. The Change Package initiative helps provide additional capacity that can assist Maine’s legislative and policy development process.
- Two Governor’s Special Assistant positions to support policy analysis and development.
I appreciate this opportunity to testify and would be glad to answer any questions you may have for the work session.