by Pete Didisheim, NRCM Senior Director of Advocacy
Senator Boyle, Representative Welsh, and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources. My name is Pete Didisheim, I am the Advocacy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, and I appreciate this opportunity to testify in support of LD 825.
NRCM believes that Maine needs to get back on track in addressing the threat of climate to our economy, public health, infrastructure and environment. We need to redouble our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and we need to restart our work to identify and implement adaptation strategies that reduce the risks we will face due to a warming planet.
Several years ago, Maine was broadly considered to be a leader in addressing the threat of climate change. In 1995 we were ahead of the curve in creating an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions. In 2003 we were the first state to pass a climate change law with specific reduction goals, and in 2004 the Maine DEP released Maine’s Climate Action Plan, based on broad stakeholder input. We helped craft the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) program, adopted in 2007. And in 2010 we created a report on adaptation, titled, “People and Nature: Adapting to a Changing Climate.”
But Maine’s leadership position has dissipated. The current Administration has made clear that climate change is not a priority and it has terminated some climate initiatives. The words “climate change” almost never are even mentioned by state officials anymore, as if stricken from this Administration’s vocabulary.
As the science and on-the-ground reality of climate change become increasingly obvious around the globe, here in Maine we barely even have a conversation underway about what needs to happen now to prepare for the challenges from sea level rise, ocean acidification, increased heat waves, reduced snowfall, more frequent extreme weather events, and changing forest composition.
LD 825 could help get the conversation going again with the goal of performing the next level of analysis about what needs to be done to help Maine people, communities, businesses, and government plan for the impacts of a changing climate.
The Executive Summary of the 2010 “People and Nature” report had a section titled “We must maintain momentum.” That has not happened. Our momentum has come to a screeching halt, even as states to our south and nations around the world are rapidly increasing their efforts to assess the risks and develop adaptation strategies.
For example, the Massachusetts Climate Change Adaptation Report (September 2011), starts with the following sentence:
Climate change is the greatest environmental challenge of this generation, with potentially profound effects on the economy, public health, water resources, infrastructure, coastal resources, energy demand, natural features, and recreation.
Now there’s a sense of urgency. The report describes the risks of inaction, including an estimate that a sea level rise of 26 inches in Boston by 2050 could cause $463 billion in damages.
Maine also will face huge economic impacts from climate change. LD 825 recognizes that State government has an important role to play in assessing those risks, and working with communities, businesses, and Maine people to implement strategies that help increase our resilience and preparedness in the face of those risks.
Unfortunately, two of the government entities that logically would assume the role of facilitating Maine’s continued work on climate adaptation have been eliminated. The State Planning Office and the interagency Land and Water Resources Council were abolished last year by this Administration.
LD 825 directs DEP to develop a completed plan and any necessary implementing legislation, by February 27, 2015, as follow-up work to the 2010 climate adaptation report. We support this language, and we also believe that the legislature may want to direct the Administration to conduct some specific tasks on a more expeditious timeline.
Specifically, we believe the state should be conducting an inventory and assessment of public infrastructure vulnerability as soon as possible. Strategy B.1.1. in the “People and Nature” report says that “Maine must develop a framework for identifying and cataloguing infrastructure elements at risk of likely foreseeable climate change impacts and effects.” The report recommends creation of a state-level task force to develop an inventory and map of public infrastructure that could be vulnerable due to sea level rise and increased storm events, and to share this information and methodology with local authorities. We believe this work could and should get underway in 2013, and not wait.
We also would support an evaluation by such a work group of state grant-making criteria to make sure that the state is not subsidizing projects that may become vulnerable to climate impacts. Additional near-term tasks might also make sense to include as amendments to LD 825.
Again, NRCM believes this resolve could play an important role in getting Maine back on the track of seriously addressing the risks of climate change, and helping Maine people, communities, and businesses better anticipate and plan for those challenges. I appreciate this opportunity to testify and would be glad to answer any questions that you may have.