Into the Wild: Maine Climate Council recommendations taking shape

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If you sift long enough through the enormous pile of muck that is the 2020 news cycle, you may find a few small nuggets of gold. Perhaps the biggest and shiniest nugget in Maine this year is the progress of the Maine Climate Council.

I used this space a few months ago to share that the council was forging ahead with its task to develop a Climate Action Plan despite the coronavirus, and I want to update you now that certain of the draft recommendations are becoming public.

By way of a quick recap, the council was created last year by Gov. Janet Mills and is tasked with developing a plan by the end of this year to meet Maine’s bold climate benchmarks: carbon neutrality by 2045, greenhouse gas emissions 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

For months, representatives from Maine industries, municipalities, scientific organizations, conservation groups, tribes, labor groups, and others have met in issue-specific working groups to develop recommendations for inclusion in the final plan. The working groups made their recommendations to the council in June; it will now debate what goes into the final Climate Action Plan.

These recommendations are where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. These are the policies that, if adopted and implemented, will help Maine meet its climate goals. There are a lot of recommendations (a full list is available at https://climatecouncil.maine.gov), but I want to share some highlights.

The Energy Working Group recommended better financing options to help facilitate clean energy. A Green Bank, like those successfully operating in Rhode Island, New York, Connecticut, and other states, may help drive private investment into clean energy technologies and projects in the state.

Emissions from the transportation sector make up more than half of Maine’s carbon dioxide emissions, so improvements here are critical. The Transportation Working Group recommends significant investment in electric vehicle infrastructure, hoping to have EVs make up 70 percent of light vehicles by 2030. The Working Group also recommended continued participation in the regional Transportation and Climate Initiative to work with neighboring states on shared funding and solutions.

The Buildings, Infrastructure and Housing Working Group recommends bolstering affordable housing using local manufacturing. New technologies included in homes built with local supplies and local labor will help grab the low-hanging fruit of home energy efficiency while also putting Mainers to work.

Headlining the recommendations from the Natural and Working Lands Working Group is the creation of an annual fund to conserve land needed to increase carbon storage, enhance climate adaptation resilience, and secure our natural resource economy. A similar conservation strategy is championed by the Coastal and Marine Working Group, which recommends protecting coastal lands that will be increasingly important as buffers from sea level rise and increased storm surge.

Finally, the Community Resilience Planning, Public Health, and Emergency Management Working Group recommends markedly increasing the amount of support delivered to communities needing to increase climate resilience, and develop funding mechanisms to help.

The Maine Climate Council will debate these and the many other recommendations developed by the working groups before coming up with a final plan in December.

This year has been an absolute nightmare, but we may yet end 2020 with something positive.

Nick Lund of Cumberland is outreach and network manager at Maine Audubon. He has written about nature for the National Audubon Society, Down East, National Parks Magazine, The Washington Post, and others. He can be found online at TheBirdist.com and on Twitter @TheBirdist.