Legislature produces results with work on climate change initiatives

On top of agreeing to divest from fossil fuels, lawmakers pass 10 measures that promise to reduce carbon emissions and adapt to climate impacts.

by | July 25, 2021

Legislators approved up to $10 million annually for the next four years to help advance state and federal climate goals to conserve 30 percent of lands by 2030. Photo by Wendy Almeida.

Last month the U.S. experienced its hottest June on record. Despite enervating heat, the Maine Legislature worked doggedly and passed many measures to advance the state’s Climate Action Plan – a road map to reduce carbon emissions and adapt to climate disruptions. 

Maine drew national recognition as the first state to legislatively commit to divest from fossil fuels (LD 99). Other measures did not grab headlines but could play an important role in helping address the climate crisis. Here are 10 worth noting.

Adopting science-based sea-level rise projections

With significant bipartisan support, the Legislature adopted LD 1572, sponsored by Rep. Lydia Blume (D-York), that requires environmental, defense and emergency management agencies, and the Attorney General’s office, to ensure that laws and rules reflect the Maine Climate Council projection that relative sea level will rise at least 1.5 feet by 2050 and 4 feet by 2100. The agencies also must update land-use laws and practices to enhance community resilience in the face of climate impacts. 

Maine’s Environmental Priorities Coalition, an alliance of 32 environmental and public health groups, identified this measure as a top priority. Having evidence guide policymaking “can seem minor, but that’s exactly what makes it so revolutionary,” said Kathleen Meil, director of policy and partnerships for Maine Conservation Voters. “The science is in the law now.”

Making climate part of utility regulation 

Under LD 1682, the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) must now consider climate in decisions alongside its mandate to ensure safe and adequate service, minimize costs and provide “reasonable” rate regulation of electric, gas and water utilities. The new mandate, sponsored by Rep. Vicki Doudera (D-Camden), also elevates equity concerns across agencies to help reduce energy burdens on vulnerable and underserved communities. These requirements could reshape regulatory decisions as Maine works to electrify its heating and transportation systems, increase renewable generation and modernize its grid. 

Limiting use of hydrofluorocarbons 

Maine joins more than a dozen other “U.S. Climate Alliance” states and the federal Environmental Protection Agency in working to reduce and regulate hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), chemicals used in refrigerants, insulating foams and aerosols that are far more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping atmospheric heat. LD 226, sponsored by Rep. Ralph Tucker (D-Brunswick) in coordination with the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future, will phase in a ban on newly purchased or retrofitted products containing HFCs, complementing the EPA’s work to phase out HFC production and imports. 

Creating a Clean Energy and Sustainability Accelerator 

Recognizing the importance of new funding mechanisms to implement the Climate Action Plan, the Maine Climate Council recommended that the state establish a Clean Energy and Sustainability Accelerator (aka a “Green Bank). This proven model for financing clean energy measures – particularly for low-income residents – will be established within Efficiency Maine Trust under LD 1659, sponsored by Rep. Paige Zeigler (D-Montville). The law positions Maine to benefit from some of the $27 billion that President Biden proposed for a federal Clean Energy and Sustainability Accelerator. Green banks attract private investments as well. 

Helping businesses reduce energy costs and carbon emissions

Another clean energy financing measure will launch as a result of LD 340, sponsored by Sen. Heather Sanborn (D-Portland). The new law, modeled after a program operating in 24 states, permits municipalities to opt in to a Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE) loan program. Local business owners can then secure loans for energy improvements from commercial banks through a special assessment on their property. A residential PACE loan program already operates in Maine, with more than 190 towns participating.

Restoring energy efficiency standards for appliances

Through a measure that will raise appliance efficiency standards, Maine consumers by 2035 could save up to $36 million annually in utility bills while markedly cutting carbon emissions. LD 940, sponsored by Rep. Bill Pluecker (D-Warren), authorizes the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to set minimum efficiency standards, in conjunction with other states, on 10 household and commercial appliances such as computers, faucets and water coolers. The new standards take effect in January 2023. Appliance standards rolled back by the Trump administration may be reinstated under President Biden, but states are taking what Meil called a “belt and suspenders” approach: “We learned why you need a backstop and so we made one … No one wants to buy an inefficient appliance.”  

Accelerating efficiency measures 

Two related bills designed to fund improved energy efficiency and weatherization, sponsored by Sen. Matthew Pouliot (R-Kennebec) and Rep. Chris Kessler (D-South Portland), will be addressed through the COVID funding package approved by the Legislature on July 19. The governor recommended that $50 million of that package go toward improved efficiency, $8 million toward clean energy partnerships and $20 million toward an infrastructure adaptation fund. 

Renewing funding for the Land for Maine’s Future Program

Another proposed bond measure – to renew funding for the popular but long-neglected Land for Maine’s Future Program – received legislative support for a direct appropriation. Rather than passing LD 687 or LD 983, cosponsored by Rep. Patrick Corey (R-Windham) and Cathy Breen (D-Cumberland), legislators approved up to $10 million annually for the next four years, which will help advance state and federal climate goals to conserve 30 percent of lands by 2030

Establishing a Maine Healthy Soils Program 

Agriculture can be a major contributor to carbon emissions unless farmers use regenerative practices. Following the lead of 13 other states, LD 437, sponsored by Sen. Stacy Brenner (D-Cumberland), offers farmers a “one-stop shop” within the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to get information, technical support and funding opportunities needed to improve soil health. No state funds were allocated initially, but it will seek federal, philanthropic and state funding over time. 

Increasing energy storage 

Maine is now the ninth state to establish a deployment target for energy storage with the passage of LD 528, sponsored by Sen. Eloise Vitelli (D-Sagadahoc), which sets goals of 300 megawatts of installed capacity by the end of 2025 and 400 megawatts five years later. A key provision requires that the PUC – by the end of next year – ensure that electricity rate design encourages expanded energy storage by providing incentives to reduce power use at peak times. 

Marina Schauffler

Marina Schauffler

Marina Schauffler is a writer and editor who explores the complex interconnections between ecology and culture. Since 2014, she has written the column “Sea Change” about the challenges of living sustainably in Maine. She holds a Ph.D. in natural resources and a master’s in creative nonfiction writing. Find more of her work at www.naturalchoices.com.


RELATED ARTICLES