Editorial: Steady progress

The last two weeks saw a flurry of activity in Maine related to climate change. Two weeks ago, students throughout the state conducted the second Youth Climate Strike of the year, often joined by allies of all ages. Last Monday, Governor Mills addressed the Climate Action Summit at the United Nations General Assembly and announced an executive order “to strengthen Maine’s economy and achieve carbon neutrality by 2045.” Three days later, the new Maine Climate Council met for the first time in Hallowell.

It’s important to remember that Maine leaders have been engaged in this work for some time now. In 1995, we were the first state to conduct a statewide greenhouse gas inventory. Then, a 2003 Maine law required the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to create a Climate Action Plan for Maine with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2010 and 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. The 2010 goal was met, according to the DEP, and the state is on track to meet or exceed the 2020 goal.

Between the new laws passed this year by the Legislature, the governor’s executive order and the work facing the new Climate Council, a lot of numbers get thrown around.

The same bill that created the Climate Council, sponsored by Republican Senator David Woodsome of York County and now signed into law, updated the greenhouse gas emissions targets from the 2003 law. The new targets for the state’s gross annual greenhouse gas emissions are 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

This is the most important, and the hardest to achieve, of the various metrics in the mix. The other measures, all enshrined somewhere in law or executive action, have to do with what percentage of the state’s electricity is coming from renewable sources, whether we’re a net exporter of energy and whether we’re a carbon neutral, or net zero, economy.

Our own Rep. Brian Hubbell sponsored LD658, also now law, directing the governor’s Energy Office to develop plans for the state to become a net exporter of energy by 2030.

It’s theoretically possible to achieve that goal without reducing emissions at all, by developing more energy generation, say in offshore wind. But the work may well help clear the path for the longer-term problem of emissions reductions, especially since the first reports from the Energy Office will be due nearly a year before the first Climate Council report, in time to help inform the work of that group.

Congratulations to all the stakeholders who helped the state meet the goals set nearly two decades ago, and best of luck to all those working on how we can continue to lead.

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