Maine’s climate change leadership found a new focus in 2019 with the inauguration of Governor Janet Mills, who based her pre-election campaign on strong environmental and climate goals, science, economics, and her conviction that Maine could take a leadership role in reducing U.S. carbon emissions and building a clean energy economy.
The new governor went to work and influenced sustainability policy and decision making at state, regional, national, and international levels.
“Maine Can’t Wait” became the Mills motto and call to action, affirming Maine’s mission, commitment, urgency, and purpose, echoed in energy policies and initiatives, across public, private and nonprofit sectors, mainland and island communities, educational institutions, and businesses of all types and sizes throughout the state.
She immediately formed the Maine Climate Council, where she assembled teams of Maine experts to frame plans that would meet the needs of Mainers and ensure their future. She selected Hannah Pingree of North Haven, a midcoastal island, to head the Office of Policy Innovation and Future and co-chair the Climate Council, to create Maine’s strategic plan for a clean energy economy and offset negative climate impacts. The plan was completed a year later, in December 2020, on schedule.
Efficiency Maine, a state agency, supplements the Maine Climate Council’s work by connecting consumers with approved energy contractors and dealers, aided by rebates, loans and other economic incentives for residences, businesses, industries, and municipalities. This serves to implement infrastructure goals, including LED lighting, heat pumps, wood and pellet stoves, heating equipment and systems, electric vehicles, vehicle charging stations, insulation, and weatherization.
State nonprofits influence Maine’s energy and environmental sustainability. Maine Conservation Voters, in the capital of Augusta, evaluates Maine’s senators and representatives on high environmental voting standards in its annual nonpartisan report, A Climate to Thrive. On Mount Desert Island, advocates for grassroots efforts such as community solar energy, vehicle charging stations, and pledge programs that lower carbon footprints, plastic and single use waste, and it offers youth advocacy and internship programs. The Island Institute, in Rockland, offers diverse educational, small business, and energy team programs, grants, and a coveted Island Fellows program for recent college and university graduates, and environmental impact studies for Maine’s coastal and island communities. And climate advocacy work is happening through Sierra Club, Nature Conservancy, and 350 Downeast chapters.
Maine island, coastal and mainland communities work on energy, conservation and sustainability at the municipal level and through community action teams and town committees. The Mid-coast has the D94 Group, District 94 residents sharing sustainability ideas and serving on town committees; one of its members is State Representative Victoria Doudera, serving Camden, Islesboro and Rockport, first on the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, and now on the Environmental and Natural Resources Committee.
Islesboro, a mid-coast island community with under 600 year-round residents, has been involved in sustainability more than a decade, with organizations devoted to energy, the environment, protection of open spaces, native species and natural habitats, clean air, soil and water, like the Islesboro Energy Team (IET), the Islesboro Energy Committee (IEC), Islesboro Islands Trust (IIT), and Pesticide Safety on Islesboro (PSI). IET is known statewide for its Islesboro Energy Conference and community action programs. IEC handles municipal energy efficiency in many areas. It has retrofitted street lighting with LEDs, installed solar power to supply electricity for town operations, air- sealed and weatherized the Islesboro town hall which includes offices, a health center, fire and police station, and is continuing with even more plans for the coming year for both the town library and transfer station buildings. More broadly, the IEC is framing a strategic plan that aligns with Maine Climate Council objectives.
Maine’s colleges and universities including College of the Atlantic (COA), Bates, Bowdoin, Colby, Unity, and the University of Maine system offer interdisciplinary programs and student action groups that focus on climate change. Among the impressive facilities and offerings in Maine were:
- COA and Colby were ranked among the top college sustainability programs nationally in 2019,
- UMaine’s Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions has over 40 professors and interns working to meet its public service objectives, and
- UMaine’s Aqua Ventus wind turbine initiative is developing offshore wind prototypes, adding to wind turbines on the Fox Islands and at Camden Regional High School already at work.
Maine is making a strong impact on climate change, sustainability and green economic growth efforts across the entire New England region. Its organizations, businesses, nonprofits, grassroots groups and legislative bodies are working to overcome widespread barriers to efficiency, sustainability and environmental justice with leadership, regional responsibility and influence, and Maine is committed to meeting its share of New England’s climate change and sustainability needs.
It’s clear Maine can’t wait and Mainers are aware that the state’s wide-ranging sustainability initiatives are already having an impact abating greenhouse gas emission and are also developing a skilled transitional workforce and economy for Maine’s future.
Toby Martin lives in Islesboro, ME, where he works locally and statewide to strengthen Maine’s clean energy sustainability. A founding member of the Islesboro Energy Team and the Islesboro Energy Committee, he also coordinates the Islesboro Energy Conference, and he contributes to Green Energy Times as a writer and member of its new Maine distribution team.
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