Maine has been a leader in clean energy and efficiency, and will use an existing program to further cut greenhouse gas emissions to meet the first national carbon emission limit proposal — released yesterday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — which aims to reduce carbon pollution from the power sector by 30% nationally and by about 14% in Maine by 2030.
"Shifting the whole U.S. from dirty fuels like coal plays to Maine's advantage," Lisa Pohlmann, executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, told reporters on a conference call after the EPA announced the new rules. Those rules come on the heels of the U.S. government's third National Climate Assessment. That assessment found that global warming will increase the likelihood of extreme weather events and flooding in the Northeast, contribute to significant sea level rise and further threaten marine fisheries.
Power plants account for an estimated 40% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, making them the largest source of carbon pollution, which is linked to climate change. President Barack Obama has asked the EPA to make the rules final in June 2015. States would have at least a year after that to submit plans on how they would achieve the reductions.
Maine plans to comply by using the existing Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a collaboration among Maine and eight other New England and Mid-Atlantic states.
RGGI, known as "Reggie," has cut carbon pollution from power plants in the northeast by 40% since 2008 and generated more than $30 million for energy efficiency investments in Maine, according to a joint press statement from Environment Maine, the Natural Resources Council of Maine and the Maine Conservation Alliance.
Maine's goal under the new EPA regulations is to reduce the 2012 emission rate of 437 pounds per megawatt hour to 378 pounds per megawatt hour by 2030, according to EPA figures.
That could mean both jobs and savings to Maine, according to Pohlmann. She said that the lifetime savings from RGGI could be more than $250 million. "That's huge for Maine," she said during the press briefing. "RGGI can continue to provide these economic benefits for us." To date, she said, Maine's Gross State Product has grown by $100 million because of RGGI.
Emery Deabay, a representative of the United Steel Workers Local 1188, said RGGI helped steel mills that used to burn coal and No. 6 fuel oil change to natural gas and wood chips, reducing their carbon footprint. "There's a chance to add jobs," he said, though he noted that so far RGGI has not helped create jobs in mills like his, but has saved jobs.
Maine will be allowed to meet the federal standards by continuing RGGI. "Under RGGI we may continue to make tweaks going forward," Pohlmann said. "We're not expecting big changes in Maine under RGGI. Under the EPAs new standards, we expect the rest of the country to catch up with us."
Continuing with RGGI also is expected to help improve air quality and public health by reducing mercury, smog and soot from power plants.
That's also critical to the fishing industry, Mark Green, an oceanographer from Saint Joseph's College and oyster farmer, told the press briefing. "The Gulf of Maine is Ground Zero for ocean acidification," he says.
Ocean acidification is caused by carbon dioxide dissolving into the ocean to create carbonic acid, which lowers the pH of the ocean, making it more acidic. Fish shells already are dissolving, he said, adding, "These steps today … are a huge step forward."
Maine independent U.S. Sen. Angus King, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree and Democratic gubernatorial candidate and U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud issued statements supporting the proposed limits.
However, not everyone welcomed the EPA's proposal with open arms. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a report saying the regulations could cost consumers $289 billion more for electricity through 2030, and National Mining Association President and Hal Quinn called the new limits "overzealous" in an opinion piece in USA Today.
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