This was the most impactful legislative session in recent memory for advancing policies to protect our environment, promote a green energy industry, and fight climate change.
As a member of the Environment & Natural Resources Committee, I believe combating climate change is vital to preserving Maine’s natural resources-based economy and our overall way of life.
That’s why we passed laws to invest in local clean energy projects, reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, stabilize energy costs and support good paying green energy jobs.
One new law strengthens Maine’s Renewable Portfolio Standard by increasing the proportion of electricity solid in Maine that comes from renewable sources, setting the goal of reaching 100 percent use of renewable sources by 2050.
Another new law incentivizes more solar power projects in Maine, and makes it easier for small and medium sized groups to move forward on solar projects. We passed a new law that will boost Maine’s workforce training efforts in the renewable energy sector, support energy conservation, and solar energy generation at Maine schools.
With the federal government pushing to drill for oil off the coast, states must act to push back and protect our beautiful coastline from oil development and subsequently possible oil spills.
I was the lead co-sponsor for successful legislation to prohibit activities relating to offshore oil and natural gas exploration, development and production within Maine waters. While Maine waters only extend three miles from shore, the new law effectively blocks oil drilling in the Gulf of Maine by blocking the transport of oil and gas across state waters to onshore processing facilities. One of the important initiatives my committee championed was hitting the reset button with Native American Tribes. In particular, protecting their sustenance fishing rights while ensuring access to clean rivers.
The Legislature passed a bill that will provide long-sought water quality protections for sustenance fishing for Maine’s four Native American tribes. Ensuring that our rivers don’t contain toxic water contaminants that prevented fish consumption.
I don’t have to tell you that plastics are filling up our oceans and causing long term damage to our ecosystems. We’ve all seen the viral images. Fish and other sea creatures are being found dead with plastics lining their stomachs. It might seem like an impossible task for a little state like Maine to tackle this alone, but we must try and we must start somewhere.
We passed legislation to phase out the use of single-use plastic bags and polystyrene which harms our environment and wildlife. With many towns throughout Maine already passing bans of their own, the business community came to us requesting one consistent policy across the state to make it easier on their operations. It was great to see environmental advocates and representatives of the business community come together for a common purpose.
My fight to take on the corporate control of our water supply had some success this session with the passage of my bill to declare water a public right and necessity. It is the first step in ensuring our Maine water isn’t being taken advantage of by greedy multinational corporate interests, profiting off our natural resource without any equity for Maine people.
Recently, I was appointed to serve on the Maine Climate Council’s coastal and marine working group by Senate President Troy Jackson. This was an effort by Gov. Janet Mills to put us on a path of tackling and mitigating the devastating effects already being felt of climate change. This working group will study and make recommendations regarding the effects of climate change on Maine’s coast and marine resources.
Representing two coastal communities of Saco and Old Orchard Beach along with my service on the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, made me a perfect candidate to join the coastal and marine working group of the council. Climate change is a direct threat to our entire way of life here in Maine. We must work to find sustainable solutions that will protect Maine’s beautiful coastline from rising sea levels, lobstering and fishing industries from warming waters, and our entire economy.
The Maine Climate Council is charged with developing action plans to: Reduce Maine’s greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050, increase Maine’s Renewable Portfolio Standard from the current 40 percent to 80 percent by 2030 and a 100 percent energy by 2050, create new incentives for energy-efficient heating, and institute new solar incentive programs. Beginning in 2021, the Climate Council will share information annually about its findings and recommendations, including any possible legislation. Looking forward to beginning this vital work this fall.
There are many other important wins from incentives for electric vehicle purchases, municipal recycling reforms, to an expansion of programs aimed at getting heat pumps installed in homes throughout the state all due in part to the strong advocacy of grassroots organizations from the Environmental Priorities Coalition.
Many folks ask ‘what can I do’? I’m working with the Sierra Club Maine to start a Climate Action Team in Saco. Climate Action Teams are organizing throughout Maine to implement positive localized solutions including community solar projects, solar panels on school or town buildings, developing a town energy efficiency plan, advocating for public transportation, launching recycling/ compost programs, & more.
Our first meeting is Tuesday Aug. 27 at 6:30 p.m. at the Saco train station.
Justin Chenette is serving his second term in the Maine Senate representing Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Hollis, Limington and Buxton. He is the chair of the Government Oversight Committee, co-chair of the Democracy Reform Caucus, and a member of the Environment & Natural Resources & Ethics Committees. He is also a Citizen Trade Policy Commissioner. Outside the Legislature, Justin is a Realtor with the Bean Group, Marketing Coordinator of Saco Sport & Fitness, and is Vice President of Saco Main Street. Follow updates at www.justinchenette.com.
Beyond the Headlines
Weekly Column featured in The Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier Newspaper by Rep. Justin Chenette of Saco