Friday, June 23, 2017

Protecting our environment by Rep. Jess Fay

I learned to swim in the clear, cool water of Maine’s lakes. When I was a little girl, I could see the bottom so clearly, that the logs that sunk on the old log drives were easily visible. Generations of my family learned to swim by climbing on the rocks and jumping off. The water is still clear, but nutrient runoff and warmer temperatures have changed things. Those rocks now have a thin layer of algae on them that make them slippery and hard to climb on without a firm grip.

Many of us have stories like that, changes that we’ve seen over something as short as just a generation. We are lucky in Maine, though. We have one of the most beautiful, pristine environments anywhere and we benefit greatly from it. It is part of our Maine “brand” and makes Maine particularly special. People come from all over the world to enjoy Maine. Tourism is one of our biggest industries, with almost 34 million tourist visits in 2015. 

Visitors spent about $5.5 billion and tourism employs about 90,000 Mainers. If we want to keep and attract new residents, one of our best selling points is our quality of place, our quality of life. Our clean natural surroundings offer other important benefits.  

Our fisheries and our agriculture, with iconic Maine products like blueberries and lobster, and each depend on the purity of our environment. A lot of that is under threat though from outside our borders. Climate change is already impacting things here. Our average temperature has risen 3 degrees Fahrenheit since 1895, and we are seeing fewer shrimp, more ticks and mosquitos, and more severe storms. Continued warming of the Gulf of Maine will pose a greater and greater risk to our lobster industry. 

These impacts can cause secondary problems, too. More storms bring more erosion of our shoreline: more gully-washers that carry more silt and other runoff into our lakes and rivers. These pose threats to both fish habitat and water quality. More bugs aren’t just a nuisance problem; they mean greater risk of contracting Lyme disease, West Nile virus and other serious illnesses. 

Another threat from outside comes from Washington. Much of our efforts to protect our natural resources here in Maine are funded by grants from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but the federal budget, proposed by the Trump administration, calls for cutting EPA funding by 31 percent. While no one at this point knows exactly where these possible federal cuts will end up, the results could be very problematic for Maine. Cuts in funding will impact a wide variety of programs, including funding for the important research that drives good environmental policy. 

Withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord is dangerous, not just for Maine, but for everyone.  The actions laid out may well be the last best hope for preventing the earth’s temperature from rising to a critical, catastrophic point. 

Maine has historically recognized the importance of our environment and worked hard to protect it. Concerning combatting climate change, we were early adopters of a “cap and trade” system, which seeks to lower carbon emissions through market forces. The system, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (REGGI), started in 2008. In addition to the carbon reductions that come directly from REGGI, the money it generates goes to fund Efficiency Maine, which further lowers emissions by increasing the energy efficiency of Maine homes and businesses. Maine is also moving toward greater use of cleaner fuels, like natural gas, and renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind and biomass. 

All of this means, despite changes in Washington, that Maine at least is doing its part to meet the goals of the Paris accord. We need to do more, though. We need to build on structures like REGGI, where we work with other states to collectively do all we can to reduce emissions and stay within the goals of the Paris Accord. 

We also need to do more at the state level to prevent pollution here if the proposed EPA cuts come to pass and Maine should lose that funding. We need to build a strong clean energy industry here in Maine and make clean energy a part of our Maine brand. And we must keep up the pressure on our federal representatives to reverse the U. S. withdrawal from the Paris Accord, and to maintain EPA funding that is critical to Maine. Maine’s environment is integral to our way of life and who we are. I am determined to do all I can to protect it, now and for the future.
Fay is serving her first term in the Maine Legislature and represents part of Casco, part of Poland and part of Raymond.  She serves on the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

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