One year ago, the Portland Press Herald ran my op-ed (Maine should take part in regional effort to cut transportation pollution, Dec. 29, 2019) calling for Maine to reduce its carbon emissions and transportation costs in “an economical, efficient, and equitable manner.” At that time, a consortium of Northeast and mid-Atlantic states had just announced the Transportation and Climate Initiative regional cap-and-invest plan designed to significantly reduce pollution from cars and trucks and provide critical funding for clean transportation solutions. The Maine Climate Council and its working groups were also rolling on an action plan to tackle the 54 percent of Maine’s greenhouse-gas emissions that emanate from its transportation sector. It was a New Year for environmental hope and progress!

Fast forward to today: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia stepped up and signed an agreement to participate in the Transportation and Climate Initiative. Under the agreement, participating states will focus on their specific priorities, including helping rural and low-income communities in need of more electric cars and trucks, public transit, walkable and bikable neighborhoods, less pollution and a modernized broadband network. In an accompanying statement, eight other states – Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia and even North Carolina committed to continue work on the regional program while pursuing state specific initiatives to reduce emissions and provide clean transportation solutions.

Who’s missing? Maine.

The Maine Climate Council’s report, Maine Won’t Wait: A Four-Year Climate Action Plan, launched earlier this month, highlighted the urgency and scale of our transportation challenges, but failed to deliver adequate solutions. If Maine does not join the Transportation and Climate Initiative, where will the state secure funding for the strategies and actions laid out in the Climate Action Plan? If Maine does not join the conversation, how will we influence development of the model rule and ensure that the Transportation and Climate Initiative works for Maine, especially our rural communities?

Don’t get me wrong, Gov. Mills is and remains a climate leader and led Maine out of eight years of climate denial and rollbacks to steer Maine’s trajectory to more solar, wind, energy efficiency and beneficial electrification in buildings.

Participating in the Transportation and Climate Initiative with our peers across the region should be part of Maine’s transportation solution. By sitting on the sidelines, Maine could miss out on $50 million annually that would bolster our transportation system, support our people and boost our economy. The initiative is the only proposal on the table that guarantees reductions of emissions and provides sufficient, stable and sustainable investments to pay for clean, affordable vehicles, infrastructure and services that benefit all of Maine’s residents.  This is a lost opportunity for leadership on two of Maine’s most critical challenges: reducing pollution from the transportation sector and funding investments to give all Mainers access to affordable, reliable, sustainable transportation options.

It’s important for Maine to participate so we can ensure that the program is designed to benefit the unique needs of a rural state. A recent study details enormous public health benefits from the Transportation and Climate Initiative, including up to $11 billion in annual health benefits, reducing racial health disparities, and avoiding up to 1,100 deaths and 4,700 childhood asthma cases. The Nature Conservancy has documented the clean-energy investments that could be made to expand access and affordability in rural communities using funds that come from a program like the Transportation and Climate Initiative. And surveys indicate that a majority of Mainers support engagement with the Transportation and Climate Initiative.

The good news is that Maine can still participate in the program and receive the cleaner air, improved transportation and strengthened economy that comes with participation – if Gov. Mills signs on in 2021. Maine needs to fully explore every investment opportunity available to create and grow good-paying jobs and rebuild the economy after the COVID-19 pandemic. The Transportation and Climate Initiative’s commitment to direct at least 35 percent of the proceeds to underserved and overburdened communities could send a lifeline to rural parts of the state that are struggling to survive, let alone prosper. It is, once again, a new year for environmental hope and progress. Maine shouldn’t wait for transportation climate action!

Read the full article in the Portland Press Herald here