Maine utility regulators can’t consider climate in their decisions. A bill headed to the governor can change that
Maine utility regulators will be able to consider the state’s long-term climate goals in their decision-making under a proposal headed to the governor’s desk.
The legislation represents a major expansion in the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s mission, which until now has focused primarily on ensuring energy reliability and affordability.
The bill also requires state officials to define “environmental justice populations,” “frontline communities,” and related terms so they might also be added as decision-making criteria later.
The wider scope is expected to improve the case for investing in newer technologies, such as heat pumps or electric vehicles, which the state is counting on to meet its climate goals — but which also come with significant upfront costs. Gov. Janet Mills signed legislation in 2019 calling on the state to decrease emissions by 45% by 2030 and 80% by 2050.
Originally, the bill would have required utility regulators to consider equity and environmental justice in their decisions. The measure was dropped in recent weeks after testimony revealed a lack of clarity over definitions that some worried could make the commission’s decisions more vulnerable to lawsuits.
“The equity piece is still in there; it’s just in a different form,” bill sponsor Rep. Victoria Doudera said. The original equity component is a “noble goal,” she said. “But what we realized in the public hearing was that the definitions … really require a lot of study and careful thought.”
While the idea of broadening regulators’ decision-making criteria is still new in many states, “we think as we move more toward electrification and decarbonization, any PUC in any state will need to consider climate and equity in whatever decisions that they make,” said Jeff Marks, who directs policy in Maine for Acadia Center. Massachusetts’ recent climate law expands utility commissioners’ scope there to include both climate and equity considerations.
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