By Rep. George Hogan
August 1, 2008
Despite being a coastal state, there are only a few places in Maine where you can wake up and take a walk on the beach at sunrise. It’s one of the things I love the most about living in Old Orchard Beach, and our community has worked hard to keep the beach beautiful.
A walk down the beach towards the pier includes the sight of a fenced-off area for the piping plovers. These stout little birds, which were designated as an endangered species by the state in 1986, have gained some media attention recently, since state wildlife officials are extending the essential habitat zones on our beach.
I thought a lot about these birds this session at the State House. Even though you might have heard more about budgets and administrative school consolidation, this was a time of monumental progress in protecting Maine’s environment. First, the endangered and threatened species lists were updated for the first time in over a decade. These lists provide an important measuring stick of our state’s ecosystem as a whole and our efforts to manage both development and pollution.
We also paved the way for more homes, businesses, and communities to make the switch to alternative forms of energy by creating rebate and tax credit programs for installing solar panels or geothermal heating systems. Additional legislation expanded prohibitions on the use of lead, mercury, and dangerous chemicals such as phthalates and bisphenol-A found in day-to-day household items and children’s toys, which besides posing a risk to our families, end up in dumps and landfills and can harm our wildlife and ecosystem.
Perhaps the biggest environmental achievement of this Legislature was that Maine signed onto the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). This is an agreement between Maine and nine other northeastern states to reduce global warming pollution and encourage the use of renewable energy sources. As a region, we are the seventh-largest carbon emitters in the world.
RGGI was crafted with the help of both environmental and business leaders from throughout the state. It sets a goal of decreasing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 10 percent below the current levels by the year 2019. Without the RGGI agreement, it’s estimated that those emissions would increase by 30 percent.
The RGGI plan establishes a cap on the amount of carbon dioxide the largest fossil fuel generating units can emit. These power plants will have to buy carbon credits at a regional auction, and the revenue will be used to boost energy efficiency efforts and lower energy costs for consumers. This includes big industry and manufacturing companies. As businesses and power plants reduce their emissions, they can sell off the carbon credits they’re no longer using to other fossil fuel power users. Ultimately, it means that the big electricity consumers in Maine and the other states will pay more when they choose to use fossil and other high-polluting fuels, and over time, will decrease their dependence on this type of energy in favor of environmentally-friendly fuels.
I’m sure you’re wondering what all of this has to do with our local piping plovers. All of these news laws and policies are aimed at the elimination of pollution, dangerous chemicals, and the slowing of global warming, which, according to state and federal officials, the National Wildlife Federation and the National and Maine Audobon Societies, are significant threats to these birds.
Now, it might seem like these little birds hopping along our beach don’t matter much in the scheme of things. But in Old Orchard’s tourist-driven economy, the health of piping plovers is a major indicator of the well-being of our beach’s eco-system. And if their habitat is being threatened by pollution, over-development or coastal erosion, it means our economy is also in trouble. Building and maintaining the piping plover population and other coastal wildlife are key to the future of our community.
If I can provide any more information about state efforts towards energy efficiency and environmental protection, please feel free to give me a call at 934-0492, or catch me walking along the beach, admiring the piping plovers.
Rep. George Hogan is a second-term legislator representing Old Orchard Beach and Ocean Park.