The hot, humid day Wednesday was a fitting backdrop to a press conference about climate change. Gathering on the second floor of Portland's City Hall, it didn't take long for beads of sweat to form on speakers' faces. The irony was not lost on Lisa Pohlmann (above, at podium), executive director of the NRCM, or Natural Resources Council of Maine.
"Phew! Nice and warm," Pohlmann said. "That's the problem!"
But Pohlmann has reason to celebrate. For 20 years the NRCM and other groups have made reducing climate change a priority. They've lobbied lawmakers, filed lawsuits against power plants, and engaged citizen support. Pohlmann says President Obama's plan feels like the fruition of those labors.
"We are very pleased that the heart of the president's plan is to ensure that all power plants - new and existing - meet minimum air pollution standards," Pohlmann said.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, power plants are the single largest source of CO2 emissions in the U.S. Environment Maine's Alysha McClain says federal regulations are long overdue.
"Just like we've gotten lead out of gasoline and slashed pollution from our cars and trucks, we can finally clean up dinosaur power plants that currently have a license to pollute," McClain said.
Maine is at the end of the tailpipe for carbon pollution from Midwest powerplants, and environmentalists hope federal limits will translate into better air quality in the state, which has seen a spike in unhealthy air days in recent years. Environmentalists hope that other parts of Obama's plan that focus on energy efficiency - like doubling renewable energy production by 2020 - will raise the bar at the local level.
That's already working in Portland, where David Marshall is a city councilor. "I think this is also a goal that the city of Portland should adopt, and I'll be talking to my colleagues about this in the near future," Marshall said.
While the climate change plan is a bright spot, Maine environmentalists have had a setback in other areas this week. On Monday, Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bill to resume a study on climate change that was halted in 2010. Lisa Pohlmann says the study would determine how Maine should prepare for climate change's effects.
"I mean, we've got to take this seriously," she says, "and it would be great if the state had that permission to go ahead and do that on behalf of us all."
Another blow was a report from the National Academy of Sciences that found Canadian tar sands oil is no more corrosive than other forms of oil. That pulled the rug out from one of environmentalists' prime arguments against the Keystone XL pipeline project.
But Pohlmann brushes off that study, and instead points to President Obama's vow in his climate change plan that he won't approve the Keystone XL pipeline project if it increases CO2 emissions. Pohlmann says the pipeline is an obvious no-go.
"The release of carbon from cutting the Boreal forest, that in and of itself is having a carbon pollution impact," she says. "If then all the rest of us burn all of that oil as our energy source, and there's an abundant amount of it, then we're really going to cook ourselves."
Nationally, some critics call Obama's plan a job killer. But Jeff Marks, the director of E2Tech, an organization that seeks to expand Maine's environmental, energy and clean technology sectors, says his data shows Maine's clean technology sector grew by about 30 percent from 2003 to 2010.
"When you look at data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, it shows that overall employment in Maine during that same period grew less than 1 percent," Marks says.
The Maine State Chamber of Commerce says it hasn't yet determined the impact Obama's climate change plan will have on businesses, but one key area they're looking toward is whether it will reduce energy costs.
Photo: Patty Wight