Archive for March, 2020

Co-Chairing the Transportation Working Group of the Maine Climate Council

Last September I was asked by Joyce Taylor, Chief Engineer at the Maine Department of Transportation, to join her as Co-Chair of the Transportation Working Group of the Maine Climate Council. A tremendous honor, even understanding from the beginning that we had our work cut out for us. (And while climate work is critical, I always say – only half joking – that 95% of the reason I said yes to co-chairing was to have the opportunity to work with Joyce, who’s skills and integrity I greatly admire.)

The Maine Climate Council is the state’s newly legislated and ambitious process — thanks to Gov. Janet Mills’ leadership — to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by 45% by 2030 and 80% by 2050. The initiative intends to do this while at the same time working to address mobility and equity issues in a primarily rural region.

The broader Climate Council is a diverse group consisting of 39 members drawn from a cross-section of Maine government, business, and other stakeholder groups. The Council’s work is supported by the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future and seven subcommittees, also known as working groups. In addition to transportation, these groups are looking at everything from science and technical needs, energy production and distribution, buildings and housing, natural and working lands, coastal and marine issues, and public health and emergency management. We all have been meeting regularly since October 2019 to come up with a series of recommendations to present to the larger Climate Council membership in June of this year.

In Maine, the transportation sector contributes the greatest amount of emissions by far, at 54% of our total GHG pie. Also of significance: of these transportation-related emissions, light-duty passenger cars and trucks produce 59% — well over the majority.

We’ve known for years that transportation is perhaps the hardest nut to crack in terms of climate efforts and culture change—and in some ways, this has led decision-makers to avoid dealing with it altogether. It’s the one sector where emissions have actually increased over time, versus the significant reductions that have been made in the energy sector, for example.

I have to admit I’ve been intimidated by this monster of a process at different points, especially putting it together as we go and on such a tight timeline. Kind of like dealing with climate change itself.

Our group also presents all the challenges of moving together and wrestling with things as a whole; altogether the group includes 30 members, another 30 support staff from the Maine Department of Transportation, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, and the Governor’s Office, plus diverse and interested members of the public.

As Joyce often points out, many of us haven’t worked together before now. And while a few members have worked specifically on climate initiatives, many of us have had to get more fully up to speed on the issues.

Each working group is made up of Climate Council members and additional stakeholder representatives. For example, our Transportation Working Group has four members who are also Climate Council members: Benedict Cracolici from Sappi North America, Matt Marks from the Association of General Contractors, Lori Parham from AARP Maine, Senator Brownie Carson, and Jonathan Rubin of the University of Maine’s Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center. Additional working group members include representatives from the worlds of public transportation, business and freight, municipal and regional planning, engineering and infrastructure, the Maine legislature, and the non-profit sector.

Given our diversity, I’ve been amazed and impressed with how well folks have been willing to listen to new information and to one another during discussions. And how much work and connection has continued between meetings. Even folks with climate expertise have said how much they’ve learned during the process.

As our work has progressed, we have reviewed science and technical information and split into several sub-groups to develop specific strategies. Three of the subgroups touch on the primary users and contributors to the bulk of Maine’s transportation emissions (86% altogether): rural light duty vehicle use, urban/suburban light duty vehicles, and medium & heavy duty trucking. All of these fall under the area of mitigation in the Climate Council’s work. The fourth subgroup has been working on adaptation strategies, aiming to build community resiliency for the climate change that will occur. Additional strategies for other much smaller emissions sources—for example, from the marine sector—have been considered as well. All recommendations are shared with the entire Transportation Working Group, get vetted further, and then are passed on to the whole Council.

Now just to get it all put together as a clear set of recommendations for the Council in June! With the on-set of COVID-19 restrictions, we’ve rapidly moved all our work online and will be continuing our work together in this new format.

Note: most of this content is from contributions I made to a larger Maine Cyclist article by the Bicycle Coalition of Maine’s Assistant Director, Jim Tasse, to be put out later this spring/early summer. You should check that out for more bicycle and pedestrian perspectives!

March 30, 2020 at 6:27 pm Leave a comment


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