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Subcommittee of Gov. Mills’ Climate Council recommends payments, transportation and childcare for Mainers who attend meetings

As part of Maine’s Climate Council, which is working to implement a four-year plan to decrease the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent in 2030 and 80 percent in 2050, the Equity Subcommittee (ESC) released a set of initial recommendations in a report published in February 2022.

The focus of the ESC, one of several of the climate council’s subcommittees, involves supporting “ongoing planning and implementation of the state’s climate strategies to ensure shared benefits across diverse populations in Maine.” This goal is reflected in the recommendations made in its report, which focus on equity in steps the state may take to address climate change.

The subcommittee’s working definition of equity “recognizes that equal distribution of resources (funding, pollution reduction, etc.) is insufficient for addressing climate change impacts.” Instead, the subcommittee defines an equitable system as one that provides “increased resources to disadvantaged communities, noting that the risks and effects of climate change disproportionately fall upon these communities.” Climate policies, according to the committee, should “increase wellbeing, and address root causes of inequality, not exacerbate existing burdens.”

The report further defines distributive equity as an equitable distribution of environmental benefits and burdens, procedural equity as equitable planning and implementation, contextual or historical equity as that which draws attention to the root causes of social disparities, and corrective equity as that which recognizes inequities and seeks to address them.

The report includes approximately 57 recommendations for steps the subcommittee believes the state can take to address climate change. Each recommendation was developed through a framework that asked a number of questions, including who the most marginalized populations are, whether the policy would ensure short-term and long-term equitable outcomes, whether there is enough data available to understand the issue, whether public health has been considered, the implications for Maine’s emission levels, whether there are barriers to access or participation that have not been accounted for, whether cultural considerations are essential to the success of the recommendation, whether historical inequities are being addressed, and whether impacts outside Maine have been considered.

The ESC identified three themes that apply across all its recommendations. These include prioritizing disadvantaged and frontline communities, ensuring economic gains from climate change mitigation go to communities in need and don’t widen inequalities, and creating processes that support “meaningful participation by members of Maine’s disadvantaged and frontline communities.”

The report also identified four “cross-cutting recommendations” that it says apply across the rest of its recommendations. The first of these is related to climate communications. 

“The state, through its climate communications and equity work, should foster shared ownership and prosperity in the climate transition and should give voice to diverse understanding of climate action and impacts,” the report notes.

The second of these is related to procedural equity and notes that all state policy and programs should enable “equitable participation from disadvantaged and historically underserved communities.”

The ESC also makes suggestions for what equitable participation might include, such as providing stipends to “frontline and disadvantaged communities for their time, which can help members of these communities take time off work or away from other critical activities to participate in decision making processes.” 

Other suggestions include providing transportation and childcare to “allow overburdened Maine people to attend meetings and participate in climate decision processes,” providing materials in languages other than English and using plain language in official communications, including representatives from groups impacted by policies to participate in their design, using social media to engage communities in decision making and market existing programs, and adjusting meeting times and locations, as well as considering remote participation in meetings. The ESC also recommends that, where possible, consensus-building approaches should drive decision making.

The ESC’s third overarching recommendation is to offer point-of-sale rebates for clean energy. “All rebates which are offered for cleaner heating, transportation, or related goods and services should be offered point-of-sale (vs mail in/reimbursement). Capital expenses are a barrier to the participation of low- and moderate-income households,” the report states. 

The ESC also notes the Efficiency Maine Trust (EMT) already uses point-of-sale rebates for electric vehicle sales, residential lighting, and on other purchases. The report acknowledges that geographical challenges could potentially be a problem in more rural parts of the state, as this approach requires a local vendor to register for the program.

The report’s fourth overarching recommendation is to establish a working group to “improve the coordination and provision of comprehensive social services to every low-income or otherwise vulnerable household in Maine, including weatherization services.”

The ESC suggests this working group should consider adopting a “crisis to thrive” scale, and adopt a centralized database to “enable coordinated provision of services.” The report also recommends the state look at existing programs, such as Maine’s Community Action Partnership Agencies, for resources.

Other recommendations within the report are organized around strategies identified in Maine’s climate action plan. These address different sectors of the economy, including transportation, building, energy, and infrastructure.

Within the transportation sector, the ESC recommends exploring opportunities to make “clean light duty vehicle purchases and ownership affordable for low-income disadvantaged Mainers.” To accomplish this, the report suggests the Department of Transportation (DOT) and EMT consider a loan loss reserve pilot program for various types of clean, efficient vehicles. It also suggests the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) consider a rebate for or reduction of the excise tax on electric vehicles for low-income owners, and expanding access to clean transportation and clean heating programs for low-income Mainers to “include any household or individual participating in any state or federal means-tested program.”

Other recommendations include expanding access to electric vehicle charging near low-income housing, creating a green vehicle fleet of school buses, and incentivizing shared and active transportation. Programs the ESC recommends the DOT consider for shared and active transportation include a targeted e-bike sharing program for low-income individuals, studying the development of programs like electric ferries and shared rides using existing transit methods.

The report also recommends the state encourage employers to maintain remote working and provide support to low-income workers who do not have access to broadband or space in which to work. 

Within the housing sector, the ESC recommends the development of pilot programs aimed at improving the state’s rental stock utilizing clean building and renewable energy. It also recommends the state conduct a comprehensive housing assessment to identify homes that are energy inefficient, structurally unfit, unable to access weatherization or need to be retrofitted, and suggests the state distribute resources to communities most in need of upgrades.

Other recommendations include collaboration between the state and municipalities to increase access to shared services for the development and enforcement of building codes. 

Within the energy sector, the ESC recommends communities that are home to large-scale renewable projects be engaged during their design and receive “local, community-identified benefits” from them. The subcommittee also recommends state agencies like the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) develop a process for factoring equity into the review of large-scale renewable energy projects and infrastructure improvements.

The report also recommends the state switch from opt-in models of community participation in renewable energy projects, such as solar, to opt-out, and develop a program to allow homeowners to borrow money for energy, heating, and weatherization upgrades to their homes. The loan would be repaid via the customer’s utility bill.

In growing Maine’s clean energy economy, the ESC recommends the state study the demographics of Maine’s natural heritage industries, such as farming, fishing and forestry, and look for ways to reduce barriers of entry and diversify those industries while creating job security for existing workers. It makes a similar recommendation for the clean energy sector. 

Other recommendations relate to the development of sustainable agriculture and ways the state can protect Maine’s farmers and food supply chain from the effects of climate change. The report recommends any solution for doing so also improve access to food for all residents, but especially disadvantaged communities. The report also suggests the state support “natural heritage industries in pursuit of value-added environmentally friendly certifications, such as Benefit Corporations and Certified Organic, as well as ownership structures, including cooperatives.”

The ESC also recommends the state explore “distribution of green space and access to it, especially in historically disadvantaged communities,” and the creation of a “sliding-scale state park pass program to increase affordability for low-income families.” The report also recommends the state explore equity in access to the Land for Maine’s Future program and in the awarding of natural resource grants.

The state should also consider “just principles for climate, environmental, and socioeconomic data collection and ownership through the climate research and monitoring hub and in state agency climate research and monitoring work,” the report recommends. This, the report says, should be done in a way that encourages transparency and builds trust. The report also suggests data should be disaggregated based on socio-demographic factors, should be shared in an accessible way, such as through an information exchange, and should value the role of traditional economic knowledge. 

The ESC further makes several recommendations related to the development of communities resilient to the effects of climate change. One recommendation involves the development of a natural hazard emergency alert system. Others include creating more local data about air quality and working to reduce vehicle idling.

Other recommendations relate to building infrastructure, such as wells, that are resilient to climate change. The ESC makes general recommendations related to funding for infrastructure planning and design and helping communities raise funding for long-term infrastructure projects. 

Finally, the ESC makes several recommendations related to engaging people and communities in the impacts of climate change and creating a “social resilience framework.” 

One recommendation suggests the state and its partners should offer engagement opportunities that are “accessible across all forms of media” and are “delivered through trusted partners to reach frontline populations.”

The report also recommends the state explore opportunities to use climate communications to build psychological resilience to climate change.

“This should include access to free psychological resilience resources related to climate-driven trauma for community members, municipal officials, businesses, healthcare systems, schools, and other entities about the effects of climate change,” the report notes. 

Between now and September, the group will work to refine its recommendations, identify priority programs and actions, and identify partners to implement priority recommendations. It will also identify ways to monitor “equitable implementation” of the recommendations in the state’s climate action plan.

From October to December, the group will develop its final equity report for presentation to the climate council.