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Maine may already be ‘carbon neutral’ but nobody knows, despite Gov. Janet Mills’ policy push

Governor Janet Mills signs climate change legislation before a group of supporters at a solar energy facility.

AUGUSTA – Does Maine need the current basket of policies Governor Janet Mills is putting together to achieve first in the nation “carbon neutral” status? While a definitive answer may still be elusive, a number of factors indicate Maine could have actually become carbon neutral under Governor Paul LePage.

When Governor Janet Mills announced to a United Nations Climate Change Panel that she was signing an executive order to make Maine “carbon neutral” by 2045 nobody, even the officials who work for her, could say where Maine stood in regard to emissions and carbon sequestration.

An article published by the Portland Press Herald proved as much a few days later, when the co-chair of Mills’ 39-member Climate Council, Hannah Pingree, told reporter Colin Woodard that nobody has done a ‘carbon budget’ to determine where Maine stands. (Read article here)

A basic inventory of Maine’s carbon dioxide sequestering assets and published estimates from multiple sources on carbon sequestration rates suggest that Maine could already be absorbing more carbon dioxide than we emit.

According to published estimates from multiple sources involved in carbon sequestration, Maine’s forests could sequester in excess of 1 metric ton of carbon dioxide per acre, per year. Some estimates say from 1.1 to 7.7 metric tons of carbon dioxide is sequestered per acre of forest in the northeast. Other estimates put the amount of carbon dioxide sequestered in Maine’s forests from .725 of one ton per acre to 1 to 2 metric tons per acre.

Maine has approximately 17.6 million acres of forest, meaning that Mainers could reasonable expect that Maine sequesters close to 20 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year just through our forests. That number could be low.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration says Maine’s energy related carbon dioxide emissions were about 16.5 million metric tons in 2016, down from 18.1 million metric tons in 2010, when Paul LePage took office.

Simply put, Maine’s millions of acres of forests, on paper, are likely already capturing more carbon dioxide than Maine emits. Even the lowest expert estimate at .725 metric ton of carbon dioxide sequestered per acre puts Maine’s forests at 12.76 million metric tons per acre.

Now, beyond that basic calculation, there is more to consider.

Farmlands, grasslands, and even your lawn and shrubs, capture carbon.

According to Michigan State University, an acre of Michigan corn would sequester .4 to .6 tons of carbon dioxide per acre, net, after calculating out associated carbon emissions.

According to the USDA, Maine only had about 31,000 acres of corn planted in 2018, but USDA statistics say Maine’s 7,600 farms cover more than 1.3 million acres of operating farmland in total. That farmland sequesters hundreds of thousands of additional metric tons of carbon per year at varying levels, which would be estimated in a carbon budget.

Overall, even a park or field with a few trees or grass sequester some carbon. The hundreds of miles of grass, trees and flowers in the median strips of Maine’s highways capture a helpful chunk of carbon as well.

Until a solid accounting of all those assets is put together, Maine’s policy makers will be in the dark as to what policies, if any, are needed to reach Mills’ goal of carbon neutrality.

It’s quite possible that an honest accounting of Maine’s emissions and carbon dioxide sequestration would reveal that Maine achieved carbon neutral status during the LePage era, as Maine’s carbion dioxide emissions declined by about 9% during that period.

The reality that Maine might already be carbon neutral is not stopping environmental activists, however. An article from the Free Press Online which lays out many similar facts to what are here, calls Mills’ push for carbon neutrality “way-too-easy” and “wimpy.”

Some environmentalists are already beginning to discuss ideas that could take Maine well beyond “carbon neutral” status but have serious economic consequences for Mainers.

One official focused on climate change, Kristina Egan of the Greater Portland Council of Governments, is already raising the idea of reorganizing Maine’s cities, towns and villages to put more people in compact areas to connect them with alternate transportation, according to the Portland Press Herald.

Lance Tapley, writing at the Free Press Online, says Michael Kellett of RESTORE: The North Woods suggests cutting back on harvesting trees to maximize additional carbon capture, even if Maine is already carbon neutral.

A significant reduction or restriction on harvesting by the forest industry to advance beyond what Kellett calls Mills’ “wimpy” carbon neutral goal, would have dire consequences for Maine’s forest products industry.

Some lawmakers have continued pushing the idea of gasoline and heating oil taxes under the guise of reducing emissions. Last legislative session a bill was introduced that would have imposed a 40 cent per gallon tax when fully in effect. Other bills proposed variations on fossil fuel taxes and fees. These proposals came as Maine’s carbon dioxide emissions are already seeing significant declines, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Governor Mills is currently negotiating a “cap-and-trade” style regional agreement based on the California model which some say could add 12 to 14 cents on each gallon of gasoline Mainers buy as one of her goals for reducing Maine’s emissions.

With money already appropriated for her climate council and Governor Mills now working on advancing new policies, it doesn’t appear that even a carbon budget confirming that Maine became carbon neutral during the LePage era would slow down the new policies some groups are pushing for.

Whether Maine people will be forced to make even greater sacrifices for the cause of climate change in the coming months and years is a question only Governor Janet Mills and her inner circle could answer right now.

Determining if those sacrifices even need to be made to meet the goal Mills has already laid out could be solved with a carbon budget to show where we stand.

It’s really a question of whether Governor Mills’ goal is what she said it is, or if, as some Mainers worry, the goal is to advance a “climate justice” agenda that will disregard Maine’s current or eventual success in becoming carbon neutral, and continue the advance to achieve greater control over private property and the economy.

While Maine may be the first state in the nation to become carbon neutral, how the environmental left and their coalition of special interest groups react will show the world a lot about the agenda of the environmentalist movement for the future of the United States and the world.

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