Maine Passes Carbon Dioxide Law

Published October 1, 2003

Maine Governor John Baldacci on June 26 signed LD 845, “An Act to Provide Leadership in Addressing the Threat of Climate Change,” which requires the development of a long-term plan for cutting the state’s carbon dioxide emissions.

The Maine law follows greenhouse gas reduction plans in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont that were implemented independent of the legislative process.

“I am proud that Maine leads the nation in setting responsible climate change goals,” said Baldacci. “Maine’s law paves the way for others to join us in a responsible approach to address the risks of global warming.”

The new law requires the state to create a climate change action plan by July 2004 to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by 2010; 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020; and ultimately by as much as 80 percent. The goals are similar to those set by the Kyoto Protocol, which a U.S. Senate resolution rejected by a vote of 95-0 in 1997. Observers say the measure “has no teeth for implementation,” but bears watching.

While the specifics of the climate change plan have yet to be determined, it is expected Maine will allow companies that cut emissions below their quotas to sell carbon emissions credits to companies having a more difficult time reaching compliance.

“We’re not mandating a command-and-control approach as to how we’re going to get these emissions down,” said Rep. Ted Koffman (D-Bar Harbor), who sponsored the bill. “It could be that in certain cases a regulatory approach would be the most effective and appropriate way of achieving some piece of our overall goal. In other cases, it may be education or technical assistance that is needed.”

High Price to Pay

According to critics of the new law, the state is forcing consumers to pay a steep price for a largely symbolic statement.

According to a study released in March by The Heartland Institute, reaching Maine’s 2020 emissions goal is likely to cost the average Maine household more than $6,300 per year in higher-priced goods and services and lost income. The state government could lose more than $400 million in tax revenue each year.

The Pine Tree State’s economic suffering will have no measurable impact on climate. Computer models project worldwide implementation of the Kyoto Protocol would reduce global temperatures over the next century by just 0.13º Celsius. By going it alone, Maine will carry the full economic burden of Kyoto while affecting global temperatures in a way far too small to measure.

“Global warming legislation puts state lawmakers on a collision course with ballooning deficits and more budget shortfalls,” warned Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast, who coauthored the March study. “Almost all states are facing economic uncertainty right now, and even the worst-case global warming scenarios suggest the benefits of global warming legislation are far outweighed by the cost.”

Symbol vs. Substance

Despite the legislation’s steep economic price and negligible impact on climate, Baldacci found support for the law from Maine’s Congressional delegation.

“The signing of this law should provide impetus for the Senate to consider the Climate Stewardship Act, legislation I cosponsored to establish a cap-and-trade system to reduce (carbon dioxide) emissions,” said Republican Senator Olympia Snowe.

Susan Collins, also a Republican, expressed hope the U.S. Senate will take Maine’s lead and pass similar legislation at the federal level. “Climate change is a serious and growing threat,” said Collins. “The most important thing we can do to combat global warming is to take concrete steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That is why I recently joined Senators Jeffords and Lieberman to introduce the Clean Power Act.”

Nevertheless, some state legislators vowed to revisit the law if it fails to be cost-effective.

“When the plan gets reviewed before the (legislative) committee, I will pursue … what are your cost-effective decisions here,” warned Rep. Robert Daigle (R-Arundel), who is also an environmental consultant. “The state doesn’t have all the money it wants, so every decision made to pursue something that’s not cost-effective is taking money away from a social program, a bridge that needs repair, or something else that’s compelling.”

James M. Taylor is managing editor of Environment & Climate News. His email address is [email protected].

For more information …

on the impact of state greenhouse gas emission control programs, see Heartland Policy Study No. 101, “State Greenhouse Gas Programs: An Economic and Scientific Analysis,” issued in February 2003. The Executive Summary, with links to the full report and state-specific analyses, is available online at