Mainers can act to cut global warming: Task force suggests car pooling, fee for gas guzzlers

By Catherine Ivey of the News staff
Copyright 1998 Bangor Daily News
September 25, 1998

BANGOR -- Plant trees instead of grass.  Replace the woodstove with a pellet-burning stove.  Car pool.

These are just a few of the suggestions in a recent draft report by the Maine Climate Change Task Force on how Mainers can join the world in addressing the complex issue of global warming.

The 92-page document, which will be circulated for public discussion this fall, outlines why the task force believes Maine should work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and offers more than 80 concrete actions on just how to do that.

Some recommendations, such as car pooling, have been discussed before.  Others, such as implementing a registration fee for gas guzzlers like sport utility vehicles, are newer strategies.

An early draft of the report already has received some criticism, but Jim Connors of the State Planning Office said there will be plenty of time for public comment before any final recommendations are handed over to the administration.  The plan was assembled frommeetings of the Climate Change Task Force which includes representatives from the state's planning and environmental departments, the University of Maine, utility companies and environmental advocates.  Connors is co-director of the task force.

"They may or may not bear any resemblance to what the state will ultimately adopt" as its official recommendations for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Connors said Thursday.  "What we hope is to have a discussion on what sorts of things make the most sense. "

Global warming is not a new issue to Maine or New England.  A conference on the subject was held in 1993, and in 1995 an inventory of carbon dioxide emissions for the New England states was completed.  The draft report at hand, however, is the first time that the state has attempted to lay out concrete recommendations on how to cut greenhouse gas emissions directly.

Invisible greenhouse gases trap the sun's heat and help keep the Earth warm.  Without them, the Earth's temperature would be much lower and human beings would not be able to survive.  Although some greenhouse gases are necessary for survival, some scientists say human activities are resulting in too much of the gas being released into the atmosphere.  As a result, the Earth's atmosphere is heating at a more rapid rate.

Scientists and environmentalists in the New England region fear that if the trend continues, temperatures and ocean levels may increase, and Maine's forests, farms and shores may be adversely altered.  Just how they will be affected is unclear.

According to the state report, Maine's chief greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide, produced by the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, gas and diesel fuel.  For this reason, the report focuses primarily on reducing the man-made production of carbon dioxide.

In 1990, Maine released 19.6 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalents.  Massachusetts produced 93.4 million tons; Connecticut, 45.5 million tons; New Hampshire, 16.8 million tons;  Rhode Island, 10.4 million tons; and Vermont, 6.7 million tons.

If scientist's calculations are right, by the year 2005, Maine's emission rate will jump to between 21.7 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalents per year to 26.3million tons.

Emissions coming from transportation -- mostly cars -- account for 47 percent of the state's greenhouse gas release.  Other sources include industrial, (20 percent), residential (15 percent), utilities (10 percent) and commercial (8 percent).

Suggestions in the report aim at reducing carbon dioxide emissions at their source.  The report suggests tightening federal fuel efficiency standards for vehicles from around 30 miles per gallon to 40 miles per gallon and dedicating highway trust fund reserves to programs that improve fuel efficiency and conservation, and subsidize alternative transportation.

Other ideas include encouraging the state to purchase more "clean fuel" vehicles for state pools, promoting car pooling, giving rebates to owners of fuel-efficient cars, and lowering the speed limit to 55 mph.

The report also suggests how individuals could cut carbon dioxide emissions.  Among the suggestions: replace woodstoves with stoves that burn fuel-efficient wood pellets, encouraging consumers to use timed thermostats, insulate attics and use compact fluorescent bulbs.

Residents also would be encouraged to convert lawns to trees to minimize emissions from mowing and increase the amount of carbon dioxide trees take up through photosynthesis which produces oxygen.

The report also suggests changes in the industrial and electrical power sectors.  Although the report has been made available to those who have requested it, planning officials said they haven't released it to large audiences yet because some members of the task force are still reviewing the latest draft.

The report will be released this fall to the University of Maine campuses (by interactive television) and to members of the interested public.  Public forums may be held to discuss the topic, Connors said.  A final set of recommendations could be presented to the state as early as next summer.

Although state officials insist that there is much room for public discussion, some residents say those efforts are coming too late.  At a meeting in Bangor this week, a small group from the Maine Property Rights Alliance and Unorganized Territories United told several of the report's authors that they are convinced that the state's suggestions will become policieswithout their involvement.

"We don't trust you people," said Bud Landry, vice president of the Maine Property Rights Alliance, who argued that some scientists disagree that human activity causes global warming.

"There is scientific disagreement about this, there's no doubt about that," responded Jonathan Rubin, a University of Maine professor participating in the project.  The question remains, he said, "do you need to have concrete, irrefutable proof before you decide it's worth thinking about? "

Copies of the draft report are available from Jim Connors at the State Planning Office, by calling 287-3261 or sending e-mail to:

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