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Here's where Maine stands on reaching its ambitious climate goals

Gov. Janet Mills announced a four-year climate action plan in 2020. Two years in, there is progress, but climate council leaders said there is still much to do.

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — Julie Rosenbach, sustainability director for the city of South Portland, is making big plans to educate the public.

"When I started, it was a brand new department in the city. It grew a lot in the last seven years," Rosenbach said.

Rosenbach is planning to use money from the state to fund new maps that will show South Portland residents where flooding will happen in a future of warming temperatures and rising sea levels.

"What these models are going to do is make it more dynamic and more specific about what the impacts are going to be," Rosenbach said. "My hope with this is that it helps us be really proactive in our planning decisions."

The funding from the state came as an announcement on Dec. 1, when Gov. Janet Mills announced new investments for communities to prioritize climate change adaptations.

It's part of the four-year plan of the Mills-appointed climate council, which formed in 2020, to make the state carbon neutral by 2045.

During her announcement at Colby College in Waterville, Mills cited the recent accomplishments of the council.

“We are making unprecedented strides to embrace clean energy, to reduce carbon emissions, and to help our communities fight, at every level, the greatest danger of our time," Mills said. “With our climate action plan as our guide, we will be the generation that protects this precious place we all call home, so that future generations may live in a Maine that is as beautiful and bountiful as it is today.”

On top of announcing $5.4 million in investments for nine organizations and 91 communities, the accomplishments of the climate council so far in the past two years were noted.

Notably, the state is ahead of its goal in installing new heat pumps for homes, which reduce the reliance on heating oil, Efficiency Maine Executive Director Michael Stoddard said.

"Maine's homeowners and businesses are realizing they have a bunch of choices... they can take out the old system and replace it with heat pumps... it can even give them air conditioning," Stoddard said. "We've had tremendous success in getting Maines interested in getting heat pumps."

But while the climate council is ahead of schedule for heat pumps, the heat pump installations for low-income households are behind.

"We want to make sure low and moderate-income houses are contributing as well… they don't have as much disposable income so we’re changing these programs to make it easier for those households to access it."

Stoddard added low-income Mainers can go on his organization's website to find out if they qualify for a rebate on their heat pump.

In an interview with NEWS CENTER Maine, Hannah Pingree from Governor Mills' Office of Policy Innovation and Future said they also want to re-shift added focus on improving transportation to reduce harm from climate change.

"Progress we still need to make like transportation," Pingree said. "Climate change is a global issue we know that is impacting the state of Maine."

Another community climate project funded by the state is 50,000 dollars to Chebeague Island, which is looking to expand on three projects: a drinking water study, a revitalization of its Stone Wharf, and mapping sea level rise.

For longtime Chebeague resident and town manager Viktoria Wood, this is a full-circle moment.

"It's the most exciting time that I can think of for me to be the town admin of this island because we are adapting and improving to a lot of changes but we're also trying to figure out how to make those changes in the coming future," Wood said. 

Wood told NEWS CENTER Maine every home on Chebeague Island depends on groundwater pumps, and that studies must be done if the island can efficiently maintain this method with an increasing population.

"We reached that point in the community where we need to have those hard conversations ... sustain this amazing community and make sure this is still here for future generations."

South Portland and Chebeague island are just two examples of more than a hundred communities that are expecting grants to fund climate projects.

The climate council also added a new interactive website where you can check in on the council's progress.

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