While eco-friendly initiatives gained some local traction this year, the national environmental picture was relatively bleak in 2010 — and stands to get even more depressing next year.
Let's start with the good news. Maine received national recognition for its WEATHERIZATION efforts — insulating and retrofitting the state's ancient housing and building stock — this year. Over the course of 2009 and 2010, the state got $41.9 million from the Recovery Act to weatherize low-income housing and to offer rebates to homeowners who invest in efficiency improvements, such as insulation and weather-stripping or energy-efficient heating and cooling systems. By the end of April 2010, Maine had weatherized 30 percent of its targeted homes — close to 3000 — with the help of stimulus money and the state's weatherization program. The Maine State Housing Authority also pioneered a way to sell carbon-emission credits generated from weatherization efforts. MaineHousing's first-in-the-nation system would measure the carbon savings from weatherization, sell those credits on the emissions market, and then use the revenues for further weatherization efforts.
Portlanders continued to focus on LOCAL FOOD AND SUSTAINABLE FARMING in 2010, from start to finish. A dozen local farmers came together, with the help of the Maine Department of Agriculture and Organic Valley, to launch a local, organic feed company that processes bulk organic grain for dairy farmers in Maine. At the other end of the food-production line, the Crown O'Maine Organic Cooperative is set to start preserving and processing produce at a plant in Van Buren — hopefully giving excess fruits and veggies a longer shelf life.
We found out this month that Maine will get $3 million in federal stimulus money to help fund the $38 million Amtrak extension from Portland to Brunswick. That was good news for GREEN-TRANSPORTATION advocates, who launched the Maine Alliance for Sustainable Transportation this year and focused on implementing the recommendations of the Peninsula Transit Plan, increasing public-transit options in Greater Portland, and getting more people to ride the bus. While the last goal remains elusive, MAST was thrilled when the Portland City Council approved, in June, the fee-in-lieu-of-parking program, which allows developers to get around off-street parking requirements. Money from that program will be funneled into a newly created Sustainable Transportation Fund.
But on the national level, we faltered. The BP OIL SPILL was a devastating reminder of our dependence on oil, and how dangerous that fossil fuel can be. No new offshore drilling regulations came of the spill. And even as the oil flowed, a comprehensive ENERGY AND CLIMATE-CHANGE BILL, which would have set limits on pollution (while allowing polluters to buy and sell emission credits, i.e. cap-and-trade) and encouraged alternative-energy production, died in Congress. The bill included major compromises (including loan funding for nuclear programs and, at one point, expanded oil drilling access), but it would have been a huge step forward in addressing global warming. It failed for three reasons: 1) opponents did a good job of suggesting that making polluters pay would kill jobs; 2) the Obama administration showed only lukewarm (and by some accounts, not even that) support; 3) backroom politics between senators John Kerry (D-Massachusetts), Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut), and Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and the rest of the US Senate (including Maine senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, neither of whom supported the bill).
"As 2010 comes to a close, US environmentalists are engaged in their most profound bout of soul-searching in more than a decade," writes Juliet Eilperin in her December 21 Washington Post piece, "Environmentalists Plan to Redirect Strategies." She reports that in the face of a less-hospitable Congress, national environmental organizations will focus their energy on STATE AND GRASSROOTS EFFORTS IN 2011. Hey, it seems to be working in Maine.
Deirdre Fulton can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.