As I mentioned in September, the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed the first-ever carbon pollution standards for new power plants; fossil fuel-fired power plants are the largest source of carbon emissions in the United States (see “Crackdown on Carbon,” September 27). We are still waiting for the EPA to release a similar proposal for existing power plants.
To emphasize the importance of these new regulations, which are themselves a piece of President Barack Obama’s larger Climate Action Plan, the Maine chapter of the Sierra Club, along with several other local environmental organizations, invited representatives from several sectors to discuss Maine-specific impacts of climate change at Southern Maine Community College last week.
Sara Randall, of the Maine Clammers Association, described how green crabs, an invasive species that thrives in warming ocean waters, are endangering the state’s shellfish population.
Tony Owens, an emergency-medicine physician at Maine Medical Center, talked about how the incidence of childhood asthma has quadrupled nationwide. With one in eight Mainers now experiencing asthma, Owens suggested we have a “moral obligation” to reduce pollution that negatively impacts air quality.
David Clay, an energy consultant who works to make building systems more efficient, noted that as technology keeps evolving, opportunities for greater efficiency are always emerging. Revamped refrigeration systems, for example, offer the potential for huge energy savings, he said.
Each of the speakers talked about ways climate change was impacting their industry; some explored ways in which their industry could affect climate change.
To that end, Portland Mayor Michael Brennan took the opportunity to outline some ways in which the city is attempting to reduce its energy use, such as by prioritizing efficiency when renovating or building school buildings, and doubling the number of community gardens. He highlighted recent efforts to promote local foods within the Portland Public Schools system, a strategy aimed at reducing the energy costs associated with trucking in food from out of state, while also boosting nutrition.
The school district has set a goal to spend 50 percent of its food budget on locally grown or produced by the year 2016. Currently, if you count dairy (procured locally from Oakhurst), we’re at about 34 percent (20 percent of that is milk). According to Ron Adams, food service director for the school system, we could reach 40 percent by the end of this year. Around the district, kids are already eating carrots from Presque Isle, beef from Guilford, and haddock from Salt + Sea, fresh off Portland boats. Over the course of 2013, the chefs perfected a recipe that makes 100 gallons of marinara sauce using 2000 pounds of Maine tomatoes. They even serve teriyaki Heiwa tofu, made in Belfast with Maine-grown, MOFGA-certified organic soybeans.
A big help in achieving the city’s lofty goals in this area was the recent move to a central kitchen located in a former seafood processing plant off Riverside Street. From this 21,000-square-foot facility, the food-service team of about 15 employees serves 14 sites; much of the cooking is done from scratch. For instance, during a recent visit, one chef was in the middle of turning 800 pounds of Maine-grown potatoes into a Thanksgiving meal side dish. New equipment allows cooks to more efficiently deal with raw materials — an industrial-sized vegetable peeler, for example, can handle 50 carrots at a time — and new processes improve food quality (these days, food is heated on-site, as opposed to being shipped hot from the kitchen and kept in warmers for several hours). Adams reminds me that food service workers were used to dealing pretty exclusively with “cans and boxes for about 20 years. It takes investment to do scratch cooking.”