If you haven’t noticed the impact of climate change here in Maine, you’re not looking in the right places. On the sea floor, lobsters are migrating north to cooler waters; on the islands, puffins are struggling to survive; in the woods, red-bellied woodpeckers are moving in from the south; on Marginal Way in Portland, spring tides are flooding through the potholes. Maine isn’t likely to suffer the cataclysmic effects of climate change that are in store for the equatorial regions of the world, but this first wave of noticeable effects offers just a glimpse of the bigger consequences in store for us.
And the impact of climate change may be more quickly felt here than in other regions of the United States. A recent analysis by the Associated Press found that Maine’s climate warmed more than any other state besides Vermont in the last 30 years. The average annual temperature rose 2.5 degrees from 1984 to 2013; Northern Maine, which is more directly influenced by the rapidly-warming airflow of the Arctic, saw an even bigger rise.
As the Phoenix reported last week, the Obama administration finally made a move that will force the country to tackle the problem of greenhouse gas emissions on a large scale. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s proposed new rules would require the nation’s power plants to reduce carbon emissions 30 percent by 2030. Power plants account for about 40 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, making the new rules one of the biggest actions ever taken to combat climate change.
The rules were a long time coming, and it’s still very possible that they could be derailed. As US senator Angus King told a group of business leaders and environmentalists in Portland last week, the new regulations will create “a hell of a fight in the Senate.”
King made it clear he’ll resist any legislative efforts to weaken the rules, but he also pointed out that he’s not so sure about Maine’s other senator, Republican Susan Collins. So far, Collins has only promised to “carefully review EPA’s complex and wide-ranging proposal.” (The rest of Maine’s congressional delegation supports the proposal.)
Collins, who is running for re-election this year, has in the past been considered somewhat forward-thinking on climate change. But like most aspects of Collins’ image as a moderate, that only makes sense if you compare her to the rest of her party, which has taken the same obstructionist stance against climate change legislation that it took toward health care reform. The reality is that Collins’ record on climate change is spotty.
She’s repeatedly taken positions that undermine efforts to minimize climate change — witness her support for the Keystone XL pipeline, for example. In 2011, she voted to delay for two years regulations on carbon emissions similar to those announced last week, and she’s repeatedly allied with Republicans and conservative Democrats in ways that undermine climate change legislation.
Still, Collins’ unfounded reputation as a defender of the environment isn’t based on nothing. She has pushed hard in the past for bills supporting energy efficiency and alternative energy development, earning her the formal endorsement in 2008 of the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), who gave her a perfect score of 100 percent based on her votes that year on key environmental issues. That record has been very inconsistent, though, and since 2008 Collins’ score with LCV dropped as low as zero percent in 2010, leaving her with a current lifetime score of 67 percent.