IN A NUTSHELL

Consider energy and environmental policy as a microcosm for the race as a whole. After jobs and health care, the dual issue of reducing energy costs and lowering fossil-fuel consumption is at the top of many voters' lists of priorities (not to mention it is one of this reporter's bailiwicks). It should be. A report issued last week by the international humanitarian organization DARA indicated that greenhouse gas emissions and global warming will lead to 100 million deaths and a 3.2 percent reduction in global gross domestic product by 2030 unless something is done to address climate change.

On the federal level, Maine's next senator will have the opportunity to protect clean-water and -air regulations, reduce subsidies for Big Oil, and encourage research and development of alternative energies.

Among the candidates, it's easy to discern some serious policy differences on energy and environmental issues.

Summers is a strong promoter of nuclear energy, thinks President Barack Obama's increased fuel-efficiency standards (a huge step toward reducing our dependence on fossil fuels) are extreme, and doesn't believe that global warming is a consequence of human behaviors. For Romney-ites, he's a dream. For everyone else, he's a nightmare. This applies pretty much across-the-board. Summers wants to repeal Obamacare. He wants to maintain tax cuts for the uber-wealthy. The list goes on.

Meanwhile, Dill adheres to every progressive environmental tenet. She drives a fuel-efficient vehicle, wants to find new ways to incentivize energy conservation and efficiency, and supports the new fuel-economy standards. She also puts forth that the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cooperative effort among nine states (including Maine) to regulate, track, offset, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, could be used as a model for the nation.

As for King, he's bullish on one particular type of fuel. The most immediate way to reverse climate change, King says, is "getting off oil and coal and getting onto natural gas." As I wrote in these pages just a few weeks ago, the former governor believes natural gas is "America's second chance." There are even new ways to transport natural gas energy that don't involve construction of new pipelines; King is excited by the developing technology of "gas by wire," in which natural gas is converted to electricity and carried through existing infrastructure. He also supports further development of alternative energies such as wind power — for which he has garnered flak, more on that later — and solar.

For his environmental record and his political viability (perhaps more the latter than the former), King was awarded the Sierra Club's endorsement in mid-September. Dill, whose record on environmental issues is technically stellar, was pissed. (Summers didn't respond to the Sierra Club's questionnaire.)

"On the 50th anniversary of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, a coveted environmental group has endorsed the unenrolled candidate, who thinks hydrofracking is probably safe and who won't make a firm decision on the destructive Keystone XL tar sands pipeline," Dill thundered in a release. "He also won't support the feasibility study of a 'gift' of a national park land in northern Maine at a time when preserved common space can support a green economy and jobs. I am very disheartened by the environmental organization's inexplicable decision. Despite its error, and despite the gender bias that so many national special interests have regarding this race, I promise Maine voters to remain true to who I am."

Glen Brand, executive director of the Sierra Club's Maine chapter, explains that the group's endorsement certainly took into account the likelihood of each candidate winning the race.

"It can't simply be a checklist of environmental concerns," he says. "We have to weigh more than that." Rattling off some of King's eco-credentials, Brand admits, "Now, he's not perfect. [But] realistically and practically speaking, we believe that Angus King is the most viable candidate and will be a strong environmental champion in the Senate."

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