Ben Gilman

As the Biden-Harris Administration begins to settle into the White House, ways to reduce carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions are dominating much of the policy discussion.

But while the politicians continue to talk in Washington, others are already taking action: industries of all stripes are exploring new technologies and collaborative synergies to reduce the carbon footprint of their operations. The results are not only impressive — our total energy-related carbon dioxide emissions declined by 12% from 2005 to 2018 — but also outline an alternative path to environmental stewardship that actually achieves results.

Maine can proudly claim its share of success in reducing emissions, with the Department of Environmental Protection reporting that the state is on track to meet its goals by already cutting greenhouse gas  emissions by 25% per billion thermal unit of energy since its peak in 2002.

Gov. Janet Mills noted something significant — and sensible — in her comments on the findings: “This report is further proof that growing our economy and fighting climate change are not mutually exclusive — in fact, they go hand-in-hand.” The governor hit the nail on the head, as one does not have to be at the expense of the other. We can address our climate change concerns while not hampering economic growth which ultimately impacts the hard-working people of Maine and their families.

While it sounds like a difficult task, it can be done if everyone comes together — policymakers from both sides of the political aisle and businesses alike. Cooperation, not antagonism, is what will put us on the road to a cleaner environment for future generations.

Climate change is a complex issue and one best left to our legislative and executive branches, on the state and national level. Unfortunately, eager for quick action, there is a movement that seeks to go beyond those two branches and instead turn to the courts to wade into this debate. Municipalities across the country, many enlisting trial attorneys, are filing lawsuits that for the most part allege energy manufacturers are responsible for the effects of climate change and must pay for the damages.

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Groups you may not be familiar with, like the Center for Climate Integrity and Pay Up Climate Polluters, are not only supportive of such lawsuits but are hoping to pressure other local elected officials to file similar litigation in their own states.

It is hard to fathom how taking energy manufacturers to court will in any way move the needle on climate change. Phil Goldberg, special counsel to the Manufacturers’ Accountability Project, has noted that these lawsuits “do nothing to advance meaningful solutions,” as “fighting climate change is a shared global challenge that requires collaboration and innovation to overcome.”

American innovation and the collaborative spirit are hallmarks of our great nation and should be called upon to address this pressing challenge. But we must first acknowledge that the very companies being sued have been at the forefront of developing the very type of technology we need in this fight.

Columbia University’s Earth Institute highlighted the upside to carbon capture technologies traditional energy producers are pursuing with millions in research and development. The Institute spotlighted emissions reductions to be realized in building materials, chemical commodities, and fuel or energy production, thanks to carbon capture technologies.

Other emissions reductions were realized thanks to natural gas and the energy industry’s technological innovations that enabled the extraction of the cleaner burning fuel. A 2018 Energy Information Administration report shows that carbon dioxide emissions specifically from the power sector have fallen 28% since 2005, and have become “less carbon intensive as natural gas-fired generation displaced coal-fired and petroleum-fired generation.”

Natural gas will continue to displace the use of more carbon-intensive resources as renewables gain grid share. And in the meantime, companies will continue innovating toward emissions reductions. These are both two incredible areas of opportunity that should be encouraged, not stalled by over-prescriptive policies or lawsuits that will not get us closer to our environmental goals.

Climate change is one of our most pressing issues, and we must approach it in a constructive way that takes into account the broader implications on our economy and way of life. Let’s tap into the American spirit of innovation and collaboration, and meet this challenge head on.

Ben Gilman is general counsel for the Maine State Chamber of Commerce.


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