Kate Dempsey

Our organizations were both founded in Maine shortly after World War II. Since then, we have worked on separate tracks to improve Mainers’ quality of life — supporting economic development through construction, and preserving access to natural places through conservation.

Maintaining “the way life should be” depends on both economic development and conservation, and both are increasingly affected by climate change. A recent analysis shows that nearly one in three Americans experienced a weather disaster this summer alone. In Maine, we’re on track to experience the second-warmest year on record, a trend with dire long-term implications for our economy and environment.

That is why it is so crucial for our elected leaders to support a desperately-needed investment in infrastructure right now. At its core, infrastructure is about the fundamental things we need for our society to function. Just like our roads and bridges, the water we drink, the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the places we live all urgently need our attention and protection.

Two bills currently in Congress — the “Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act” and the “Build Back Better” legislation being advanced through budget reconciliation — contain necessary policies that will support our climate resilience in critical ways. While some of the details are still being worked out, we know these bills will provide major investments to reduce both emissions and costs across the residential, public, commercial, and industrial sectors.

Among other provisions important to Maine and the world, these bills will:

• Support climate-smart agriculture and forestry programs that use natural and working lands for increased carbon capture and storage.

• Improve the resilience of coastal communities by restoring natural ecosystems and increasing protection from coastal hazards.

• Expand our electric vehicle charging network, help communities purchase electric buses, and expand public transit, including freight and passenger rail.

• Boost investment in active transportation programs, including trails and bikeways.

• Incentivize clean energy, energy efficiency, advanced manufacturing, and electric vehicles through tax credits and other tools under consideration, like carbon pricing.

• Encourage solar and other clean energy investments on previously developed lands.

• Expand home weatherization and energy efficiency programs to reduce electricity costs for ratepayers.

• Modernize and improve the reliability and resilience of the electric power grid.

Importantly, these bills will also begin to address the needs of underserved communities that are most affected by climate change and bear a disproportionate burden of pollution. They will deploy clean energy where it is needed most and direct valuable human and financial resources to improve the infrastructure and resilience of traditionally neglected groups, including Indigenous communities. These investments will help ensure that people who have been left out enjoy the benefits of a clean energy future, including cleaner air, better jobs, and improved mobility.

Taken together, these bills represent the best chance we have — as Mainers, as Americans, and as human beings — to address the present and growing threats of climate change and shore up our infrastructure so that we are able to meet this challenge head on. In the process, these investments will create and sustain millions of good-paying jobs, which will also meet the immediate needs of people still suffering the economic effects of the global pandemic.

Our land, our water, and our climate constitute the most fundamental infrastructure we have. Our elected leaders have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to protect it. We are all counting on them to seize it.

Kate Dempsey is state director of The Nature Conservancy in Maine. Mitch Sammons is the president of Sheridan Construction Corporation.

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