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Governor Baldacci talks with The Rt. Hon. Greg Knight, Member of Parliament, and head of the delegation from the U.K. that came to visit the state because of the measures taken by the Baldacci administration to curb global warming. Photo Ramona du Houx

April/May

By Ramona du Houx

Maine had the pleasure of hosting a cordial British invasion as dignitaries from the United Kingdom spent time with the governor during a fact-finding tour of Maine and Massachusetts.

Because of the governor’s programs in environmental energy efficiency, Maine is considered a leader on the issue in America, and they came to offer support and share ideas.

“We wanted to visit Maine because under the leadership of Governor Baldacci, it was the first state in the U.S. to pass a law to set a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said the Right Honorable Greg Knight, MP. “Our only regret is that our visit to Maine is too short.

“We’re still learning. Finding out how you have achieved your programs can help us,” said the Hon. Greg Knight, a member of the House of Commons. “We’ve found from the start the key has been to take public opinion along with you every step of the way.”

“All middle school students in the U.K. will view Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth,” said Lord Harrison.

The public in the U.K. strongly support efforts to slow global warming and shift to cleaner energy sources. Incremental changes brought about the changes in the U.K. and helped to gain public support for new programs — changes that have also taken place in Maine, like encouraging improved home insulation and efficient light bulbs.

“The U.K. has improved energy efficiency, restructured the energy supply sector in the 1990s by switching from coal to natural gas, used more low-carbon fuels and renewable energy, and they have developed low-energy fuels,” said the governor. “With all of their efforts, U.K. greenhouse gas emissions fell by more than 13 percent in the 1990s, while the economy and employment both grew.”

The U.K.’s major step forward was when they stopped using coal for energy. The change represented a major shift in policy and national attitudes. Coal remains America’s number-one energy resource. At the present time, we get most of our electricity from the burning of fossil fuels. The U.S. currently generates more than half of its electricity using coal, the most polluting of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels differ from renewable energy sources because there is a limited supply of these fuels, which will eventually run out, if we continue to consume them at the current rate. Burning fossil fuels pollutes our air, water, and land, therefore causing harm to human health and contributing to global warming.

Only two percent of America’s electricity comes from renewable energy.

Governor Baldacci has positioned Maine as a leader in addressing climate change. Maine now buys 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources; tax credits have been established for the production of biofuels in Maine; an 8 cent per gallon state excise tax reduction is provided for diesel motor fuel containing at least 2 percent biodiesel; rebates are provided for purchasing and installing solar electric, hot air and hot water systems; and Maine has set a goal of 10 percent new renewable power by 2017.

Presently the U.K. uses natural gas and wind power. Recently, 18 million was allocated by Parliament to tidal power development in the U.K. Wind-energy development and tidal-energy technology are both considered major growth opportunities for Maine.

“We have managed to both cut emissions and have dramatic economic growth,” said Lord Robin Corbett. “From 1990 to 1999, emissions declined 13 percent and the economy grew a staggering 49 percent.”

“The United Kingdom now has a thriving environmental industry with some 400,000 employees. Smart energy conservation is friendly to the planet, as well as being beneficial to the pocketbook,” said the Hon. Greg Mulholland, a member of the House of Commons. “There are a wide range of economic and business opportunities that surround this whole issue, and our economy has benefited from them.”

“We look forward to replicating the British experience in Maine through implementing Maine’s Climate Action Plan,” said Governor Baldacci. “In fact, we can use the British experience to our benefit in designing RGGI.”

Maine is currently working on implementing the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) with nine partner states in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic. The state’s Legislature is preparing to implement this first carbon-trading market in the U.S.

Maine has committed to the procedure to cap carbon dioxide emissions from large power plants and then allowing the plants to buy and trade “pollution credits.” The market-based system creates financial incentives for the plants to reduce their own emissions. The logic is basic — if power plants make more money with pollution credits, then it’s envisioned they will work towards that goal. The system rewards them for cutting CO2 emissions. Producers can also earn credits by investing in other greenhouse-gas reduction projects.

RGGI rules require Maine to sell off at least 25 percent of its 6 million allowances to fund energy-conservation programs. States can opt to sell up to 100 percent of their allowances which would force power plants to pay up front for the right to emit CO2.

Europe has a similar carbon trading system already in place and is considered a model.

“The lawmakers represented from the United Kingdom here today come from all their different political parties,” said David Litrell, commissioner from the Department of Environmental Protection. “We’re pleased that they decided to come to Maine and share their experiences with us, which I’m sure will be of great value. They have been very successful in their efforts.”

On the day British dignitaries were visiting, the British government proposed legislation that would set legally binding, long-term limits on carbon emissions — making the United Kingdom the first industrialized country to formalize these long-range environmental goals.