Democrats looking to finally tackle climate impacts to Gulf of Maine

Scientists say the rise of ocean acidification in the Gulf of Maine will affect shell-building species, like these oysters being shoveled into a rinsing cage at Basket Island Oyster in Yarmouth.

Scientists say the rise of ocean acidification in the Gulf of Maine will affect shell-building species, like these oysters being shoveled into a rinsing cage at Basket Island Oyster in Yarmouth. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

After years of inaction, Maine may finally deal with the impacts of climate change along the coast, including ocean acidification, a byproduct of global warming that represents a potentially catastrophic threat to Maine’s marine harvesters.

More than four years ago, a bipartisan panel of experts convened by the Legislature issued a series of recommendations for Maine policymakers to respond to the acidification in the Gulf of Maine, which weakens clams and other shell-building animals and has been implicated in die-offs at mussel farms and oyster hatcheries. Despite dire warnings from scientists, clammers and hatchery owners, Republican legislative leaders and the administration of former Gov. Paul LePage declined to take substantive action.

But lawmakers in the new Democratic majority say they are moving to make up for lost time on this and other climate-related challenges to the Gulf of Maine, which has been the second fastest-warming part of the world ocean for the better part of the past two decades. The moves come amid a flood of worrying climate news, including a study released Thursday in the journal Science that found the oceans are warming 40 percent faster than a United Nations panel estimated just five years ago, and a report issued Tuesday that found U.S. carbon emissions had increased for the first time in three years.

“When I first started fighting to address climate threats, I wanted to fight for everything, but I couldn’t get Republican support for anything but ocean acidification,” says Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, a marine scientist who has reintroduced a bill to fund the acidification monitoring system recommended by the expert panel, which he co-chaired. “Even though we knew it was being caused by too much carbon being emitted into the atmosphere, we couldn’t even talk about that five or six years ago.”

“Now,” he notes, “we’re out of the closet.”

Much of the optimism stems from Gov. Janet Mills’ Jan. 2 inaugural address, in which the first policy issues she raised were the impacts of climate change on Maine’s ocean and forests. “Our coastal waters are growing acidic: temperatures are fluctuating, and sea levels are rising, endangering our shellfish industry,” she said. “Climate change is threatening our jobs, damaging our health and attacking our historic relationship to the land and sea.

“Tonight I say, enough. Enough with studies, talk, and debate,” she added. “It is time to act!”

LEGISLATION IN THE PIPELINE

Democrats also now control both houses of the Legislature and no longer must persuade climate change skeptics in the Republican caucus to take action.

Devin has introduced a bill that would ask voters to approve a $10 million bond issue to finance one of the ocean acidification panel’s top recommendations: targeted data collection, monitoring, and assessments of the impact on wildlife and commercial fish species.

A bill introduced by Rep. Lydia Blume, D-York, would convene another science advisory panel to look at the impact of climate change on Maine’s marine species, which reflects another of the 2014 panel’s top recommendations. “We need to have a monitoring program, but we also need to know what that program will monitor for, to decide what is needed and where,” she says. “The scientists on this panel will identify the data we have and the data we will need to establish what climate change is doing to our marine ecosystem.”

A second Blume bill would establish a Coastal Risks and Hazards Commission to identify physical – rather than ecological – threats to Maine’s coast, like those resulting from sea level rise and more intensive storm activity. The commission is modeled after one already created in New Hampshire and received legislative approval last session before being vetoed by then-Gov. LePage.

NEWS Posted Yesterday at 4:00 AM Updated January 13 INCREASE FONT SIZEResize Font
Democrats looking to finally tackle climate impacts to Gulf of Maine
Lawmakers are optimistic bills to implement bipartisan commission’s 2014 recommendations will advance after years of delay.

BY COLIN WOODARDPORTLAND PRESS HERALD

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Scientists say the rise of ocean acidification in the Gulf of Maine will affect shell-building species, like these oysters being shoveled into a rinsing cage at Basket Island Oyster in Yarmouth.
Scientists say the rise of ocean acidification in the Gulf of Maine will affect shell-building species, like these oysters being shoveled into a rinsing cage at Basket Island Oyster in Yarmouth. Staff photo by Gregory Rec
After years of inaction, Maine may finally deal with the impacts of climate change along the coast, including ocean acidification, a byproduct of global warming that represents a potentially catastrophic threat to Maine’s marine harvesters.

More than four years ago, a bipartisan panel of experts convened by the Legislature issued a series of recommendations for Maine policymakers to respond to the acidification in the Gulf of Maine, which weakens clams and other shell-building animals and has been implicated in die-offs at mussel farms and oyster hatcheries. Despite dire warnings from scientists, clammers and hatchery owners, Republican legislative leaders and the administration of former Gov. Paul LePage declined to take substantive action.

But lawmakers in the new Democratic majority say they are moving to make up for lost time on this and other climate-related challenges to the Gulf of Maine, which has been the second fastest-warming part of the world ocean for the better part of the past two decades. The moves come amid a flood of worrying climate news, including a study released Thursday in the journal Science that found the oceans are warming 40 percent faster than a United Nations panel estimated just five years ago, and a report issued Tuesday that found U.S. carbon emissions had increased for the first time in three years.

“When I first started fighting to address climate threats, I wanted to fight for everything, but I couldn’t get Republican support for anything but ocean acidification,” says Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, a marine scientist who has reintroduced a bill to fund the acidification monitoring system recommended by the expert panel, which he co-chaired. “Even though we knew it was being caused by too much carbon being emitted into the atmosphere, we couldn’t even talk about that five or six years ago.”

“Now,” he notes, “we’re out of the closet.”

Cory McDonald pulls lobster out of a trap while fishing off the coast of Stonington on September 5, 2015. Over the past two decades, the lobster population in the Gulf of Maine has doubled to 250 million adult lobsters, even as the lobster catch has tripled. Robert Steneck, a lobster researcher at the University of Maine’s Darling Marine Center, believes the lobster population has boomed because a primary predator of lobster, cod, has been decimated in the Gulf of Maine.

Much of the optimism stems from Gov. Janet Mills’ Jan. 2 inaugural address, in which the first policy issues she raised were the impacts of climate change on Maine’s ocean and forests. “Our coastal waters are growing acidic: temperatures are fluctuating, and sea levels are rising, endangering our shellfish industry,” she said. “Climate change is threatening our jobs, damaging our health and attacking our historic relationship to the land and sea.

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“Tonight I say, enough. Enough with studies, talk, and debate,” she added. “It is time to act!”

LEGISLATION IN THE PIPELINE

Democrats also now control both houses of the Legislature and no longer must persuade climate change skeptics in the Republican caucus to take action.

Devin has introduced a bill that would ask voters to approve a $10 million bond issue to finance one of the ocean acidification panel’s top recommendations: targeted data collection, monitoring, and assessments of the impact on wildlife and commercial fish species.

A bill introduced by Rep. Lydia Blume, D-York, would convene another science advisory panel to look at the impact of climate change on Maine’s marine species, which reflects another of the 2014 panel’s top recommendations. “We need to have a monitoring program, but we also need to know what that program will monitor for, to decide what is needed and where,” she says. “The scientists on this panel will identify the data we have and the data we will need to establish what climate change is doing to our marine ecosystem.”

A second Blume bill would establish a Coastal Risks and Hazards Commission to identify physical – rather than ecological – threats to Maine’s coast, like those resulting from sea level rise and more intensive storm activity. The commission is modeled after one already created in New Hampshire and received legislative approval last session before being vetoed by then-Gov. LePage.

“It’s really important that we do this work and that we elevate and respect science when we develop policy, which hasn’t been done,” Blume says. “Climate change issues are enormously consequential and there’s a moral imperative to deal with them.”

Colin Woodard, Central Maine, 13 January 2019. Full article.

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