GRAND LAKE STREAM, Maine — With the help of a carbon cap-and-trade program in California, a Washington County land trust is getting more than $1 million that it hopes to use to purchase nearly 22,000 acres of woodland.

Mark Berry, executive director of Downeast Lakes Land Trust, indicated in a recent email that the trust is hoping to buy a large swath of land east of West Grand Lake and northwest of Big Lake. A year ago, the state bought a conservation easement on the land, which is owned by Lyme Timber Co. of Hanover, N.H., to preserve the public’s recreational access.

The money that will help fund the land purchase is coming from a cap-and-trade carbon emissions program in California, officials with the land trust and Finite Carbon, a carbon-offset brokerage firm based in Wayne, Pa., indicated in a press release earlier this month.

The California Cap and Trade Program allows regulated greenhouse gas emitters to get carbon offset credits by putting money toward environmentally friendly projects that have been certified by the California Air Resources Board. Two such emitters, which officials will not identify, have purchased carbon offsets from Downeast Lakes Land Trust generated by its 19,000-acre Farm Cove Community Forest on the west side of West Grand Lake.

“Forest offset projects are one of four offset types allowed under the [California] Air Resources Board greenhouse gas emissions trading program that launched on Jan. 1, 2013,” the land trust and Finite Carbon officials wrote in a prepared statement. “Under the [California] program, regulated emitters may use approved and verified offset projects to meet up to eight percent of their emissions cap.”

The Farm Cove property was one of only two forest offset projects included in the board’s inaugural listing of compliance offset projects, which was issued in March of this year, the officials added.

Such cap-and-trade programs have been criticized by some as obstacles to economic growth, while others have said the programs are not proactive enough. Carbon cap-and-trade programs may provide economic incentives to polluters to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, environmentally minded critics have said, but they don’t guarantee that greenhouse gas emissions are sufficiently reduced in a timely manner to inhibit global climate change.

The state of Maine is a partner in a similar program in the Northeast called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or “Reggie,” which has funneled millions of dollars to Maine in recent years, most of which has gone to energy conservation projects.

In an email response to the Bangor Daily News, Berry said that by participating in the carbon market, the trust is taking advantage of an opportunity to advance its conservation mission.

“It is our responsibility to do everything we can to benefit our community and region, provided that risks are manageable and we’re not causing other harm,” Berry indicated. “We didn’t see it as our role to evaluate whether California’s cap-and-trade program is the ideal response to climate change.”

Berry added that after project expenses are paid, the trust will have $1.1 million to apply to the land purchase, but that it still hopes to raise more than $5 million from private donors.

The attention the land trust is getting by participating in the California program, he said, will help promote Maine as a place where steps can be taken to address global climate change.

“This program does have potential, depending how the [carbon offset] market develops, to become a strong incentive for conservation of forest land in Maine,” Berry said.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....