Credit: George Danby | BDN

It is a crucial fact that climate change cannot be solved without reimagining our transportation system. Transportation is now America’s number one source of global warming pollution and emits 52 percent of all Maine’s carbon emissions; reliance on personal vehicles and the necessity of driving place-to-place is one of the reasons transportation has become a main source of emissions. If we do not reform the transportation sector, reducing greenhouse gas pollution to the levels necessary to prevent the worst effects of climate change will be impossible. Luckily, Maine decision-makers are working to cut transportation emissions at the state, regional, and national levels.

Gov. Janet Mills is taking decisive steps to curb transportation emissions in our state. As attorney general she helped secure $5.1 million for Maine in a settlement from Volkswagen, which is being put toward expanding electric vehicle programs. Half of the money will be used to create a financial incentive program for low-income and elderly Mainers and Mainers with disabilities who purchase electric vehicles. The other half will be used for a program allowing qualifying vehicles bought by Maine residents and business owners to receive a rebate; this program has been projected to double the number of electric vehicles on Maine’s roads.

Efficiency Maine, which is working on these programs, is also developing a network of fast-charging stations. These will deliver a range of 250 miles per hour of charging and are in production along Interstate 95 and north-south routes to Quebec. There are also several charging stations planned for some public properties, workplaces, and multi-unit residences, meaning that more Mainers will be able to charge where they park.

The pièce de résistance, thanks to Mills, is that Maine will soon be powering its electric vehicles with renewable energy instead of fossil fuels; the governor signed a bill into law this past June that sets a goal of reaching 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.

Maine is also making progress in conjunction with other states as a part of the Transportation and Climate Initiative, a regional collaboration of 12 Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states focused on improving transportation and reducing transportation-related carbon emissions. The initiative has many efforts in progress to reduce transportation emissions, such as its December 2018 decision to create a market-based “cap and invest” program for transportation.

This program is based on the successful Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) that caps carbon emissions from electricity generation. RGGI has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by over 50% in participating states and has allowed Maine to invest $54 million in clean energy and other projects so far. One of TCI’s main efforts is to make electric vehicles more accessible to low-income residents, and it has hosted multiple listening sessions in order to hear varied perspectives and voices.

Across America, states are coming together to reinforce and strengthen federal transportation-related legislation. The Nation’s Clean Car Promise was a declaration released early this month by the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan group of 24 governors including Mills, supporting improved clean car standards and the authority of states to create stricter tailpipe pollution standards. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King have co-sponsored the bipartisan Driving America Forward Act which would expand federal tax credit programs for electric vehicles, doubling the cap to 400,000 vehicles per manufacturer to be eligible for tax credits of as much as $7,500.

These are exciting steps forward from Maine’s lawmakers on every level of government toward a cleaner, brighter electric vehicle future. Without an overhaul of America’s number one most polluting sector, greenhouse gas emissions will never be reduced as dramatically as they must in order to bring an end to climate change. Investing in electric vehicles is investing in our environment, our children, and our future.

Samantha Jones is an intern for Environment Maine.